Life is busy. We all have our plates to juggle, and when we factor in a global pandemic, those plates just spin faster and higher. Often it can be easier not to address your child’s eating challenges; to carry on as you are rather than making potentially difficult changes. If you ARE making some changes and you’re part of a couple, it’s super important to be sure that you are both happy with how you are sharing the physical and the emotional labour.
Some of the things feeding professionals recommend in relation to ‘picky eating’ (such as a clear, consistent structure for meals and snacks and careful menu planning) can be time consuming and take mental and emotional strength. For example, if your child is used to helping themselves to milk whenever they want and you decide to end this practice, you may be met with opposition as your child tests whether the new boundary is here to stay. Change can be really tricky for kids; it is often those same children who like things to be predictable and consistent, who also struggle with food.
If you are part of a couple and you are addressing your child’s eating, there is nothing worse than feeling that you are on your own with it. Well, actually there is something worse: feeling like your partner is not on the same page as you and is actually opposing the changes you want to see happen.
How does it work in your home?
Perhaps you are happy with the balance in your household. In some families, responsibility for meal planning and food preparation is split 50/50. In other families, one partner does the shopping and cleaning, another does the cooking. Or maybe you work but your partner doesn’t, so they do all cooking and cleaning.
There is no right way but what does matter is how you feel about the way tasks are shared. Does it feel good to you? Have you agreed it mutually so that you are both happy with it and is it working for you both? Is there an imbalance which may be part of wider gender assumptions in your relationship?
Can you share more?
What if you’re doing it all but you like it that way? It can be difficult to explore, but consider asking yourself if this comes from a need to control rather than because this is a fair way to split household tasks. Might you be de-skilling your partner because you are better at cooking and so you take full responsibility for all the meals? Is there scope for them to cook some meals each week or take a turn at the shopping and meal planning? Or perhaps your approach works for everyone, in which case, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Planning takes time
It’s hard to be spontaneous about food when you’re helping children become more confident eaters. You need to include accepted foods at every meal and snack in a way that is both as varied as possible and nutritionally sensible. You also need to ensure that your child is being exposed to non-preferred foods at the family table.
There is a lot to consider: what do you want to eat? What can they eat? Can you serve dishes in ways that make them more accessible? Can you plan in accepted foods so that they dovetail with what you’re eating where possible? So if your child eats naan bread and you’re cooking a curry, both get served at the same meal, helping your child edge one teeny step closer to enjoying family foods rather than seeing themselves as separate and different. This type of planning requires careful thought.
Why does it matter?
If you are eating together as a family – which is great for all kids, regardless of their relationship with food – if you are the person who has put in all that ‘behind the scenes’ work, it can follow that it’s also on you to be in charge of how your child’s eating is handled. Feeding is your domain. And this can mean that you have a greater understanding of what you’re trying to do to improve things, but also that the weight of it is all on your shoulders.
Here are three questions to ask yourself, if you recognise any of this:
- Does the way we split food-related tasks feel fair?
- Am I ‘in charge’ of how we deal with our child’s eating?
- If yes to number 2, am I ok with this? Do I feel backed up?
There are lots of reasons why couples may not be singing from the same hymn sheet. Maybe one person has a better understanding of feeding theory because they have been the one to attend appointments or read feeding resources. It could also stem from different backgrounds and feelings about food. Maybe your partner is very into nutrition and is therefore insistent that your child eats their veggies. Perhaps they were forced to eat everything on their plates as a child. This may have left them with an instinct to be very permissive, letting your child graze throughout the day rather than sitting down to structured meals. It is possible that one of you finds it much harder not to give into pressure to prepare an alternative meal or an extra snack.
When life is busy, it isn’t easy to make time to address difficult subjects. If you can set a couple of hours aside to talk this through though, it could make such a huge difference to how you feel about parenting a child who finds eating hard.
Can you share more practical tasks?
- Can you read the same resources / both attend appointments so understanding is collective?
- Can you talk through any different approaches to your child’s eating, listening to each others’ perspectives with empathy so you can better understand them?
- Can you explore different understandings of what ‘picky’ or avoidant eating is: is it ‘bad behaviour’ or is eating genuinely something your child finds hard? Are you conceptualising it differently?
At the very least, try and agree that when you have a difference of opinion about feeding, you talk about this later, away from the table and away from your child. Mealtime conflict makes eating worse and that is just as true when the conflict is between the adults as when it is between an adult and a child.
Together is stronger, but it can take some honest reflection and discussion to come to a unified place.