Content warning: This post contains mentions of disordered eating and may be triggering for some readers.
As a piece of toast was hurled across the room because it wasn’t the right bread and the butter had been spread a millimetre too thick, I had a flashback to fifteen years earlier – before I became a parent to a two-year-old with very specific eating habits.
This scene was eerily similar to a moment in my childhood home, except back then I was the instigator – an 18-year-old in the grips of anorexia projecting a plate of toast across the dining room because the butter was visible instead of transparent.
I can still picture the heartbreaking look in my father’s eyes after he’d painstakingly made the one meal I’d agreed to eat – the only solid food that would pass my lips for the next seven days. The failure he felt. His helplessness and despair.
A decade after recovering from anorexia, my family rarely talk about my ‘starvation years’ because it’s so far behind me. I’d also rather not think about the pain I caused them, the arguments, the lies, or the day my older sister took me to hospital.
And, then I gave birth to a picky eater.
Team Mamamia confess: the time I felt like a terrible parent:
To be clear, my two-and-a-half-year-old does not have ‘real’ eating issues. In fact, she is no more tricky than most toddlers who have very specific ideas about what they eat, when they eat it, how it’s served and who is serving it.
And, here-in lies the flashbacks.
How can I blame her for screaming when dinner is chopped incorrectly? When the wrong bowl is used? When there’s too much milk on her cereal, or it’s poured from a milk bottle with the wrong colour lid? During the grips of my eating disorder, these exact errors in my rituals would have sent me into a downward spiral filled of panic and terror.
After years of recovery, self-development and therapy, I thought I had delved into the depths of my eating disorder, uncovered it’s cause and left those feelings behind me. But, nothing can open old wounds like new motherhood.
So, what is it like to raise a picky-eater, when your own extreme eating habits nearly killed you? Here’s what I’m learning:
Watch your language.
When my daughter started developing a mind of her own, I fell into the habit of calling her ‘difficult.’ I would tell anyone who visited during dinner time that “she’s a difficult eater” – a phrase that instantly triggered guilt and shame.
A big shift occurred when I realised she isn’t difficult. She simply likes to eat only when she is hungry and stop when she is full. So, I changed my vocabulary. My daughter is a “mindful eater”. Isn’t that a characteristic we could all benefit from?
Think long term.
Does it really matter if you miss one meal? It does when you’re an anorexia sufferer who only eats one meal per week. But it doesn’t matter at all for a toddler who is likely to wake up the next morning and devour a bowl of porridge.