Picky eating is a whole family issue. We eat several times a day, every day, and when each meal or snack has the potential to be stressful and upsetting (for parents and children alike) this affects the entire family. In this post, I want to explore what happens when parents have different ideas about how to approach picky eating. Not only does this make the task of parenting a picky eater even more challenging, it can also affect your couple-relationship.
If you are part of a couple, you come to parenting from different places. However similar your backgrounds, you have had different life experiences and may well have divergent beliefs. You may even be from very different cultures and have very distinct ideas about how children should be expected to behave around food. Beyond culture, you have different personalities and you fill your days with different things - this affects your parenting too.
A quick note to single parents: By popular demand, I will be writing soon on how to work with an ex when you’re supporting a picky eater. This is a really common question with its own specific challenges
Gregor and Lottie
Gregor is Polish American and his Midwestern wife Lottie is an only child, who describes her childhood as ‘pampered’. She was the centre of her parents’ world, and was often indulged - by her mother especially - who expressed love by cooking Lottie her favourite foods.
Gregor and Lottie have a three year old daughter called Bea - she is a force of nature; very sure of her own mind and always on the go! Bea isn’t extremely picky; she has a reasonable diet overall, but she often rejects the food her parents serve her. Lottie likes to whip up an alternative, seeing it as her maternal role to offer Bea food she likes. Gregor feels strongly that Bea should eat what she is given or go hungry. His parents knew real poverty and hunger and he has been raised to appreciate food and be grateful for it. Gregor hates waste with a passion.
Bea’s eating is beginning to have an impact on Gregor and Lottie’s relationship. They argue about how to approach meals, and emotions run high. They are miles from coming up with a consistent strategy because they just can’t agree, and tensions are mounting...
Do you recognise this?
It is hard enough to make decisions about how to approach your child’s eating, before you begin to factor in consistency across two parents. Research tells us that picky eating genuinely impacts parents’ wellbeing and stress levels . When you’re already feeling under stress because of your child’s eating, you are not in a great place to deal with a partner with a different point of view. Struggling with our children’s issues is draining; it knocks our resilience and ability to manage the other challenges life throws at us.
The importance of consistency
Why does consistency matter? Well, if you’re not on the same page with any aspect of parenting, your child will be getting mixed messages. Mum says it’s ok to leave your clothes on the bathroom floor, Dad demands that they are picked up… it’s confusing. It’s the opposite of a strong, unified front where you stand firm and say “In this house, we pick up our clothes”. It leaves room for manipulation, for playing one parent off against the other. Above all, if your partner is not backing up your message, this leaves you unsupported. When your kids throw you a curve ball, you need each other!
So - you are different people with potentially different worldviews, backgrounds and even beliefs. How do you move from this to a consistent approach to how you manage your child’s eating? These three tips will give you a starting point to work from.
How to work together.
- Process your stuff together - rake through your emotional baggage as a couple. If you can talk about how you have arrived at your current attitudes and beliefs, you will be more likely to understand one another, to have compassion for where the other is coming from and to be able to build vital lines of communication. I have a free resource for you that will give you a framework for this process.
- Decide how to approach your child's eating jointly - this might mean taking a trip to a feeding specialist together. I only recommend working with professionals who use evidence-based approaches to feeding children; If you can consult with a feeding specialist together, both of you can get to grips with what you need to do and why you need to do it.
- Agree your ‘family food policy’ and stick to it. You may both need to make compromises, that’s okay. What is important is that you can agree on a few ground rules that you both implement.