09 Jan The Imperfect Food Mom
The imperfect mom…well, that’s me! But I’m not suffering from low self-esteem; rather, I acknowledge that despite being an expert in food and nutrition, I make some less than perfect decisions when it comes to feeding my boys. While I honestly think I do a great job the majority of the time, it’s always a day-to-day challenge. Just like in any home, feeding and eating is not black and white. It’s a grey area because our children do not always like what we feed them.
Right after the holidays, I was once again re-motivated to continue the never-ending journey of increasing my no-longer-toddlers’ food variability. We had been to “The Palm” for Christmas Eve dinner where my youngest son Billy decided not to eat anything since he didn’t like the choices on either the adult or children’s menus. I had no expectation he would select something. And I also did not bring along any food to accommodate his pickiness. My oldest son Bobby started off by eating the bread on the table and then went on to enjoy a chicken cutlet with plain pasta. Although he isn’t the fanciest eater, he is willing to try most foods nowadays. Bobby ordered ice cream for dessert and ate about half of it. From the other side of the table, Billy said, “They don’t serve what I like!” He was definitely hungry and probably felt a gnawing in his belly. He did, however, contently sit in his seat while everyone else enjoyed their appetizers and entrees. (Note: I must admit that he was playing a game on my iPhone!) When dessert time came around, he did order chocolate milk and ice cream. The moment his chocolate milk was served, he drank the darn thing as fast as possible—he didn’t take his little mouth off of the straw for an instant! He also didn’t have any room left for his ice cream and left it untouched. My letting Billy order ice cream and chocolate milk was not my flaw; it showed up later.
As a dietitian and a mom, my imperfect mothering revealed itself the day after Christmas when we were shopping at Whole Foods. (I had arranged to take a week off from work to dedicate time to spend with my boys, to create new recipes and make time for family meals.) With our holiday meal difficulties fresh in my mind, I asked the boys to pick out a new food each wanted to try. Bobby quickly chose tortellini despite the fact he had had it before and used to love it. His desire to eat tortellini seemed to be a passing phase, so I was happy he was willing to reincorporate this form of pasta. Billy, on the other hand, was not so eager to choose a new food. While picking up some steamed greens and veggies at the deli counter, I spied a yummy-looking sweet potato puree with ginger. I knew it would be a great side with our dinner that night. I asked Bobby to try it to see if he liked it. He did try, but the face he made clearly said: “Not me…I won’t eat this!” Billy, who regularly eats sweet potato pureed in a squeezer form, was laughing. He was not going to try it. I told Billy that the puree was the same thing that was in his kid squeezer, except that now he could see the contents. He knew I wanted him to taste it because this time I really did want him to try.
I didn’t want to be the patient mom who engages in exposure therapy with foods to help establish positive relationships with eating and neutral relationships with foods. Blah blah blah! I just wanted to be the mom with a kid who ate normal adult food! I stood with the trial-sized spoon topped with the puree. We walked to another section; Billy tormented me by opening and shutting his mouth. He would pretend he wanted some of the sweet potato and then change his mind. He was laughing and I was getting frustrated. So when he was laughing I just dipped that tiny spoon into his mouth! I know this doesn’t work. I know a child will not like a food forced upon him just for the mere fact that it was not his choice. And the experience was certainly most unpleasant. At that moment, I did not care. Well, until it was too late!
When Billy realized what was happening, he flung my hand away, spit the puree out and drooled all over himself while screaming and crying. Yes, a child can do all of this at once! Well, I had done it. Honestly, I was more embarrassed than anything… and that’s my second flaw. I was more worried about what others in the market were thinking…especially since I am a certified eating disorder specialist and surely know better. I thought: “What if someone knows who I am?” I was also embarrassed by my own behavior. Not only should I not have given Billy the sweet potato, but I also should have been truly concerned with his feelings regarding this petite intrusion.
Gleefully distracted by something else, he was absolutely fine a few minutes later. While I indeed know how one should handle such food situations, in this case, I simply chose to ignore my knowledge. When all is said and done, my motherly rebellion with my picky eater will not damage Billy. Thankfully this is not a regular occurrence in my house. But yes…just once, I wanted to push the envelope and see what would happen. And what happened was precisely what one would predict!
The point here is: Dietitians and mothers are not perfect. Some mothers don’t know any better when feeding their children and then there are some of us who surely do. Despite knowing, sometimes moms like myself get impatient and/or frustrated and very lost in the “doing” part.
So take what you want from this blog entry. Perhaps that I am imperfect despite my credentials; perhaps that you shouldn’t feel guilty when you mess up with your kids; perhaps that it’s fruitless to blame your parents for your own food issues as no one, not even an RD, is perfect at feeding her kids. Or maybe just…DON’T FORCE FOOD ON YOUR CHILD!