Sometimes I just know how I’m going to deal with something as a parent. No research is needed; no making a pros and cons list. I’m confronted with a problem or shift, and my gut immediately proffers an approach. I just know.
One such point of total confidence and clarity for me is food. I knew from the beginning that food wasn’t something I was willing to fight with Ida about. Come what may, I decided that I wasn’t going to get embroiled in any negotiations concerning number of bites, trying new foods, or cleaning plates. I view my responsibility as our family’s food provider as just that: provide food. I plan, shop for, and prepare nice, mostly nutritious meals. I encourage Ida to enjoy these meals. But what Ida does with the food is mostly her business.
My thought process (after I had made this decision) was that Ida’s no dummy and probably wouldn’t starve herself. If she did, I could always give our pediatrician a call. If the pediatrician prescribed chicken nuggets and macaroni, I’d administer them dutifully. But until then, I was going to stay my intuitive course. I hypothesized that Ida would become an adventurous eater and would magically arrive at adulthood with no weird food hang-ups. I can’t be sure, but at that point I probably bought myself a treat in congratulations for my obvious genius-level parenting.
And you know what? It has mostly worked so far. Ida is a healthy kid who eats a variety of different things. There have been phases where it seems like she’s eating nothing, or where she doesn’t want to try new foods, and times when I worry a little about her eating. But for the most part food remains an angst-free zone in our life. Obviously, just like anything in parenting, this success could all be accidentally flushed down the toilet with my favorite lipstick at any moment.
There are two notable exceptions to this idyllic arrangement.
The first and dumbest is when I decide (based on that timeless maternal cocktail of inferiority and weighty concern for what imaginary critics might think) that my intuition isn’t good enough. Sometimes, usually when Ida is on an “I’m-only-eating-starch” spree or is generally being a jerkwad at the table, I falter in my resolve to abstain from food fights. Ida wants a cookie and I decide that it makes sense that she has to eat a certain number of carrots to get it. And then I find myself exactly where I didn’t want to be: as a root vegetable accountant/lunch warden. Not that there is anything wrong with this arrangement – it just doesn’t suit me.
And then there was the night of the fish taco. I had just patiently gone through the whole rigmarole of inviting Ida to try what I had prepared for dinner that night – some delicious fish tacos with black beans and avocado (my mouth is watering now just thinking about this lovely meal). Having recently been turned on to some really smart ideas about different ways to try foods by the teachers at Ida’s preschool, we had a great conversation. We discussed how there are a lot of other ways to try a food than taking a bite. For example, maybe just taking a small helping onto your plate could be a first step, then maybe smelling or touching the food, etc. This great conversation culminated in her assembling her own fish taco with great interest and enthusiasm. And just as she was bringing her savory creation to her mouth for a bite (and I was smugly thinking “yes! I’m a parenting genius! Ida’s pumped to try this new food! And it’s all because I’m not making it a fight! I’m awesome!”) She abruptly dumped the taco guts-side down onto my plate and exclaimed, “This taco is disgusting, Mama!” Something in me snapped. I calmly excused myself from the table and cried over the kitchen sink muttering all manner of clichés about being “unappreciated” and this being “the thanks I get.” It was a doozie. But don’t worry, because Ida came in to apologize, sweetly saying “Don’t be sad about the disgusting tacos, Mama.”
The moral of it all? It’s a kind-of choose-your-own-adventure situation. One possible takeaway is that your intuition matters. Whatever approach makes sense to you in confronting some aspect of parenting is valid and shouldn’t be dismissed just because you enjoy being a jerk to yourself of imagining that there is a parenting critic judging your every move. Does it work for you? Does it work for your kid? Yeah? Then you did it. Get yourself a treat. Another possible takeaway is that even when you’ve found the perfect fit in dealing with whatever, it doesn’t mean that somebody isn’t occasionally going to throw a taco at you. Don’t be surprised if even the most perfect parenting strategies leave you crying in the kitchen. You didn’t mess up. It’s just that hard.
Get yourself a treat.