This is the second installment of a series in which I share my massive parenting expertise with fathers everywhere. Today’s topic: feeding your child.
I’m just going to say it off the top, because this is something they don’t tell you in parenting books: trying to keep your child(ren) properly fed and watered is a huge pain in the butt.
To quote my wife: “Parenting would be so much easier if you didn’t have to feed them.”
Food is a challenge from the beginning. You’d think babies would be instant experts at breastfeeding, but often that’s not the case. As a father, if your wife is breastfeeding there’s not much you can do in those first few weeks except murmur sympathetically at 3 a.m. when things are going badly and everyone is crying, including your wife. But it is important that you do so and not say something ill-advised, such as, “Can’t you just make some milk and feed that kid so I can sleep?”
IMPORTANT TIP: Remember, if your wife A) has recently pushed out a child and B) is trying to convince said child to breastfeed, she is a molotov cocktail of pain and emotion and fatigue and werewolf hormones. So be really, really nice to her.
Your role will expand once your child begins to eat baby cereal, a substance not unlike quick-dry cement. Be warned: trying to guide a spoonful of cereal directly from a bowl to your child’s mouth is far more difficult than it seems. Your child will attack the spoon and spray cereal everywhere; turn his head at the last possible second so that the food winds up in his ear; blow a raspberry the second cereal touches her lips and spray mush everywhere.
I have never personally attempted to wrestle an angry octopus, but I imagine that attempting to feed a child who doesn’t want to eat is something like that. It is not unusual for your child’s high chair, your child’s entire head and torso, and your own shirt to wind up covered in food. Especially if it’s a shirt you were planning to wear to work that morning.
The keys to a successful feeding are patience and humour. Sometimes the old “airplane” trick works; if you can make your child laugh, chances are he will open up his mouth wide enough for you to jam in some food. Just be aware that children who giggle while eating are six times more likely to drool their food down their chins.
And if you see a sneeze brewing while they’ve got a mouthful of cereal, DUCK AND COVER. Otherwise you’re about to wear a Jackson Pollock painting.
Eventually your child will be able to feed herself, which sounds like an improvement but is in fact even messier. She will discover wonderful new games, such as “How much Shepherd’s Pie can I mash into my hair?” And “I bet I can fling these carrots all the way to the toy shelf from here!”
This stage begins anywhere from 12 to 18 months and lasts until… well, depending on the child, it might last until he is in university. I keep waiting for our three-year-old to learn how to eat properly, but he still can’t finish a meal without half of it ending up on his lap or on the floor. I am tempted to have a plexiglass feeding booth installed in our dining room—something I can simply hose down when he’s finished.
Eventually, your children might graduate to the stage where they can successfully use cutlery and eat with something approaching proper etiquette. Unfortunately, this is often the stage where they also decide that everything you cook is gross.
If you have a Picky Eater on your hands, there is no such thing as rationale or precedent when it comes to determining his tastes. My five-year-old only eats about a dozen different foods, and he is prone to announcing, “I don’t like that anymore.” Explaining to him that he liked it YESTERDAY is pointless.
This boy won’t even eat classic kid staples like peanut butter and jam or macaroni and cheese. He loves plain pasta; he loves cheese. But he is a food purist of the highest order. If two foods—even two of his favourites—come into direct contact, it sets off a chemical reaction that renders everything on his plate inedible.
It’s also important to note that boys are genetically incapable of sitting still for an entire meal. They have to check on their Lego inventions; they have to go see what that noise was outside; they have one speck of ketchup on their finger and now they need to wash their hands; they just remembered that they left their favourite stuffed animal downstairs and it’s REALLY IMPORTANT that they go get it right now; they have to pee and it can’t wait. And four minutes later they have to poop.
The only real advice I can offer when it comes to food is this: relax, and don’t panic. Food is a common source of parenting anxiety. We hear about the studies and the statistics, and we pick up parenting magazines with articles like “Why your child isn’t getting enough Riboflavin,” and we fall into mortal despair because our toddler won’t eat his peas and that means he’s going to contract ADHD and he’ll never get into college and he will be morbidly obese and die of a heart attack when he’s 37.
The truth is, your children will be fine. One day they’ll be ravenous and the next they’ll turn aside everything but apple juice and Honey Nut Cheerios, but as long as you get decent things into them here and there, it all evens out in the end. I have a cousin who subsisted almost entirely on processed cheese slices as a kid, and he turned out normal. Well, mostly normal.
Anyhow, someday they’ll be teenagers and they’ll never stop eating. At least that’s how I console myself when I’m begging my five-year-old to finish the bowl of yogourt he started an hour ago.