Raising a child that is a fussy eater can be testing to say the least. It comes with daily challenges and the struggle is real! The dinner table can become a battle ground and it is difficult enough to raise our focus from the meal that is currently in front of us but we have to be aware that the stresses do not end here. There are external forces at work and these can be as stressful as the interaction with the child in question. What are these dark forces? People. Specifically, other people.
As a parent of a fussy eater we are susceptible to friends and family that think we are doing nothing more than pandering to spoilt children. Unsolicited advice can be forthcoming in situations that an outsider cannot fully understand and social outings can come with an unexpected portion of disapproving looks with a side of unhelpful comments.
One of the most common gripes can be the comments made by grandparents who are now enjoying their twilight years whilst seeming to forget about how challenging raising offspring can be! The advice (or criticism… depending on how sensitive we are feeling at the time!) may be unsolicited, but perhaps we should take on board their comments about what was done “in their day” and when we were young? Or should we? Unfortunately, as parents now, we are Exhibit “A”; our generation and our relationships with food are direct evidence of the degree of success our parent’s approaches to feeding.
We are the generation who were raised on a diet of “You are not leaving the table until you have finished” and “no dessert until you have eaten your vegetables!”. These techniques can have some short-term success but they have grave longer-term implications. The psychological messages and negative experiences around food do have a profound impact (see my post on “No dessert until you finish your dinner!” – Why child psychologists advise against saying this http://progressivefamilyfood.com/dessert/). In the UK, our generation, raised with dessert as a reward and a large helping of anxiety at the dinner table, are now ‘the fat man’ of Europe. A World Health Organisation report in 2014 found 62% of adults in England were classified as overweight with experts predicting that by 2020 one third of the adult population in the UK could be obese. This does not paint a picture of a population with a healthy relationship with their food!
So, does Grandma know best? Maybe not in this situation. Are we going to be able to re-educate Grandma to a new way of thinking? Also, maybe not in this situation. But that is ok. We are now all grown-ups and, as such, we are able (or should be able) to accept differences of opinion. There are new ways of thinking now. There are evidence based strategies that work (see my post on Top 5 strategies to win the battle with fussy eaters – http://progressivefamilyfood.com/top-5-strategies/).
This is all well and good, but how do we deal with those situations where Grandma is breathing down our necks? What do we do when faced with a social situation when we can hear comments being muttered under the breath? I believe the answer lies in confidence. Be confident in what we are doing and know that we are doing the right thing for both our kids and for ourselves. Know the evidence based strategies and implement them. It is hard to do and is an emotional minefield but having a game plan and sticking to it might just get us through this. Smacking kids may have been acceptable in “their day” but things have changed and we need to get on with our lives and raise our kids our way.
It is recommended, however, that we retain a degree of flexibility and tolerance in our approach to feeding. No one likes the food police at social events and as much as we object to unsolicited advice at our dinner table, others may equally baulk at rules being imposed on them. For us, the grandparents’ house is like Vegas; What happens at Grandma’s house, stays at Grandma’s house. We don’t want to dictate how the grandparent – grandchild relationship should develop…. So if Grandma wants to give chocolate before bedtime and maple syrup sandwiches for lunch then so be it… grandparents have kind of earned that prerogative. It’s the 80;20 rule… and the grandparents are definitely the 20%! But in our house, it is our rules. We all know them and they work. We will take your advice under consideration…. often whilst biting our tongues!