I know I shouldn’t but I still keep doing it: I keep fighting with the twins about food.
The parenting books – by western authors, by the way – all say how you should let the child decide how much of what food they to eat. They won’t starve themselves, and they won’t binge on one item and ignore another – over the long run, they will select a healthy diet. (This, provided you offer them healthy options of course, not an option between veggies on one hand and chips and chocolates on the other.)
I do believe I should do this, and I’m trying very hard to do it. I try not to worry if they opt to skip a meal, or eat only curd at dinner, or only drink milk for breakfast. Yet, it’s a losing battle: despite my best efforts, I all-too-often end up forcing food on them, fighting them to get one more morsel down their gullets, holding their arms, ignoring their wails.
Why do I do this? I feel lousy afterwards. I do believe that having a happy and relaxed meal is going to do them more good than those few extra mouthfuls I force on them. I can even hear a little voice telling me this when I’m force-feeding them – why don’t I listen?
To answer my own question, I think there are several reasons. One is that I’ve got the food ready and it is really frustrating to have it spurned.
Another is that I hate to see food wasted, but, since the kids’ food is full of delicious and fatty things including a generous dollop of butter, Amit and I generally don’t eat it.
And then, there’s ego – stupid, petty, childish, despicable ego: “If I’m telling you to eat this, you’re jolly well going to eat this, or else!”
Yet another is that I don’t want to feel that I gave up feeding them in a hurry (being impatient as I am) and thus deprived them of food at every meal. This is compounded by the pressure I’ve been under from the start to ensure that the kids put on weight, because, from the day we got them, doctors have said that they are way underweight for their age – around the 5th percentile compared to normal Indian kids. So, I’ve had this sort of Job No. 1 task of feeding them well and getting them to gain weight – in order to win doctors’ approval, if nothing else.
Still another is that I am, after all, Indian, and in India it is the done thing to keep stuffing food into your children to make them nice and plump; all good mothers must do this and if you don’t and if your children are not nice and plump, you must be a horrid, callous mother who starves her kids. If you were to be heard in public telling your kids, “eat it if you want it, if you don’t want it, don’t eat,” there would be gasps of horror all around and heads would swivel and eyes accuse you of cruelty that make Genghis Khan pale in comparison.
I don’t buy into this philosophy, of course, but at a subliminal level, it is there.
What earns you approving nods from the extended family in India is one of two feeding strategies. You either force-feed your kids by laying them down in your lap, gripping their hands and legs tightly, and dropping food straight into their throats – if they are howling, that helps because then their maws are wide open; or, you run around behind them distracting them with toys, playmates, music, TV or whatever, and sneaking the food in when they are not paying attention. (These strategies tend to merge as kids grow older, but the general philosophy remains intact – stuff your kids till they are fit to burst, or you’re not a good mother.)
I don’t do either of these, but I do demand that they sit still and focus on the food and cut out any squirming, screaming, playing with the food etc. It is unrealistic to expect a child to sit quietly and eat her food with dedication and decorum… but that’s what I aim for. I know, it’s an exercise in futility, it’s doomed from the start. They squirm and scream and giggle and play and I get impatient, irritated, frustrated, and plain mad. That’s when I start cajoling or shouting and simultaneously thrusting food down their gullets, when what I should do is to realize that they’re done with food and ready to go back to playing.
Easier said than done.
It doesn’t help, of course, that I’ve been feeding them the last 30-odd meals on the trot without a single break and am therefore running increasingly short on patience.
But, all the reasons and excuses notwithstanding, I’m resolving, here, publicly, right now, that I’m going to stop doing this once and for all, and am going to let them eat as much or as little as they want and am not going to force, persuade, cajole, plead, entice, encourage, or in any way try to increase their food intake ever again. Unless it’s medicine. Amen.