I wrote recently about the importance of working as a team with your partner if you have one. This post is for those parents who are not part of a couple, or maybe you are in a relationship but you have a former partner who is in your child's life and regularly eats with them.
A unique set of challenges
It's stressful enough parenting a picky eater, but when you're going it alone, you may find yourself faced with some issues specific to your situation. Here are three things that may be harder if you are not part of a couple:
1 - You may find that your ex (if this is your circumstance) parents differently to you in relation to food
Some couples are able to parent in a unified and mutually supportive way even though they are no longer together. It's fantastic if you can make co-parenting work for you and if communication is good between you and your ex.
Sadly, for many people this is just not reality. Perhaps the split was acrimonious and the bad feeling between you means that chatting calmly about how you parent just isn't a realistic option. Perhaps your ex is simply not open to having a conversation about how you approach feeding; they might feel like they know best, or may simply not be interested in your opinion.
Of course, there are many situations where you may be a single parent without an ex on the scene, but if you are trying to co-parent, it can be so stressful to feel that your approach to your child's eating is not being respected or assimilated. Some people feel that food is used as a weapon - for example, if you are not keen on your child being given lots of sugar, your ex might give your child sweets (candy) as a way of hurting you.
I have even heard (anecdotally) of a situation where a woman's former partner gave her gluten-intolerant child bread, because he thought that her ideas about their son's gluten intolerance were mistaken and he wanted to challenge her. Imagine her anger when she found herself caring for a child with stomach-ache after their son had been dropped back home.
Of course, this is an extreme example, but sadly, parents who share childcare in circumstances where their relationship is very dysfunctional, will recognise that sometimes, children may be used as a means to score points. Comments about a child's eating from one partner, can also be experienced as criticism of their parenting, by the other.
You have two options if you feel that your child's other parent is not feeding your child in a way that you can agree with - the first, is to try really hard to explain what you are doing and why, as well as presenting some written guidelines so that your expectations are clear. The second is to make like Elsa and 'Let it go...' . However, If you are at a place where you can have a constructive conversation, it is really worth trying to make this work. Like anything, it may also require some compromise on your part.
If you can explain your approach with reference to professional advice you are following, this is much more powerful (and will be perceived as less aggressive) than "Do it because I say so and I know best". Maybe you have read a book on picky eating which has informed your philosophy; buy your ex a copy. Perhaps you have had your child assessed by a feeding professional; give your ex a copy of their report and recommendations.
If you have tried your absolute best, but your child's other parent is still just not willing to co-operate, you may need to make the decision to accept this. If your child is with you for the majority of the time, know that you will be the most significant influence on their relationship with food. As an insightful client recently said to me in relation to this topic, there comes a time when you have to focus your energy on the things you DO have control over.
2) You may feel that having 'family meals' is not really an option
We all hear so much about how important it is to give your child communal eating experiences and to eat together as a family. My advice is this: redefine 'family meal'. Even if it's just you and your child, sitting down to a sandwich, you are having a family meal. Even if there are just two of you, you are still a family!
Look at your schedule and make sure that you are taking advantage of every single occasion where you and your child can eat together. If they don't like the kind of foods you want to be eating, my guide to 'family style' meals will help you find a solution for this. Remember that it may not seem like much to you, but eating with your child as frequently as you can, will help them in so many ways.
Sometimes though, it can be useful to have a few more pairs of feet under the table - this is especially true If your child finds embracing a varied diet hard, and you find meals stressful. It can be a great idea to dilute that potential tension by inviting close friends and extended family to eat with you and your child as often possible.
When you are focused sharply on what and how your child is eating rather than the social side of meals, this can increase the pressure your child may be feeling. It's much easier to shift focus if you have other adults to help you keep the conversation going and the mood light.
3) You may not feel supported
If a relationship is working well, one of the best things about it is having someone who shares in the responsibility of childcare decisions and carries some of the load. I have spoken to single parents who feel very isolated because they are shouldering the weight of their concerns about their child's picky eating entirely alone.
This is not always the case; I have worked with single parents who feel liberated now that they have come out of a relationship that isn't working and are free to make parenting decisions independently. Every situation is different, but if you are feeling unsupported in relation to your child's eating, it's really important that you address this.
Chat to friends and family and join online support groups that you trust - places like the US site Feeding My Kid will give you a great sense of community, as will facebook groups like my group: Parenting Picky Eaters. Depending on where you live, there may be groups that meet to talk about parenting challenges. If there isn't one where you live, consider starting one!
Get the conversation going: there is somewhat of a taboo around picky eating - many parents don't like to admit the true extent of their child's eating issues. The more we speak up, though, the more other people will feel comfortable sharing... and the more people will realise that it's a pretty common problem and they are not alone.