Last night was one of those nights. You know the kind. The kind of night that makes you question yourself as a parent. The kind that makes you think you've done everything wrong. The kind where afterward you wonder how you got here and if you need to make some sort of drastic change.
Where We've Been
My son is 3. If you do not currently have or have never had a 3-year-old, let me enlighten or remind you. They are picky. They are demanding. They don't realize how great they have it. They can talk so they can voice their issues, yet their powers of reasoning are not yet developed. They don't like vegetables. They refuse to try new things. They drive you crazy. But they are also (fortunately) really super cute.
I typically cook five or six nights a week and at least one breakfast or brunch on the weekend. I recently lamented how boring dinner has become. I wasn't getting to be creative. I missed that. Part of the reason things have become so dull is that my son’s palate is, well, pretty dull. As a result, I wasn't enjoying the process of planning or making dinner or the food itself, and my son wasn't trying new things. This wasn't good for any of us.
Last week I created a nice light chicken salad for pitas — no mayo, so my son could have it. He wouldn't try it. One night, we had grilled chicken and roasted yams, a meal he eats all the time. At the beginning of the meal, he insisted he didn’t like it. Then, he tried them and cleaned his plate. Then, there was a night where he demanded noodles, and I negotiated with him to please try some green beans or carrots and eat his steak. He did as asked, and so he got some leftover spaghetti.
The Battle Over Tots
But last night, he took things to a new level. We had brisket, tater tots and salad. While my husband enjoys a good tot, they were really for the toddler in the family. Well, the toddler (because he's 3!) refused to try anything. (For the record, I’m not delusional; I didn’t expect him to eat the salad, but the tots? Please. What kid doesn’t eat tater tots?). This was followed by a tummy ache and poop emergency. Followed by a request to eat. Followed by a demand to eat specifically noodles.
Tired of this, I asked him to try a tot and to try one bite of brisket OR one bite of a cherry tomato. If he did that, he could have the leftover noodles. There was no demand that he eat everything on his plate. I simply wanted him to try these foods. Explore different flavors. See if you like it! There's no risk here.
And so, the standoff persisted for about 15 minutes.
I felt like a crappy mom. My husband asked if we were prepared to let him go to bed hungry. Should that really start at age 3? I had no idea. My gut said no. But I was open to it, because I was pissed.
I've never been one for making multiple meals each night — you get what you get. But I also have never made the dinner table a battle zone. This is not a place where I feel a power struggle is worth the effort. I do, however, expect us all to try the food. And I am so very tired of trying to help my family be healthy and nourished while still offering some semblance of flavor. To have the mini-human not even taste things … It's exhausting.
Mom Guilt for Good Measure
To further complicate our dinners, my son can't have dairy or eggs. And while this certainly is an improvement over our first year of allergy life, it still makes mealtimes kind of challenging. No butter noodles, no casseroles with cheese or egg, no lasagna, no Parmesan on vegetables. But even if he could have those things, would he try them? I really don't know.
Nonetheless, I found myself resenting his allergies. Because I keep trying to be creative to work around what he can't have and trying to keep in mind our health goals as a family.
I was near breakdown. It's not his fault he has allergies. He doesn't even fully understand his restrictions. He certainly doesn't know what he's missing out on. That's for the rest of us. But the reality of those allergies combined with his stubbornness and pickiness … sometimes, it's all just too much.
In the end, I relented. He got to have some leftover spaghetti. I feel like the conventional wisdom was not to give in. To let him go to bed hungry. But we weren’t ready to go there. I think we might be close, though.
So, tonight when he asks for spaghetti, there won't be any. And that will be the truth. But either way, my kitchen is not a restaurant, and I am not a short-order cook. I’m also not a tyrant — I invite my husband and son regularly to help choose what we eat. I take my son to the store so he can help pick out the foods. I really do try. I guess the trying is another part of what makes this so frustrating.
Like I said, it was one of those nights that make me question. What am I teaching? What is he learning? Was this just one stubborn night or the start of a pattern that I have to manage before it gets truly out of control? Ugh. And then: How?