“But does he eat?” The exasperation in her voice was overwhelming and I could not help but overhear the conversation. There, at the garage between the school afternoon pick up and a dash to the store to get a few groceries, these two mums were discussing exactly what mummy nightmares are made of!
When your child doesn’t eat well…it’s enough to turn you into a nervous wreck; you’re agitated that your child is growing up without essential nutrients and getting them to eat well becomes an obsession.
I could not help but laugh as I caught snippets of their chat. I laughed, not at them, but my own situation and how different it is!
My son is constantly on the hunt for food – hand in the cupboard, container, cookie jar, curry pot, fruit basket and fridge! He eats well and it’s exhausting. I sometimes feel like a food processor and dishwasher rolled into one – with different commands that have me working in robotic motions. But at least he is eating! I shouldn’t complain, right? Got it.
Home-cooked meals are his favourite. So if we’re invited to a party or family event, he generally prefers to come back home and eat. That’s also his OCD complex – no offense to family and friends; that’s just the way he is. It’s difficult to re-invent the wheel with him. He expects what he eats to look and taste a certain way. If it doesn’t, then he simply won’t eat it, never mind if it’s a fancy restaurant. I know what he expects so I prepare, even if it means toasted cheese sandwiches cut into four triangles at 10pm (true story from last week!) And yes, he is that pedantic – to the point where if it’s not the brand of milk he drinks, he won’t drink it.
It’s easier to understand his eating likes and dislikes now that he is older. But I was also much stricter with his diet when he was little to ensure that he established a healthy routine. Thank God for my amazing paediatrician who gave me solid advice on this front. As long as she was happy with his weight and development, I was happy. She is an expert after all. But here’s the thing… everyone who is anyone considers themself an expert on a child’s weight gain or lack thereof. And, aside from the sneers and nasty remarks, they will readily dish out advice and insist that you try it. This happened to me when my son lost weight after he started walking. Oh boy! Some people made me feel like I was starving my child! I recall being at an event and walking away with tears. But then I learnt how to respond without the waterworks. I’d simply state the facts, “The paediatrician said his weight is fine.”
Of course, then, I was accused of trying too hard to be a “new-age” mum and that I should not ignore tried and tested advice. I’m sorry. But I politely declined. Because some of the suggestions were nonsensical. There was no way I was going to introduce eating habits I did not approve of to my child.
It’s safe to say that society’s obsession with weight starts far too early. Children are expected to be chubby because it makes them cute. If they aren’t, then something has to be wrong. Why such a narrow-minded approach? The weight of babies, like adults, depends on various factors. Metabolism, genetics, underlying medical conditions and food allergies can all play a role. Think about these before pronouncing on a child’s weight. I think we are ignoring other markers here – is a child happy, is a child active? Aren’t these important too? This fixation with weight can be very emotional for mothers who are trying their best but feel they are constantly being judged.
Mums, keep on at it. Try new food items. Experiment. Add different combinations. Be creative and make meals and snacks look fun to eat. There are tons of exciting options online. I profess, I’m no expert but my experience has taught me that it only gets better as they get older. And, if you have serious concerns about your child’s weight, seek help from a medical professional first, not the gallery of public opinion. Your child will thank you later for staying sane amid the meal prep mania.
And as with most matters in motherhood – it’s trial and error, then success!