“He will eat when he is hungry”. If anyone dared to say that to me again I’m sure I would have screamed the place down.
I always envisioned cooking wholesome one pot wonders for my son and I to eat together. As a Nanny in a previous life, I was used to cooking up nutritional masterpieces that were devoured by the little people in my care. How did it go so wrong for my now 5 year old son and I?
Baby led weaning was a fairly new concept when my son was ready for weaning. It was alien to me. I was so worried about my son choking so we continued with pureed food for longer than the recommended age. He had such a great diet though and was thriving.
The Health Visitor called around one day to do an age assessment on Rory and I asked for her advice about introducing ‘normal’ food. Something I now wish I hadn’t of done. From then on my expectations of my child eating exceeded what he actually wanted, needed and desired and the nightmare began. My son became an ‘average’ child. On average he should be eating three meals and two lots of snacks. That is what I thought I had to achieve.
I am ashamed of my behaviour towards my son’s eating. And my justification was that he wouldn’t survive on the very little he was eating. I decided that things were going to change. I took on board the advice that if my son was hungry, he would eat. This was a very low point for me because I expected Rory to eat unfamiliar foods. “A child needs to try a food 15 times” stuck in my head. It very quickly became apparent that my son would prefer to go hungry than eat. How can any responsible parent let that happen.
The final straw was over a ‘ham sandwich’ incident. Rory ate bread and he liked ham. I made him a ham sandwich picnic and asked him to just try it. Hours and hours passed. I broke down in tears. My child was crying. What the hell was I doing??? He never wants to eat a ham sandwich again.
I have never apologised so much to my little boy. I had turned into a food martyr. Demanding my son ate because I was so scared of his lack of appetite. But why on earth would he want to eat when he has such a crazy mummy. Once again, things had to change and quickly.
All I needed to do was talk to my son. We made a list of all of the foods he liked, not many but it was a starting point. Thank goodness peanut butter was on there!
Friends recommended various ways to handle my “fussy” eater. The use of a reward chart system came out on top. However, I was not willing to “reward” my son for eating. Eating is essential for life.
I remember my son eating a couple of bites of food before telling me he didn’t want anymore or that he was full. “How old are you? 4? lets eat 4 more pieces then”. My son did not want to eat anymore. He was telling me this very clearly. Why was I not listening or believing him? I had done this previously when Rory had had one Weetabix for breakfast. I didn’t think one was too much to eat until I sat down with him and couldn’t finish off my one Weetabix.
“Make pizza faces”. “Make potato boats”. No amount of food art made my son want to eat the finished product. No amount of making ‘menus’ or cooking together helped.
It was during this time I found support in a local Gentle Parenting group. I learned to respect my son. To respect his choices. To give him control over his choices. I had to respect his choice of what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat.
I was always too scared to take Rory out to eat but in actual fact that is what I needed to do. For him to see eating as fun and social. I even overturned my ban of ever letting my child eat at MacDonald’s!
So this is where we are now:
- I have accepted that my son eats very little compared to other children but for him, it is the right amount and he is thriving.
- My son can help himself to food in the fridge and cupboards at any time.
- Some days all he wants is a peanut butter sandwich and some milk and that is ok.
- There will NEVER be any punishment or reward for eating or not eating.
- He likes to keep his food separate on a plate.
- He likes plain food.
- I am grateful he likes salmon and chicken and peas!
- He regulates his own treat intake.
- I respect my son.
- He asks for rice and noodles from the Chinese takeaway!
- He recently ate a whole Yorkshire pudding!
- He seems to enjoy a variety of foods.
- I am grateful that he eats and that he wants to eat.
Seeing my child, the little person who I love more than anything in the world, survive off a few grains of rice some days has been the hardest and most distressing part of parenthood for me. This distress caused me to handle the situation appallingly. Single parenting is tough. When you need support and reassurance from the other parent but have to cope alone. All I can say is that I have more than learned from my mistakes and strive to be a much better parent. I’m so sorry Rory.