It is rare that I have a moment in parenting when I think: “Wow! Something is really going right here!” But this week I had a couple of those and I wanted to share them with you along with some thoughts about why they happened and what it taught me about healthy eating for all of us….
When I was seven my parents got called into a parent-teacher conference because I was having trouble in the late mornings at school. During recess I would fight with the boys (literal kicking matches—I won a lot) and would also get frustrated during lessons when I didn’t feel like I understood. My parents couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Nothing was happening at home, I wasn’t complaining about school, why was I acting out?
Then one evening my mom heard a story on NPR about the importance of protein for brain function but also for staving off hunger and a light bulb went off in her head: I was hungry! The next morning she made sure that I had protein in my breakfast and, like magic, the problems disappeared! From then on, she was adamant that I have some sort of protein every morning.
So imagine my chagrin a couple of weeks ago when I started getting messages from my 7-year-old’s math teacher wondering why my normally helpful, engaged kid was suddenly having trouble. Had something happened at home? She asked. Were there problems with friends? We had long talks and strategy sessions with him but to no avail.
And then one morning it hit me: he was hungry. In the weeks leading up to the change he had been going through a breakfast strike where he would only eat a tiny bit of his breakfast each morning and in my attempt to respect his listening to his hunger cues, I had tried to be flexible about it. But now it was clear: the kid wasn’t eating enough….
For years my favorite movie of all time was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I loved the idea that you could steal a day away like that. That you could have a day where there were no rules or obligations, just fun. Then, in the spring of my senior year of high school, I got “spring fever” in a big way. I hung out on the front lawn of the school, found any excuse to have fun, and, yes, even skipped some classes. It was wonderful! And each spring, as the weather gets warmer, I feel a little itch to relive that spring. I have fantasies of dropping everything and playing hooky for a day. Well this year, my husband and I made it happen and it was AWESOME!…
Over the past few weeks there have been a number of blog posts going around about times when moms have felt judged by other moms. There have been a myriad of reasons—picky eaters, aggressive children, tantruming children, messy houses, etc. In some of the posts there is a redeeming person who comes forward and offers support, in others it is more a reflection on the power of letting go of all of that judgment and trusting in yourself. These have been powerful posts that have got me thinking a lot about two things: 1) how challenging it can be to be a parent and 2) how essential it is that we support rather than judge one another.
We are all balancing difficult choices in our lives: how much time (if any) we spend working at a job that pays, what sorts of foods we feed our children, what type of school we send them to, how we handle discipline, how we navigate our partnerships with significant others, where we live, etc. We are all trying to do what is best for ourselves and our families. Do we all make the same choices? Of course not. We are all balancing different needs and priorities and we all have different values and expectations for what our lives should look like. …
Twice in the past month my younger son, who is a much more selective eater, has stunned us by happily trying and then falling in love with new vegetables (asparagus and artichokes). They are now two of his go-to requests when I check in with him about meals for the upcoming week. I wish I could say it was due to my inspired, creative, and especially delicious presentation of the foods, but the reality is that in both cases it has been due to his big brother….
As I alluded to in a few posts over the past few months, our family has been a tad overextended recently. It is all due to good reasons and in many ways we have felt very blessed, but it has also been exhausting. In the midst of all of the juggling and rushing and cramming too much in, I realized that the boys were getting increasingly cranky and whiny and that I, in turn, was getting grumpier with them. There were moments when I thought to myself, “why are they being so difficult?! Don’t they understand that I have work to do?!” And then I (finally) realized that their whining and bickering was because they wanted and needed attention from me. They were begging for it….
There have been a lot of powerful posts going around recently about feeding kids. Two that really spoke to me were one about the pitfalls of pushing the “one bite” and another about the importance of focusing on making family dinners an enjoyable time rather than a time for pushing food or other table manner agendas. Both of these pieces, and many of the others, got me thinking about what life had been like around our dinner table. As I took some time to look honestly at what had been going on I realized three things: 1) we had fallen back into old patterns of pressuring our “picky” eater to try foods, 2) that he had slid backwards in terms of what he was willing to eat, and 3) that this was really a projection of our own, outside stresses that we were putting onto him….
The family is gathering around the table for Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone is set up for a beautiful meal full of tastes, abundant food offerings, and gratitude. But then there is your child who is scowling, or maybe even refusing to come to the table. You feel embarrassed, perhaps angry, you are worried that your in-laws or your own family will judge your child or even you. The tension mounts… This is not going to end well.
As we all know, family gatherings can be both wonderful and intensely stressful. As you prepare for the season’s festivities, it can be helpful, both for you and for your child, if you do a little bit of thinking about ways to preemptively manage the tensions at the table. Here are my suggestions:
1) Put yourself in your child’s shoes. All of that food that is either unknown or unappealing to your child is likely to feel overwhelming and even scary. Your kiddo is very aware of the expectation that s/he should eat it all and that pressure probably feels pretty intense. Another way to approach this, think back to when you were a kid. I bet there was at least one dish that you thought was disgusting, but felt pressured to eat. How did that feel when you were little? Just by understanding a little bit about how your child perceives the situation, you may find you have a bit more compassion, patience, and flexibility in the moment.
2) Get on the same page as your partner. Talk about your concerns ahead of time and make sure that the two of you can be a team in your approach, both in terms of how you communicate with your child and how you communicate with any family members who might contribute to tense dynamics. Come to terms with the fact that this is very likely not going to be the meal where your child suddenly eats everything.
3) Talk with your child ahead of time. Discuss the fact that there may be unfamiliar or unappealing foods on the table, and that is ok. Talk about expectations of polite behavior—“No thank you” instead of “I don’t like that!” and staying at the table while everyone is eating together are probably good starting points. And come up with a game plan together for how to approach the meal. What foods is s/he willing to eat? How will you handle desserts (for ideas on this, check out this great piece by Caron Gremont of First Bites)? Is s/he willing to do one bite tries of one or two new foods?
4) Talk with anyone else you think you should talk to. Let your in-laws, parents, siblings, whoever know that in the interest of having a pleasant meal, it would be really helpful if pressure to try new foods was not put on your child during the festivities.
5) Remember to relax. The more tense you are, the more tense your child will be, which increases the likelihood of a meltdown.
Then, relax, and enjoy the time with family and friends, because, in the end, that is what this is really all about.
I have a confession to make: self-care is really hard for me. Yes, I preach the importance of it all the time to my clients, friends, and family and I truly believe in what I am saying. Self-care is key to a healthy and happy life. But when it comes to my own life I am constantly finding myself prioritizing the needs of others ahead of my own. Even when I know deep down that I really need some time to myself, I often put other things first and usually it is my husband who steps in to make sure that I get the break I need (thank goodness for great husbands!).
But this summer I had two wonderful experiences that really brought home how healing making that time for you can be. For me, self-care can look like sleep or yoga, but it can also involve pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. And, in fact, the challenging experiences are often much more satisfying and reinvigorating for me than the more mellow ones are. This was the case with these two experiences….
Tuesday was my younger son’s final day of Spring Break. After all of the snow days this winter and his older brother’s Spring Break a few weeks ago, to say that his 11-day Spring Break felt very long would be an understatement. But on Tuesday morning the two of us had a wonderful time together that reminded me of the importance of flexibility….