What Are We Missing?

I do believe that every parent has thought at some point that they must be doing something wrong- that the tornado of insanity descending on those of us with small children throughout a 24 hour period cannot be normal. But, maybe I should face the possibility that it is just me and that everyone else skips about their days with ease, order and structure.

I’ve lost count of how many mealtime madness posts I have written.  I keep thinking we will find some sort of magic key that unlocks the secret door to enjoyable dining, but I feel no closer to this treasure than I did two and a half years ago when baby number one started eating something other than what naturally dispensed from me, with no preparation, no mess and no clean up.  Man, those were the days.

I have shared many meals with other families and have noticed the rules that are in place for their toddlers. Rules that seem to be understood and followed. Rules that I had every intention of setting and fiercely holding to myself.

-We sit at the table until everyone is finished.

-We try everything on our plate.

-We eat something green at every meal

-We eat what is served

-We don’t throw food on the floor

-We don’t throw cups of liquid at our sibling

-We don’t use pasta sauce as finger-paint on the table.

You know, the basics.

But, once baby number two came along, I lost the ability, time and focus to enforce matters such as broccoli eating onto my 16 month old, while simultaneously breast-feeding at the table and attempting to steal a few morsels off my own plate to keep from passing out after day’s worth of no sustenance for myself.

I am tempted to say that these meals during which I have noted the stellar behavior of my friends’ children and the contrasting atrocity of my own, have been with single-child families.  But I am fully aware that I am possibly making excuses for being a shitty parent who has lost all control, and that perhaps there are plenty of parents with children 16 months apart or closer, who have managed to maintain some modicum of pleasantness during the evening meal.

So, I ask all of you Saintly ones for help.

Our children are complete, unruly little maniacs at dinner time, and should you show up at 5:30 pm, I might contemplate selling them to you for a small price.  I cannot think of another parenting woe that compares to this one. Sleep deprivation- HUGE.

Still, dinner time takes the cake.

I was at a baby shower yesterday, quietly listening while a mother of a six month old spoke very knowingly about her ideas of food and nutrition for her daughter.

“We only give such and such.”
“We believe such and such.”
“We only do such and such.”

I wanted to blurt out,

“Here is my number. Get back to me when she is over one and if you add another kid to the mix”

But I shhhed my mouth by stuffing it with three too many scones and
escaped to the bathroom to allow my eyes the rolling they were twitching to hold back.

I too, had very lofty plans. And perhaps I’m just pissed that regardless of hours, days, months, and years of boundless effort and energy, they are simply not in action.

I exclusively breastfed, and when solids were introduced, I started with homemade vegetable purees.  I spent hours preparing my own nutrient-rich baby food. Never has a plate been set before my children that lacks rich, vibrant color.

But, sadly I am on the brink of giving up. I spend weekends  preparing food and concocting meals that I believe will excite my children, only to have them pushed  away, thrown, or just plain refused.

Both kids.
So I can’t blame it on basic nature of inborn character.

The meal they will eat?  Breakfast. By breakfast time, they are so hungry there is barely a peep for half an hour. Waffles, cereal, oatmeal, fruit, yogurt…all in one meal. It’s a morning buffet at the Motherfog house.

Lunch?  Maybe a piece of cheese and a cracker.

Dinner- forget about it.

(the obvious seems that they have too many calories in the a. m.,  but we have tinkered with this scenario with no positive results and feel that at least one meal should be complete.)

But, please believe me when I say that dinner is something on which we have placed great importance. In Los Angeles, my husband rolled back his hours in order to facilitate a sit down family meal.  And yet, here we are, in the thick of Hurricane Hugo every evening at 5:30 pm.

I do believe that we all wonder from time to time if we have missed some sort of mark with this parenting fiasco, only to have the truth be told that there is no mistake; parenting  is chaotic, messy and disorganized by nature, especially during toddler years.  But, something tells me that with this particular issue, we have indeed missed the mark in our house.

Yes, with children so close in age we did sacrifice the ability to focus heavily on certain matters. For my own emotional and physical health, I had to loosen the laces on my perfectionistic standards.  But have we really ruined our children’s chances of ever becoming healthy, respectful diners by having them 16 months apart?  Surely not.  We are not the first to enter the eye of the storm and we won’t be the last.

So, what is it? What are we missing?

Bat-shit and hungry

Have a click!

21 responses to “What Are We Missing?

  1. Oh Em – you are not alone! 16 months apart or 5 years apart – meal time has been chaotic for all of us at one time or another. I currently have one that will only eat certain foods, one that for an hour prior to supper time will insist he despises the meal being prepared and one who will only consume the meal place before him if he makes barnyard animal sounds while doing so. Welcome to my personal hell! I too thought I was going to have the meal time rules: sit down, eat what is prepared, try everything and so on. We have now moved on to: kids dinnertime that includes food they will eat and as many nights as possible grown up dinnertime after the kids have gone to bed in order for Mom & Dad to enjoy a meal in peace. There is no right or wrong answer. You just have to find what works for you and your family. As far as dining in public – forget about it. Perhaps when they are in college we may try it again!

    • Emily @ Motherfog

      Jess, that is a good idea. We used to do that as well, but I got tired of eating so late. But, we may have to revisit the idea. dining in public…not fun is it?!

  2. Emily, I’ll remind you of what someone told me when I was feeling that we’d missed the mark on ‘this or that’— this phase will end. And there’s no end to this chapter. You’ve got the next 16 or so years to continue to impose your values and food choices on your kids. And even if they were behaving, eating, doing all that you think is the model of perfection for mealtime, it could change next week or next year. It’s always changing. So hold on. You’re a great mom! Your intentions are clear. Your kids are healthy and they’re getting what they need. You’ll continue to model the behavior and food choices that are best for them and eventually this will all level out. Sending you love and happy meals!

    • Emily @ Motherfog

      thanks Sarah. that is always the best reminder. The bad changes just as quickly as the good! I often give that advice myself. But, can’t seem to remember for myself!

  3. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Same applies to children and food, I’m afraid. Jess and Sarah are both right! Continue to offer healthy choices and they will eat what they need to survive. Over the course of the next 15 or 20 years you will get tired of trying to run a restaurant and trying to please your family. And once they go to school and get invited (without you) to their friends’ houses you won’t be able to always monitor what goes into their mouths. But trust me, you will all survive and they will thrive and grow up to surprise you on their food choices! (I used to try to please, at most, two out of three children. Now they eat stuff I wouldn’t touch). Keep offering the good stuff, and then relax, knowing you’re a great mom!

    • Emily @ Motherfog

      So true about the friends houses! I always forget that my children wont always be right under my nose! I guess we ease into that, huh? Thanks for this advice and much needed praise!

  4. Yes, commenters, yes.

    Do some preliminary research on toddlers and mealtime and you’ll find:
    Yes, it’s reasonable that they sit. For about two minutes. Anything more is unusual.
    Yes, it’s reasonable to hope they don’t throw. Good luck. Show then where to put what they don’t like, and give them a towel for cleanup. It’ll stick by age Three or so.
    Yes, it’s reasonable to ask that they try everything. They won’t, though. I make one new thing and two old things for each meal. Sometimes the old things are apple and yogurt. But they eat something. Not a lot, not what I hope, and not what I’ve cooked.
    Yes, it’s reasonable to expect that you all sit down together for one nutritious meal. Yours is breakfast. Mazel tov. You’ve done a heckuva job feeding them when they’re hungry.
    Yes, it’s reasonable to serve breakfast foods for dinner. Or lunch foods. When my kids really piss me off, the next night is sandwiches for dinner. Because nobody has told them that’s ridiculous.

    Someone told me they take the whole week approach to kid eating. I take the whole day approach. If they have three fruits at one meal, we’re cool on fruit. If they have tons of protein at breakfast, we’re done with breakfast. If they have shittons of crackers for snack, we’ve hit our whole grain requirement.

    Dinner is hell. Dinner prep is hell. Make what you want, sit down, try your best to stay calm, and accept that they’re not going to eat. When they start to get down, ask if they’re done. If so, pretend to feed their food to daddy. If it doesn’t work, let ’em go. When they nibble a few things, celebrate. Their stomachs are the size of 1/4 cup. And they’re tired. Catch ’em the next morning at breakfast.

    • Emily @ Motherfog

      I have heard that whole week approach and it always gives me a little sigh of relief. I guess my worry is that giving them cereal or oatmeal (which is what they want) after our dinner is offered will not enforce good habits? But, with all of these comments and many like it on facebook, it seems I am expecting too much. Today was lovely. Thanks to all of you telling me to chill out! Per your suggestion, the kids had carrots and hummus tonight, and then later, ate the tortilla soup I made! Twilight zone.

      • Naptimewriting

        Some of it might be control. And you know what? There’s so little they control. If you give them oatmeal, the worst that happens is that they never eat a meal again that isn’t oatmeal. Really gonna happen? Nope.

        I know the pressure to do it right. I know the feeling that you’re failing them by “giving in.” But seriously. Cost benefit. Is this processed and over sugared oatmeal or is this oatmeal you cook in a pot? I add raisins and almond butter and a few drips of maple syrup to make oatmeal a whole meal.

        Would that make it feel better?

        Don’t cut out snack, by the way. If they eat healthy snacks and are too full for dinner, that just means they ate healthy snacks. Protein up their snacks with yogurt smoothies and nut butter sandwiches. Then write dinner off.

        You need that break and they won’t die. Or forever swear off dinner. Or be single, in your basement, playing video games at age 40.

        Hummus, baby. It’s the perfect “okay, fine!” meal.

  5. Everyone that has already commented is correct. You are doing the right things and they will eat what they need to survive. My one piece of advice, don’t make them different meals – it will only lead to a bigger problem in the end.

    At my house, I have some kids that love breakfast and consume the majority of their caloric intake for the day at that meal. I have others that don’t like breakfast but eat fabulous at dinner. When looking at what your kids are eating, it has to be more of a whole day or even whole week outlook instead of that one meal.

    Here’s my personal history with food to hopefully offer you some reassurance. As a child, I was a horribly picky eater. I couldn’t stand sauces, salad dressing, condiments, my food touching, foods of certain textures, foods that had strange smells, etc. I took half of a peanut butter (no jelly) sandwich to school for my whole school career, K-12. And, just so you know, nobody else in my family had any issues with food. My mother never made me special meals. I was expected to taste everything on my plate – but never forced to eat all of it. I consumed the majority of my calories for breakfast and lunch every day. I remained a fairly picky eater until my 20s. Then, for who knows what reason, I began to be willing to eat a wider variety of foods. I wouldn’t say that now I am someone who eats everything, but I definitely don’t stand out like I did when I was younger. And, I still prefer to eat more at breakfast and lunch than I do at dinner. See – your kids are way better than I was as a kid. 🙂

    Hold firm to your rules and expectations – they’re all reasonable. Acknowledge that your kids are still young and are right now they are finding strength in numbers to try to take you down. Be firm. Follow through with consequences for bad table manners like throwing food. Be consistent. Some horses are more wild and difficult to break in than others. 😉

    And, remember….as soon as you feel as though you have conquered this hurdle, they’ll be ready with a new challenge for you.

    • Emily @ Motherfog

      All good things to know, Rita. That is my worry, as I said to Naptime. I do think maybe i should ease up on some expectations (food throwing not being one of them) but I don’t want to always offer a second choice when they don’t like what I’ve made. I also don’t want starving children at 8pm! It’s a balance. And you are right. As Sarah said too, once this changes, something else will take it’s place!

      • I personally wouldn’t offer a second choice. In my opinion, by doing that they will come to expect that if they hold out long enough they’ll get what they want. On very few occasions, I have had a child go to bed hungry because they he/she not to eat dinner. And, I won’t pretend that they happily made that choice and then went peacefully to bed. But, they did learn that we meant it when we said, “This is what’s for dinner. If you don’t want it that is fine, but there isn’t another choice.”

      • Just wanted to add that when the majority of my children were in the toddler/preschool stage, I typically made things with ingredients I knew they liked and would eat for dinner. If we were introducing something new at dinner, I would make sure there were old favorites they liked as part of the meal too (as much as I could). Until they were about 5, my expectations of what and how much of the dinner they ate remained low.

      • Emily @ Motherfog

        Very good to know and keep in mind. I have been putting much less pressure on it these past few days and things have become MUCH more enjoyable. I think I forget their ages sometimes

      • Emily @ Motherfog

        Very good to know and keep in mind. I have been putting much less pressure on it these past few days and things have become MUCH more enjoyable. I think I forget their ages sometimes

  6. I have a 3 year old and a 15 year old, my 3 year old is going thru the same phase that my older child did at her age……she has about 4 meals that she will eat for dinner…..no matter what I do, or what I try. Instead of trying to force her to eat what I want, I give in, I let her pick what she wants to eat for dinner (lunch and breakfast she is MUCH better about) and I let her decide when she is done. She maybe sits for 1/4 of the meal and then runs around and stops for bites to eat. I know im not setting a good example, but I have hope. Once my 15 year old hit about 5 years old he became a better eater than me. He likes a wide variety of foods, will try anything and sits while he eats, lol. I really think it is just the age, this will pass, so don’t let it stress you! They say that making mealtime stressful for young kids isn’t healthy, toddlers eat when they are hungry, they don’t care what time it is, or what they should be having (no amount of bribery helps this in my house), so enjoy your meal…………believe me, one day they will sit at the table and act like people instead of un-caged monkeys 🙂

  7. Oh Emily, I think you are being too hard on yourself, or I am in denial and making it seem like that is all normal because you should come to my house at dinner time, or any meal time, which a few occur on their anywhere chairs while I collect myself for the day! as mothers we often compare ourselves to others, and our kids to theirs, and our behaviors and the manner of which we conduct ourselves and taking care of our children to others….we need to stop. we are not them, we are our own selves! I have tried to be perfect, givingmy kids perfectly balanced meals, but they are not interested. a doctor told me once, would you eat what you didn’t like or didn’t want to at a meal? don’t make it a battle he said! I rely on a vitamins…my boys eat nothing green, layla does, but they are all fruit (some fruits) lovers, i push that, cheese is a staple, they love love yogurt, bread, lunch meats…they only eat a few meals at dinner, will not try anything new, but it keeps me sane to not make it a battle. I also feed them when they are hungry for dinner since tim works out of town and doesn’t get home till 6:15ish, or i let them snack so meal time isn’t chaos,. who am i kidding, it is, thye want down when they want down, but sometimes just gettiong 10 min with them and no fight is worth letting them get down and cleaned up so my hubby and I can talk!

    You are a wonderful mother, with small kids close in age, give yourself a break, and think that maybe some mother somewhere is looking at you saying i wish my life was like that!

    • Emily @ Motherfog

      Love this, Erica! Thank you. You are so right. You just never know if what you are experiencing is normal, right? Thank so much for sharing this. as I said to Rita, I have put less pressure on dinner during these past few days and things have been much better. Happy dining! 🙂

  8. I have given up on dinner. It is bad, but I can’t do it anymore. I have a 6 and 2.5 year old. The 6 year old is crazy picky, he doesn’t like anything…which in turn influences the little one. Prett sure the little one would actually eat anything if she want watching big brother. The snack all day, they are always hungry, but never for dinner. You are not alone….

    • Emily @ Motherfog

      Always good to know I am not alone, Kelli. The snacking is insane, isn’t it. It seems they are always hungry for snacks. I’ve tried cutting back on the snack as some experts suggest and that doesn’t work. Snack away, I say!

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