I’m a grandmother, but I don’t give a lot of advice. Not much that I did with my own kids ever worked. But there is one area where I succeeded.
This would be the food fights. I never had them with my kids. I generally say that this was because I listened to the ‘experts’ and followed their advice. When my first child was 2, my pediatrician sat me down, and said, “between birth and now, your child has doubled his weight. But for the next two years, they’ll only gain 4 pounds. They’ll only eat two meals a day. Don’t worry. Don’t feed them sugary snacks, and trust me, they won’t stave.”
So when I think about the adventurous appetites of my now adult children, I generally attribute my success to listening to the experts.
But recently, when I was talking to my own children about their children and food, I got unexpectedly upset. And I remembered a grimmer reason, based on a piece of my own history that I had tried to forget.
It wasn’t from my childhood. My mother never forced to me eat. I had no memories of trying to feed the dog under the table, or of keeping food in the side of my mouth for hours until I could spit it out unobserved.
No. This memory was from my early 20’s, when I was in a bad relationship.
I thought I was in love. He was brilliant, sensitive, and misunderstood. Many of us know this story. One of our earliest tension points was his habit of going out for pizza at midnight. I didn’t object to it. I was happy to go out with him. I just wasn’t hungry at that time of night. So, while I tried to join in, I rarely consumed more than a bite or two. He was hurt. I tried harder. But, paradoxically, the harder I tried, the less I could eat. He should have just shrugged and said “Hey, just come along for the ride.”
But he didn’t. And the problem got worse. We would go out to eat for supper. I would be sure that I was hungry. But when we sat down, an expensive meal in front of us, I couldn’t eat. I was too anxious to eat, my tension bordering on nausea. The more I tried the the harder it became. At the height of the problem, while on business trips, I would put a wastebasket beside me before I phoned him, just in case I threw up while talking.
I weighted 112 when I moved in with him. At 100 pounds, I fell out of love and left him.
So five years later, happily married with children, I remembered. I remembered sitting at that expensive restaurant, and being terrified I would vomit if I had to put another bite in my mouth. I remembered thinking that what was happening just might be abuse. When I had small children those memories were still fresh. And I realized that what seemed so terrible to me as a grown women would only be worse for a child. So, I was very careful to never get into a food fight with my children.
Today, 40 years and 40 pounds heavier, I tell my children. Please, please, don’t ever force your children to eat. Good food is such a gift; it should never be turned into a dreaded ordeal. After all, children always want to please, children never fall out of love with their parents, and children can’t just leave.