The Nightly Dinner Battle
October 1, 2009
When the boy wouldn't eat his dinner tonight, we put on our bright "Oh well!" faces, let him down, and cleared the dishes. But a few hours later we broke down and heated up one of those Costco corn dogs his grandmother introduced him to over the weekend. What are we going to do? Send him to bed without dinner?
"YES!," all the experts shout. "Send him to bed without dinner! He'll eat if he's hungry. He won't starve. He's just exerting the only control he owns." Every single thing I've read explains this in terms even the most clueless mother can understand. My friends with older children nod their heads in sympathy, my mother gently prods, the pediatrician is adamant, and my favorite parenting sites concur: the food battle is a battle that you, the stymied and confused parent, are going to LOSE. So why bother? HE'S NOT GOING TO STARVE!
But do YOU want to go to bed without dinner? We have yet to follow this universally approved advice. And as I type, Jack is polishing off his corn dog at 8:07 pm. This has FAIL written all over it.
It is so hard to cheerfully allow your kid to reject the dinner you prepared, with his picky preferences in mind, served at a time you believed was his optimal dinner hour, in his favorite dish with his favorite fork. I tried a new recipe tonight simply because I thought Jack might eat it; the fact that it was also relatively healthy was only a bonus. He wanted nothing to do with it, of course. I felt frustrated and foiled, but I was also worried. This was the first night of our new Eating Regime. Phillip and I had decided no more bargaining, no more cajoling, no more begging and voice-raising and threats and tying one more bite of peas to whether or not he gets to eat dessert. We KNEW it wasn't healthy and we KNEW it wasn't working, but we're tired and bewildered and it took forever to admit this to ourselves. But we did, eventually, and decided to fire ourselves from the short order cook job and put down our dinnertime feet.
And now Phillip is cutting up fruit. At 8:12 pm.
So I don't know, Internet. We can serve dinner at eight. We can give him nine different foods at dinnertime. We can free him from dinner jail when he starts shrieking and put his plate on the coffee table so he can graze. Or we can keep serving him whatever we're eating and having him go to bed without dinner when he inevitably turns it down. (And failing, because hello, this kid just pounded a grown-up sized plate of food, he MUST be hungry, RIGHT?)
I know I am not the only mother banging her head against the highchair when it comes to getting the toddler to eat. I KNOW. But does anyone actually SOLVE this problem? I think too many times I strive to be the victor in these ridiculous toddler battles instead of taking a larger perspective and opting to simply power through. This was my rationale for ending the dinnertime wars in the first place: do I really want to have a fight with Jack every single night? Is that getting either of us anywhere?
Aaaand, he's eaten all the fruit. This isn't the way we want things to work in our family, and I don't want to be in this position tomorrow. But I can't help feeling so relieved to see him EAT.