Lately, feeding the boys has been the least enjoyable part of my day.
They yell at me before the meal, first because they’re hungry, and then because they don’t want to be in their highchairs.
They yell at me during the meal, for any number of reasons. They don’t like what’s on the menu. They object to being spoon fed. Or they don’t want to feed themselves. Maybe one got bonked on the head by the other. Or they dropped their sippy cups.
And they yell at me after the meal, because they hate having their faces and hands wiped. You’d think I was torturing them, so guttural and pained are their screams.
We aren’t yellers, J and I, so this constant and immutable noise has me frustrated and perplexed. A couple of times, to avoid losing what little patience I have left, I’ve had to just remove the choking hazards and leave the room and let them yell to themselves while I eye the box of wine on top of my fridge and stuff my face with chocolate in an attempt to calm down.
Normally, they are such happy, good-natured little boys. So what am I doing wrong, seriously? I don’t force them to eat anything. I encourage them to try a wide variety of foods, but I don’t insist on them finishing anything. When they’re full they’re full. I provide plenty of foods that I know they like. I try to keep mealtimes fun and brief. When needed, I morph into a bloody court jester, singing them little songs and making faces and tickling their toes.
It’s not working. I dread mealtimes. And I feel really, really guilty about it.
Just as there are as many perspectives on potty training as there are parents in the world, there are innumerable opinions on feeding babies. If anything, it’s an even more loaded topic because food is such a cultural, social, and emotional thing for so many of us.
My sister-in-law tried “baby-led weaning” – BLW for those of you well versed in parenting acronyms – with my nephew and it worked great. So I bought the official BLW book and read it. I didn’t get very far because it clashed so horrendously with my own beliefs about the role of mealtime in the house. One of its core tenets is around baby choosing when and what to eat. As I understood it you’re just supposed to offer food all day and baby will eat what and when he likes.
Nope. Not in this house. The only thing baby gets to decide is how much he eats: I decide what, and as for when, they can eat at mealtimes like the rest of us, thank you very much. I breastfed on demand for the first six months. At 12 months, baby can eat on a schedule like the rest of the family.
(Though, given my current difficulties I’m starting to wonder if my method is flawed.)
So, if not BLW, then what approach would I take to feeding the boys? I decided to throw all the “methods” out the window on this one and just do what felt right to me. I didn’t even take the advice about “when” you’re supposed to introduce certain foods. After 7 months, it was a free-for-all and I let the boys try pretty much everything that J and I eat – with the exception of raw fish and honey, which for some reason is on the Big Bad List of Foods Not to Feed Your Baby. There are no food allergies in our families so I felt pretty safe in going all-in.
I pureed and mashed what I had to. I let them pick up and feed themselves anything else. (I have only had to do the “baby Heimlich” maneuver once, when R shoved a whole cracker down his throat. I was grateful I had taken a first aid course.) As a result, I think the boys are pretty adventurous eaters, at least for now. They like lots of things. They are pretty good with all kinds of textures. When in doubt I just add cheese and presto! Babies eat it.
Above all, I want the boys to have better eating habits than I do. I don’t want them to turn to food for comfort or to ease boredom (guilty as charged, see above response to mealtime fits). I’m very careful not to use food as a reward or to silence them when they’re cranky. I make sure we eat dinner as a family every night. I feel sure I am doing everything “right” – but these tantrums they are pitching at mealtimes are causing my confidence to waver significantly.
I am sure this is how parents end up wheeling the highchairs into the living room and turning on SpongeBob. I really hope it doesn’t come to that.