I’m in an intense standoff. I think I’m losing, but the thing I’ve heard about being a parent is that you’re never, ever supposed to concede defeat. You’re supposed to outlast, you’re supposed to be full of loving but firm patience.
You know best.
You’re the mom.
Do not let that baby think he’s the boss or you’re screwed for the next eighteen years.
I’m sitting across from my son on a blue bar stool. He’s in his high chair, and in between us there is a big bowl of good food. Healthy food. And it tastes fantastic – or, you know, it would. It would taste fantastic if he would eat it.
I know this.
I’m the mom.
We’re both looking at the food. I am trying to be a negotiator. I’m trying to use reason and logic and words, which is silly, because my baby and I don’t even speak the same language.
I say, “This is good food. This food is good for you. Please just eat it; you need to.”
I was never on the debate team or anything.
He says, simply, “Mama? Ball.”
His argument is weak, but his jaws are so strong. They’re clamped shut like a car door. He doesn’t want this food. He only wants bread. Straight up. No peanut butter, even. I’m starting to wonder if I can bake meat and vegetables into his bread. Is that a thing that I could do?
I’m just lost here. I’m baffled. A friend who has a kid about the same age told me that her son eats everything. She says he’d eat the dog if she’d let him. She says it’s because she started him on such a wide variety of meat and vegetables from a very young age.
But I did too. Or, I tried to. He didn’t want them then and he doesn’t want them now. He’s picky. He was born like this. I swear.
Here’s the thing: I run a tight ship around here, I think. I make him clean up after himself. I’ve taught him the signs for please and thank you. He knows not to touch the books on the coffee table, he comes when I call him, he understands me when I tell him no or ask him to wait a minute. He’s a great kid.
And yet, here we are.
There are layers to this frustration; it’s a massive onion of a problem. The first and most obvious one is that I want my kid to be healthy because I love him. I want him to sleep so that his brain can rest and develop and so that he’ll be happy during the days. I want him to eat so that his body can grow and function. I don’t think I’m out of line for wanting these things.
The second layer is selfish: I want him to sleep because I want to sleep. I want him to eat anything because it would be easier for me if he would. Also: babies who are rested and fed are easier to hang out with all day.
The third is something that I just figured out very recently. It’s the layer that makes me cry when I cut into it (you know, if you’re still on board with the onion analogy). I feel like I’m not a good disciplinarian because I can’t win these battles. Like I’m not a good mom (I know, this is the oldest mom struggle in the book. Maybe everything in parenthood ultimately boils down to this annoying little fear).
I hate to admit it, but I was one of those people, pre-kids, who said those famous last words about how when I’m a parent, I won’t let my kids get away with…
I was going to be the boss. Not in a mean, condescending way, but in a patient, loving way. Where I would always win and my kids would respect me and eat broccoli and chicken. How hard could it be?
But right now as we sit across from each other, looking at this big bowl of good food that he’s not going to eat, I know I’ve failed. We’ve been here for an hour, and I’m going to give him just bread again.
“You are never going to get any taller than this if you don’t eat your vegetables,” I tell him sadly. He doesn’t even flinch. It’s like he knows about genetics.
I call my mom in desperation. I say, “He won’t eat these dumb carrots.” I sound like a 4-year-old. My mom is probably rolling her eyes all over her kitchen right now.
“Did you try peas?”
“I’ve tried everything.”
“Is there anything you know for sure he’ll eat?”
And I tell her that he’ll eat bread, but that he had bread for supper last night and also the night before. And she tells me to give him bread, and I give him bread. I’ve lost.
But my mom is a mom.
She knows best.
She tells me that this is normal, that it’s probably just a phase, that I shouldn’t give up and that I should keep offering other things. She gives me a few creative suggestions, things I hadn’t thought of.
And then she says to me, “You’re a good mom. You’re doing great. There are just some things you can’t make babies do.”
And I thought I should pass that along to you today, in case you’ve recently lost a standoff or two or, like me, are in a whole season of seriously dreading supper every single day. You might be the queen of loving discipline and steadfast consistency and still struggle with these things. Give yourself some grace.
You’re a good mom. You’re doing great. There are just some things you can’t make babies do.