A wedding story… In pictures, mostly.
My eldest child, my older daughter, was married last month. Isn’t she lovely? This is at the house, getting ready. A good 90% of everything was hand-made, hand-crafted, DIY. Her dress and headpiece were purchased. (Dress from Mod Cloth; fascinator, I don’t know.) But guess who did her own flowers??
Groom-to-be sneaks a kiss. Aaawww…
Maid of honour, best man and groom arrive with more wedding stuff. It was cloudy and threatening rain in the morning, but by the time the wedding happened (mid-afternoon), the sun had come out. Also, whereas it had been a sticky 38C earlier in the week, it was a lovely 24 on the day. Perfect!
The processional. The maid of honour, ring bearer and flower girl have all arrived. Now it’s just my baby, all grown up and on her way to her new life. I love this picture. A short walk, but possibly the most important one of her life!
The signing of the register. There were some legal loops here, because of course Dad isn’t really licensed to perform wedding in Missouri. So they were married at the court house the day before; the ceremony was for family, friends and celebration! To make it more official-like, Dad brought his Marriage Registry from Ontario.
Guess what? The Signing of the Register is not part of weddings in Missouri. Certainly nobody here but the Canadians knew what the heck was going on. Here, the bride is saying to the bemused among the guests, “It’s a Canadian thing!”
It’s also a darned good photo op, which even the bemused quickly realized. (The bride, groom, maid of honour and best man all sign.)
The whole fan-dambly. That’s me on the left, in the flowered dress, the brother, groom and bride, sister, and my wonderful husband.
Happy Wedding, Happy Marriage!
It was a great day.
On my post with the pro-breastfeeding video, Zoe commented that she’d “never seen anyone turn a hair” at the sight of a breastfeeding woman in the city of Norwich where she lives. (Or the city closest to where she lives? Where do you live, Zoe?)
I was struck by that, because you know that? I haven’t, either. Well, not when I was nursing my own children. This is even more striking, perhaps, when you understand that my eldest is 28. She was breastfed till she was over a year old. In all that time, as a stay-at-home mother, I took her wherever I went and nursed her when she needed. Restaurants, libraries, bus stops, church (and no, I didn’t necessarily go down to the nursery, which was often too full of distractions and noise), coffee shops, malls… Everywhere. I never once took her to a public toilet to nurse, either. Ick. My two younger children are almost-25 and 20. They, too, were nursed till they were a little over a year old. They, too, went everywhere with me, feeding as required.
And in all that time, I never had one negative remark. I did have a few positive ones.
— From a very elderly woman in the church I was attending at the time, when I slipped into a pew at the back of the sanctuary to nurse, a lovely frail lady who tottered back to keep me company. “It’s so nice to see young mothers feeding their own babies again! I always thought it was such a shame when those ridiculous doctors convinced all those poor women that those concoctions in bottles were better than what God had given us to feed our babies.” If she was 80-something then, and had fed her babies when she was in her twenties, she was talking about the 1920’s. History, right there in the pew beside me!
— From the woman in the seat beside me on a trans-Atlantic flight. My eldest was 9 months old, and I was nursing her during the ascent to assist with the popping of her teeny eardrums. “Oh, such a smart idea. She’ll be so much happier.” (Turns out she was a pediatric nurse at Sick Kids in Toronto, and her lovely husband an Anglican priest.)
For the most part, people ignored me when I fed my babies. Granted, that could have been the averted eyes of the squeamish … but I never got that impression. For the most part, I assumed people were just respecting my privacy.
Oh, wait! I’m wrong. I did have one negative response. When my son, Adam, my middle child, was five days old, we were visited in our home by good friends. When Adam cried, I made ready to nurse him. The husband of the couple made an exclamation of dismay. “You’re not going to do that here?!?”, he wailed.
I raised one eyebrow (I can do that) and nailed him with a steely glare. My tone was measured, but ironclad stern. “Byron. This is my home, and my baby is hungry. Yes, I’m going to ‘do that’ here. If you don’t like it, you can go out in the kitchen.”
Meantime, his wife, appalled, rolled her eyes at me as she smacked him in the arm. “BY-ron!!!” He glanced at my then-husband for male support, and found none. He was a great guy, Byron, and knew when to admit defeat. He grinned, heaved a giant mock-sigh. “Oh, all right. I guess I’m outnumbered.”
I fed my baby. Byron did not run cowering to the kitchen, and discovered being in the room with a breastfeeding baby wasn’t as horrific as he’d feared. (Three or so years later, when Byron’s first child was born, he was the strongest supporter of breastfeeding his wife could have asked for. I take some credit in turning that around.) 😀
Now, recall that all this was far closer to 30 years ago than 20. Three decades ago, pretty much, I nursed children in several cities in Ontario, with no backlash, no resistance, no negative comments whatsoever. Thirty years ago! Why, I wondered, this sudden flurry of defiantly pro-breastfeeding articles I’m seeing? As if women expect, as if they’ve actually been receiving, flack, push-back, disgust? I’m baffled.
The Canadian in me wants to suggests that it’s because breastfeeding is only just now being truly popularized in the (prudish) US, and so all these articles, posters, tweets and comments reflect American battles, battles largely won in Canada two and three decades ago. It could be that. Except that the video I posted was from Australia, of course. Hm. Is Australia equally prudish? I wouldn’t have thought so, but who knows?
Or was it that my experience wasn’t representative? I lived in urban Canada, in Ontario. Would I have experienced more revulsion had I been in rural Ontario? (Though that sweet little old pro-breastfeeding church lady? She was in Buffalo, New York, where I was living when my eldest was born.)
Or is it that there are pockets of prudery here and there, that people in those pockets post something on the internet, and the rest of us all read/watch what they’ve posted and come to believe it’s a bigger problem than it is? Because that happens. We know it does.
So, wanting to get to the bottom of it, I have a couple of questions. The first is for you currently (or recently) breastfeeding women.
1. How do most people respond to you? Positively? Negatively? Neutrally? (Not the outliers, now. The majority. I don’t want to hear about that one stinker every so often, and make him/her sound like they’re the norm. I’m interested in your everyday experience.) Though I admit I’m curious to know how frequently you encounter those stinkers, if you do.
2. How do you, breastfeeding or not, account for the sudden upsurge in defiant women demanding their right to … do something I thought was a non-issue 28 years ago?
I’m baffled. And curious.
Poppy is explaining the mysteries of Christmas, and Santa Claus in particular, to a very interested Rosie and Daniel.
“No presents? If you’re bad, you doesn’t get any presents?” Daniel digs a bit deeper. I think the boy realizes he has some cause for concern here.
Poppy is firm. “No. No presents for bad children.” She lifts her shoulder and crouches a bit, places her hands beside her cheeks, spreads the fingers, her eyes wide and shifting from side to side, the very posture of sneaky watchfulness. As imagined by a three-year-old, at any rate. Poppy tells her stories as much with her body as with her words. It’s a treat to watch her in action. “Santa Claus watches you aaaaaalllll the time, and you got to be good, and if you’re not?” She stands up suddenly, straight and tall, and slaps her hands together, cleaning imaginary sins and misdemeanors off her palms.
“You don’t get ANYTHING AT ALL!”
I work in a daycare. I have worked in a daycare for closing in on two decades now. I have heard about Santa each and every year. Now, when I was growing up, Santa brought one present. One modest present, at that. The rest were from identifiable people in my life. The big present? The one I’d been waiting for with bated breath for ever and ever? THAT one came from my mother, thank you so very much. I’m thinking she wanted the credit for her efforts. And whyever not?! Let some imaginary dude steal your thunder? Pfft.
So, Santa was part of my childhood Christmases, but not a big one. Lots of other things stood out more.
Thus, I didn’t ‘do’ Santa much with my own children. It didn’t rob us of the joy of the season. At all. In fact, I’ve argued before that shifting the emphasis may even have improved it. (Not, of course, that you can’t shift the emphasis and still have Santa.)
Not that I’ve ever once even considered disabusing a daycare tot of their belief in Santa. That’s totally their parents’ call, and I support whatever decisions they’ve made.
This year? It’s because of Poppy, I know. That “nothing if you’re bad” conversation has happened routinely over the past couple of weeks. The message is obviously being hammered home hard from someone in her life, and there is no doubt it is being absorbed. And the more I hear it, the more it rings in my ears like a really obvious — and not very kind or loving — form of manipulation.
“Be good or else!”
Behavioural blackmail, emotional blackmail. A threat.
Not, I confess, that Poppy seems traumatized by it. She’s more excited, far as I can make out. Excited and intrigued. And, of course, there is no worry at all that her tree will be barren of gifts come Christmas morning.
(Which makes it a completely empty threat, doesn’t it? This is a good thing for her tender little psyche, but, as we all know, bad parenting strategy. Technically, anyway. I give this one a Bad Parenting pass, because it’s more a game than anything, and most kids figure that out soon enough. Has Poppy figured it out, or does she just not see how awful the reality would be, were the threat to actually happen? The latter, I’m quite sure. She doesn’t really get it, for all it intrigues her.)
There’s no worry at all, even if it were a real threat. She’s three, of course, but she’s cheerful, cooperative, friendly. She is in no way a ‘handful’. (*cough*unlike Daniel*cough, cough*)
Down through my daycare years, pretty nearly all the kids have heard about Santa. And let me underline, that though I’m not a huge propagator of the Santa myth, I’m not opposed to it. I’m neutral, I guess. I’m sure most children get the “better be good!” warnings, too, but no one has made as much of them as Poppy. No child, ever. In close to twenty years. Is this a function of her character — does she like the mystery, does it tweak her (greatly reduced) tendency to anxiety, is she duly impressed by the need to behave? Has she taken a mild suggestion and just run with it in a big way? Or is someone in her life really, really working this idea?
I think it’s the latter.
And, for the first time in my daycare career, Santa Claus is making me uncomfortable.
This week, I let a little wry humour peek out as I stepped into that conversation.
Daniel was looking a bit worried. “Santa won’t give you anything?”
I ruffled his hair. “Well, you don’t get anything from Santa, no. He’s sort of fickle that way. But the people who know you and really love you? They love you even when you do bad stuff. You will get presents from them.”
I tap Poppy on her nose. “And you, missy? You are not a bad girl. Of course there will be presents for you!!”
And if I’ve thereby completely undermined the Family Child Control Strategy for December?
I. Don’t. Care.
Being a sex-positive sort, I am drawn to people who write intelligently about sex. (Sometimes it’s me! This post remains a favourite.) Dan Savage? Love him. Read him every week, follow him on Facebook. Laura Kipnis? Intelligent and provocative. Mary Roach had me in stitches with “Bonk!” (Lest I appear too pure/intellectual on the subject to be credible, I read a fair amount of lower-brow writing on the subject, too. There is a discreet shelf in Mary’s library that under-teens don’t have access to.) More recently, I’ve been enjoying Marina Adshade, whose slant on the subject — sex and money/economics — interests me.
So when links to a recent article in the Globe and Mail appeared in my Twitter feed, I hopped over to check it out.
Hm. Another salvo in the mommy wars. Oh. I am not enthused with the mommy wars, but maybe she has something useful to say? The title was not promising, however. A bit early-adolescent edgy, no?
I went through the points. Some were absolutely valid. “Someone actually said that to you? With a straight face? Unapologetically? Outrageous!!” It never ceases to amaze me that people feel it is their right to make unsolicited negative assessments of someone else’s life choices to their face. Bizarre. Who asked you? Rude, rude, rude.
A couple of the other points, though, it seemed clear to me she was misinterpreting, or likely misinterpreting, the intent of the person making the comment. They read to me like completely innocuous comments she’d received badly. And on one of the comments, I disagreed entirely. “No, Ms. Adshade, that really is a negative consequence of your life choices; you just have to own it.”
Moreover, and regardless of the validity of her personal list of slights, I was aware that each and every SAHM could come up with an equally valid, equally convicting, equally meaningful list of slights received at the hands of mothers on the other side of the income divide. No group of women has the corner on insults received — or dished out.
And by the time I got to the end of the article, I was primarily struck by the sheer defensiveness of the thing. This isn’t a well-reasoned, intelligent article. This is just a short shit list, adding nothing of substance to the debate. It’s same-old, same-old griping, stuff I’ve heard and read a thousand times before. Poop. I was disappointed.
Maybe the complaints are entirely valid. Maybe the sting of those comments is intended. There are bitchy, judgmental people out there, who are only too thrilled to trip through life sprinkling rancor wherever they go.
Maybe they’re not valid. Maybe the comments are innocuous.
The “I don’t know how you do it!”, for example, that comment which so annoys Dr. Adshade? I get that comment, too. A lot. Sometimes it’s pretty clear that the speaker can’t imagine how because the “it” she perceives revolts her. Whining, bickering, snot and shit all the live-long day. Why would any woman with a brain in her head, with the education to have other options, want to do that?
However, most of the time, unlike Dr. Adshade, I’m quite confident the comment’s sincere. They admire what I do for a living, and genuinely don’t think they could do it. I often suspect the “it” that people imagine I’m doing doesn’t bear much resemblance to the “it” I’m actually doing, but I also believe that yes, I do a great job, and that few people could do it as well.
I’m confident that a certain percentage of the people who’ve said this to Dr. Adshade genuinely meant it as a compliment. There are only so many hours in a day, and if 8 or 9 or more hours of your day are filled with a career, how do you do it all? Maybe they’re impressed by her energy, her efficiency. Dr. Adshade’s point that, with the income you make in those hours, you can hire out a lot of domestic tasks is well taken … but was it necessary to turn that fact into a shot at the stay-at-home moms? With that shot, she becomes the woman she’s objecting to, except on the other side of the war.
If you’ve complained about this comment, the question is, why does it bother you? Could be be the sting is not because the comment is barbed, but that the sting is, rather, entirely a reflection of your own insecurities?
No choice is without its downside. Whichever choice you make — work from home, stay-at-home, work away from home, work full-time, work part-time, whatever arrangement you devise — has benefits and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses. I accept the downsides of my chosen career. I don’t deny them. I don’t pretend they’re not there. I don’t get angry when other people notice them. I accept them, because I think the benefits of my choices more than make up for any downsides. I own my choices, the pros and the cons.
Other people will see it differently. Other people will see the same set of variables and make different choices, because the variables carry different emotional and practical weights for them.
That’s fine. Their different choices don’t devalue mine. Not in my mind, anyway. If they want to believe that their different choice is superior to mine, or (worse) makes them a superior person/mother … well, okay. They can believe that. Doesn’t change how I view my choices. Or how I feel about my worth.
Generally, I believe, insults are unintended. “I was so surprised when I found out you do daycare!” said a new neighbour on our second meeting. “You look so …” She waved her hands up and down, indicating … what? My demeanor? My outfit? My radiantly intelligent face? I dunno. “You sound so well-educated and articulate!”
Yes, well. I am. I am also very happy with my chosen occupation. So the fact that she assumed only slovenly half-wits do it is … hugely offensive to me! How dare you demean me so! I am Outraged!!!
No, I’m not.
And I get that a lot. It’s not an occasional thing. It’s undeniable that there are some half-wits doing this job. I’ve met them. I have no idea who leaves their children with these women. Other half-wits, I suppose. It doesn’t matter. I’m not one of them.
What did I do about that comment? I laughed. I laughed that she honestly thought she’d given me a compliment. She genuinely meant well. I laughed that she could be so obtusely tactless, drop such a bomb into a conversation and have no idea she’d done so. And then, apart from a funny story to tell family and other caregivers, I forgot about it. It’s not a barb under my skin, constantly abrading.
But what if the sting is intentional? My working assumption, when someone is being deliberately insulting, is that that person’s insistence on making you feel bad about your choice suggests a level of uncertainty/ambivalence about their own choice. They can’t believe that their choice is a sound one without believing yours is inferior. Foolish, true, but human nature. At least, an insecure human’s nature.
The point is, I like what I do, I’m excellent at it, it makes good use of my skills, talents, and training, and I think it has value. That’s it.
Who cares? Who cares what my new neighbour thinks of my occupation? Who cares what that random woman at the bus stop things of your life choices? Or the other mother at violin lessons, or the swimming pool, or the soccer field?
Why do you care?
I am weary of thin-skinned women, on both sides of the income divide, who insist that everyone else admire and respect them at all times. Who see slights where there are none, who toss insults back when insults are perceived, and the whole thing just goes on and on and on. Endlessly.
Are you really such a precious snowflake that everyone else on the planet has to agree with your choices? They could — and yes, should — have the common courtesy to keep their critical opinions to themselves. But even if they won’t … so what? That only makes them rude, and even more deserving of being ignored.
If you’re happy with your choices, then someone else’s opinion/judgement on it, real or imagined, is irrelevant and will not sting.
If we all just let it go, stopped fretting about other people’s opinions, and got on with enjoying our lives, appreciating our own choices in all their good-and-badness, the mommy wars would die a quiet, and very welcome, death.
I love food.
I like cooking. I like eating. I love just about everything about food. I love the smells that fill my home as I cook, making it warm and welcoming. I love the bright colours of fruits and vegetables. I love the textures. (Well, except for the ones I hate, but texture! Important to food!) It appeals to all the senses, even as it nourishes, fuels, satiates and fills.
In my world, food is a Good Thing.
Which is why I am so dismayed to see food horribly, horribly abused in our culture. And I’m not talking here about poor quality food and edible non-food items, though I don’t think much of them.
I’m talking now about how we use food, and particularly how we use it with our children. I’ve spoken before about my experiment — now ranked as a success — in reducing the amount of snacking amongst the daycare kids. A few people had questions, based on some ubiquitous parenting wisdom. Toddlers have tiny tummies. They need to refuel more often, don’t they? And what about blood sugar? Don’t you get behavioural issues if they blood sugar dips?
My immediate answer is “I haven’t seen any of these problems in the 5 weeks we’ve been doing this.” However, much as I love the stuff, I am not a food expert, so I consulted with a couple of dietitians I know. Their response: 1. Yes, we do feed children too frequently. 2. If feeding schedules are consistent, children can learn to gauge how much to eat based on their awareness of the next food opportunity. 3. Toddlers have tiny tummies, but they also have tiny bodies. Their food needs are proportional, though you’ll likely need to make occasional temporary adjustments for growth spurts. 4. They weren’t aware off the top of their heads about studies suggesting snacking prevented behavioural outbursts due to low blood sugar. One of them did a quick search through a database and informed me that the studies which do address this issue focus on children with diabetes, not children with normal blood sugar regulation.
If breakfast includes a decent protein source, I was told, they can usually get to lunch. If breakfast is cereal and milk, toast and jam, a piece of fruit? There’s probably not enough protein in the splash of milk in their cereal to hold them, and the rest is pretty much all carbs. Quick energy, but not lasting energy. Kids who have a high-carb, low-protein breakfast will crash before lunch. So. Put peanut butter on that toast. Fry up an egg. Put ground almonds on the cereal. Give them firm tofu cut into fingers to dip in some yogurt. Give them an ounce of cheese. That punch of protein can make all the difference.
So that’s the input from the professionals.
But mostly? Everywhere I go, I see, snacking is used as a distractor and a bribe. A child is teetering on the brink of an outburst, getting to the point where they’re going to need some firm and focussed parental attention to move them past the rising likelihood of bad behaviour … and we hand them a container of Cheerios. “His blood sugar’s crashing,” we say.
And I wonder. Is it?
There are many things that affect a toddler’s behaviour. Sleep is a huge one. Get enough sleep into them, and their behaviour is exponentially better. Boredom. If they’re bored, they get fractious. Impatience. They hate having to wait for anything, at any time. Illness. Teething. Physical discomfort — they’re too hot, too cold, itchy. Their age. The fact that they’re two just means a certain baselines contrariness. And yes, sometimes hunger. Their behaviour does deteriorate when they’re hungry. But they are not hungry nearly as often as we feed them.
Feeding is used to distract.
I would argue that it is used for those things more often than it is used to actually nourish a body or satiate a hunger.
She’s doesn’t want to wait in line at the bank?
The siblings are squabbling?
You want to talk on the phone for five more minutes?
What are you using food for in those instances? It’s a sedative. A quick fix for an inconvenient situation. There are other fixes: a special toy that’s only used for these occasions. Crayons. Little cars. Sticker books. Sing a song. Play a clapping game. Or simply a level glance and a firm, “I know you’re bored, but you can wait quietly for another five minutes.”
Did I do any of those food-inappropriate things when my children were little? Of course I did. I did it without even thinking about it. In fact, packing that well-stocked diaper bag with the Cheerios and the apple slices made me feel not just prepared, but competent — a better parent! That, however, was 20 years ago. I’ve been tending toddlers for a long, long time, and have had more time to think about these things than most people ever get (or want to!). These days, I don’t pack snacks at all. Water bottles, yes (and for the littles, milk bottles). Snacks? No. With five children.
Now, when you go out, and you pack snacks, I’m not suggesting you kill yourself with guilt over it. No one achieves parental perfection every moment of every day, and somehow, children all over the globe live to grow into healthy, happy, functional adults despite having suffered fallible parents. Popping food into your kid for some reason other than nutrition every so often is not going to damage them. Once in a while, no harm done.
But. As a daily event? Even several times a day? It sets the child up for a bad relationship with food. Where food isn’t enjoyed for its wonderful satiating quality. It isn’t enjoyed because it looks, smells, and tastes sooooo good, even as it nourishes and fills. No. Food is consumed, mindlessly, because I’m bored, sad, tired, discouraged… or happy, content, proud of myself. Food becomes associated with activities that don’t need to have anything to do with eating: watching television, reading, sitting in the car, travelling, walking…
Food becomes quite detached from its primary purpose: nourishment. We need to stop doing this. We need to stop using food as a drug, and start savouring it as food.
Feed your children less often.
Enjoy your food more.
How often do your kids snack?
Increasingly, I am coming to the opinion the answer to that question is almost certainly “too often”.
Kids snack a lot these days. A lot. More than I did when I was a kid, I’m sure of that. Why? Are kids hungrier than before? Has the essential physiology of the human body changed so much in a generation or two? Of course not.
Kids eat all the time, and everywhere. In the stroller, in the car, before daycare or school and after it, before bed. We take snacks to soccer games and kindergym — so that kids who’ve burned off 200 calories running can quick! ingest 300 more!! We don’t even consider leaving the home without food. Has it struck anyone but me that this is a bit excessive?
Why do you give your kids snacks?
For all sorts of reasons, I’ll bet. I’ll further bet that many of those reasons have nothing whatsoever to do with hunger. We feed our kids to bribe them, to motivate them, to appease them, to distract, soothe, quiet, coax. That container of food in the diaper bag is our security blanket. If they get fractious, we can pop something in their mouths and fend off the meltdown for a few more minutes. I’m not saying we must never do that. I am suggesting, however, it should be the aberration, not the norm. We should have enough tricks in our parenting arsenal, including the firm look and equally firm “That is enough. We’ll be going home soon”, that we are not stuffing food into their ever-willing mouths five, six, ten times a day.
In fact, though our children, when requesting a snack, will declare themselves to be STARVING!!!, I’d go so far as to say that most North American children never really experience hunger. They may get peckish from time to time, sure. And most assuredly, they are conditioned to expect food at certain times (in the stroller, in the car), and that association has them wanting food. “Wanting food”, however, is far from the same thing as “being hungry”.
It would be a tremendous thing, so good for their long-term health, if we could teach our children the difference between those two things.
And what do you feed your kids, when they do snack?
Most toddlers get an astonishing amount of simple carbs in a day. Simple carbs are not bad in and of themselves. We need a certain percentage in our diet. But, variety! We also need variety! A day spent tanking up on Saltines, goldfish crackers and Cheerios, followed by a dinner based primarily on pasta, is not variety.
I believe that infants who are strictly milk-fed should be fed on demand. They know when they are hungry.
But you know … I fed my kids on demand, and in those earliest weeks and months ‘demand’ varied from every hour some days to every three or four. However, when I was nursing, the term “cluster feeding” had not hit the popular psyche. Some days your baby had a “hungry day”, sure, but the idea that a child could nurse, relax, then feed again in twenty minutes, then again twenty minutes after the end of that feeding … and again, and again?
Well, okay, some days that might happen, but it wasn’t considered normal. It was an aberration that you tried to work out of their little systems. You’d take them for a ride in the stroller, give them a soother (after the first six weeks or so, when breast-feeding, if that was your choice, is well established), put them in a baby swing, swaddle them tight and put them down for a nap on that tummy you KNOW was full. By popularizing the term ‘cluster feed’, I fear that we’ve put yet another burden on young mothers, that they can never say, “Oh, no, you little fuss-budget. You are not hungry so soon!”
But for the most part, demand feeding in those first six to eight months, with a gradual weaning into solid in the second half of that first year.
And by a year, they should be eating everything you’re eating, pretty much. Cut in smaller pieces, steamed a little softer, sure, but everything you eat.
Once they were two years old, my own children got about one snack a day. You read that right. One. We’d have breakfast, we’d have lunch, we’d have an afternoon snack, we’d have dinner. Now, this is not to say that in the proud tradition of North American parenting, I didn’t keep an emergency stash of Cheerios in the diaper bag for those occasions I’d be stuck in the line at the bank as naptime approached. Sure I did. But they were truly used for emergencies. That half-cup container of Cheerios might need to be refilled every couple of months.
But somehow, when I started a daycare, I fell into the pattern of more. We snack at 10 in the morning, we have lunch at 11:45, we snack around 3 or 3:30, depending on when naps were over. So between breakfast and dinner, they’ve eaten three times, and their parents know this … and yet, they were having snacks in the car or stroller on the way home! This just blew me away. Why am I feeding afternoon snack, when they’re only going to eat again an hour later? And then they have dinner. Some of them get bedtime snacks, too. And of course, this is normal. My clients are not aberrations, they are just parenting as North Americans parent. It’s what we do.
And just try suggesting to parents (I’m talking societally here, not dissing my parents) that kids don’t need to snack so much. While mulling over this post, I stumbled across a thread in a parenting forum where a young mother asked if snacking in the car was strictly necessary. She didn’t want the mess, and surely it was reasonable to think that kids could wait a bit?
In the four pages of responses I scanned, I found only two people who supported this idea. Those two exceptions aside, Every.Single.Parent responding said things like “Kids eat constantly! Get used to it!” Some were more polite, some less so, but that was the overwhelming message.
But you know? I just don’t think constant snacking is necessary. I don’t even think it’s desirable. We are teaching our children that hunger is a bad, bad thing, to be avoided at all costs, by eating incessantly. We are teaching our children to eat for all sorts of non-hunger, non-nourishment reasons. If they never experience hunger, they will never know when they need to eat. They will be eating provoked by cues of association, not physical need.
What’s our big fear about being out of the house without food? I suspect it’s not so much that the children will be hungry, as it is that the children will misbehave and we won’t have our quick-and-easy distraction. Is the child addicted to the steady stream of food, or are we addicted to the small bit of security that container of Cheerios provides? Could it be we are afraid to be out in the big world with our toddler without our edible safety net?
But even if it is our child’s hunger …
What of it? Is it so very bad that a child should feel hunger? Hunger is what lets us know we’re ready to eat. Hunger does not mean I MUST EAT! INSTANTLY!!! Surely there’s something to be said for pleasurable anticipation of a good thing to come?
So, just because I feel the whole constant-snacking thing has gotten so out of whack, I’ve been running an experiment recently. I’m skipping morning snack (which was almost always fruit; once a week it was muffins), and tacking it to the end of lunch as ‘dessert’. I’ve been skipping afternoon snack altogether, because I know they’re all going to eat on the way home, anyway. So really, I’m having these kids eat the way I ate at their age. I’m going retro with food.
It’s stretching parental comfort zones to suggest that kids be allowed to get hungry, I know. So what do I do when the kids tell me they’re hungry? Which, being accustomed to a 10 a.m. snack, they do?
I tell them what we’re having for lunch. Cheerfully. Which is, now that I think about it, exactly what my mother did: “You’re hungry? That’s great! Then you’ll really enjoy the yummy eggplant lasagna I made for lunch!” Or commiserate: “Yes, I’m getting hungry, too. Won’t that lasagna taste great??” The message being it’s okay to feel hunger. It’s okay to savour the next meal with cheerful anticipation. And then, before they get stuck and whiny, I move them on to the next activity.
— There has been no enormous uptick in bad behaviour. There has been no change in behaviour at all. This includes the two 17-month-olds, which I hadn’t necessarily expected.
— They are eating more at lunch.
— Jazz, our chronically picky eater, is eating. No fuss, just eating. Sometimes multiple helpings. (I am 110% convinced there would be far fewer picky eaters in North America if children were ever allowed to feel hungry.)
— They are not necessarily eating their ‘dessert’ (formerly their morning snack), because they are filling up on lunch.
— This may be a total coincidence, but the two younger ones have been napping longer.
I’m going to give it another couple of weeks, and then, if nothing changes, I’m calling it a success. Cool.
I know I promised you a follow-up to the book I discovered, Beyond Time-Out, but I can’t! I’ve already lent it to a parent. Obviously, I need to buy my own copy. Or two.
However, the book did get me thinking about a few things, and I’m going to muse on one of them today.
“Oh, I never get into a power struggle with my child. You just can’t win those!”
Have you heard this? I have, quite routinely. The parent who says it is generally quite pleased with herself. She (less commonly he) seems to view it as a point of pride. A rueful one, perhaps, but a point of pride nonetheless. It’s a thread in the parenting ether out there, a parenting meme: Avoid power struggles. They’re costly, they’re exhausting, and, more to the point you just. can’t. win. Why dive into the stress and the mess when you know it’ll only result in humiliation and frustration?
I agree with a lot of that. Avoid unnecessary power struggles, of course. Don’t foolishly set yourself up for one, because they are indeed costly and exhausting, emotionally and physically.
“You just can’t win?”
Are you nuts?
You have to win. In the first three or four years of life, establishing your role as authority in the child’s life is one of your primary parenting job. You do that all sorts of ways: by caring for their physical needs, by being emotionally available and supportive, by loving them to itty-bitty bits.
And by winning power struggles.
I think the resistance to the idea of winning these struggles has three sources.
1. Many people don’t like the idea of “power” in a family context. It smacks of authoritarianism, of oppression. They read “win” and “power”, and they think “power tripping” and “bullying”.
2. When in a power struggle, your toddler will, along with the raging, almost certainly cry. A loving parent hates to see their child cry, and many loving parents respond to the tears by backing away from the conflict. They may even feel guilty at having provoked the tears, and never want to do that again! What kind of a parent, they wonder, is willing to trample roughshod over their child’s feelings just because some toys need to be picked up?
3. Many people have tried to tackle their toddler … and have lost. Ignominiously. They have skittered from the fray, tail between their legs, uncomfortably and humiliatingly aware that not only are the toys still not picked up, but they have been bested by someone who comes up to their belt buckle and who still says “yeyyow” instead of “yellow”. (And is probably pointing to something orange when s/he says it.) Who wants to repeat that experience?
Given these points, why do I insist that you must win power struggles?
The short-term answer: Family harmony.
It’s your job as the parent to be the authority in your family. If you let your child think you’re afraid of power struggles, they will set them up. You won’t have to worry about seeking out a power struggle — they’ll be thrown at you. What’s the end result of a parent who can’t or won’t see a power struggle through and prevail? Chaos. And conflict. Continuing, unrelenting conflict.
The long-term answer: Your child’s happiness.
Toddlers like to vie for power. They want to be in control … but they aren’t developmentally ready for it. They have no idea how to wield power constructively. They are impulsive, short-sighted, impetuous, selfish. They will choose to do things that are just not good for themselves. You cannot trust a child to know what is in her or her own best interests.
A person who has never learned to share power, to defer to others is not going to get along well in life. They will likely be ostracized by their peers, because who wants to be friends with a person who always must have things their way? They will likely experience more conflict, as their peers push back with more vigour than their parents ever did.
Sadly, loving but misguided parental efforts to avoid tears and conflict … results in long-term conflict and dissatisfaction for the child — who is, one day, going to be an adult. Unless they can learn those life lessons elsewhere — from more rough-and-ready peers, from some good teachers, from other family members — they will not be happy people.
If it’s so bad for them, why do they do it?
– they don’t know it’s bad for them. No point in asking the child why. They don’t know! If you step back a pace, it doesn’t take long to see that no toddler has the cognitive and emotional maturity to know why they do what they do.
– it is developmentally normal for a toddler to be testing the boundaries. Who are you? Who are they? Are they a separate person from you? YES! And how do they express their autonomy? PUSHING BACK! SAYING NO! RESISTANCE! DEFIANCE! Wheeee… However, just because something is developmentally normal does not mean that a parent does nothing to shape and direct that stage. Besides, the purpose of this stage is to establish their autonomy and your role as a strong resource. If you’re not strong, they are undermined. Ironically, what they need at this stage is the exact opposite of what they want.
A further irony here is that if a parent consistently backs down from power struggles in order to avoid tears, they only ensure ever more of them. You must see them through.
What is “seeing it through”?
– it does not mean humiliating or brow-beating your child
– it does not mean frightening your child
– it does not mean pleading, coaxing, negotiating
– it does means ignoring the protests and calmly but firmly seeing that the request is accomplished
– it is often entirely possible to do this with a light touch; I regularly use humour
What is gained by consistently seeing power struggles through to the end?
– the conflict ends
– the child is calm
– the damned toys get picked up
– there will be fewer and fewer power struggles
– you can say something once, calmly and cheerfully, and with only occasional exceptions, that’s what happens
– your child feels secure, knowing they can rely on you to be their safe harbour when their emotions get the best of them
— your child trusts you
Okay. So let’s say you’ve all bought in to this idea. Power struggles are inevitable. The parent must see them through. They are not to be avoided at all costs. And you will never, ever again say, “Oh, I never get into power struggles with my child!” as if this is a parental accomplishment instead of a) an impossibility and b) a mistake.
You’ve bought into all that. Now you’re saying, “Okay, but how? How do you respond? What happens next?”
That’ll be for the next post in this series, when I get my hands back on that book! This might not happen until next week, but we’ll get there!