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Taking The High(chair) Road

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Let me tell you a little bit about the worst part of my day.  The part of my day that requires every drop of patience squeezed out of my over-tired, under-caffeinated brain.  The part of my day that ends in tears (mine) at least once a week, and sometimes more.  The part of my day that makes me dream about being a twenty two year old Idiot again (no judgment, except towards my own idiotic younger self) with infinite freedom.  Let me tell you about MEAL TIMES WITH MY TODDLER.  Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner (and Snack) are the new battle ground in the Martino Household.  They are the chink in my armor that Marlowe has discovered to extend her cute little sticky pointer finger and “Boop! Beep! Beep!” right in to Mama’s proverbial Buttons.  Let me preface this by reminding you that my daughter used to be Easy Eater Extraordinaire.  It was so easy and enjoyable to feed her that strangers used to literally come up to us at restaurants and remark how well behaved and voracious our child was.  “She never met a meal she didn’t like!” I would chuckle, super proud and smug.  I could get Marlowe to eat (or try!) anything under the sun.  Any meal I ate, she asked for a bite.

In the past month or so, this has all changed.  Every meal time is a struggle.  Every bite is a fight.  She asks for something “Cheese, Mama! CHEESE MAMA,” takes a bite, and then throws the rest of it on the floor.  Refusing to eat another morsel.  She begs for anything and everything, only to reject it once put on her plate.  She will eat an entire bucket of chicken one day, and then the next day sob hysterically when I place a plate with even a piece of chicken anywhere near her.  How dare I present her with this poisonous chicken! She screams, she bangs her head on the high chair tray.  She pulls her own hair.  She shrieks “YUCKY!!!!” and hits me when I try to come close and rationalize with her.  I will distract her with a book, get a great and well balanced bite of food in to her mouth– and then I will watch as she chews the food methodically and then projectile spits it on the floor.  My child is like an “ABC” Food Sniper.  She can hit the oven door with the masticated remains of my hopes and dreams.  I cajole, I beg, I demand, I threaten.  I try to pull the old “If you don’t eat your Dinner, you are going to sit her until you finish” gem.  Her response? Smugly laying her head on her tray and whispering disdainfully, “Bye Bye.”  Of course sometimes (when I least expect it), she happily chows through a meal without the slightest trace of the teenage Goblin I usually deal with and it makes me so relieved I want to set off fireworks.  Normally this unusually delightful meal time behavior happens in front of Daddy…who then is convinced I’m out of my mind.

A part of me has become that Mother I always dreaded being– the one who (sweating) asks her child fearfully “Ummm, well Sweatheart, Sugar Plum, what would YOU like to eat today? Oh, Elderberry-stewed Pheasant with a side of Truffle Fries? Oh yesss, of course, coming right up my Princess.”  The other part of me has become an equally ridiculous character: a person who ARGUES WITH A BABY.  I mean whaaaaat.  I rise above my body and look at myself getting frustrated and pissed off by a piece of chewed string cheese on the floor and I think, “What would a therapist make of this?”  And then I think who the heck am I kidding– I’ve had enough therapy to break this one down myself:

Because clearly, this is the power struggle of the moment. Clearly, my baby is not a baby anymore, and she is testing the waters with her Mother.  Clearly, Marlowe and I are both fighting for control, and CLEARLY she is winning.  And how do I know? Because I am a grown up person crying on the phone to my husband at work that “Marlowe just won’t eat her Mac and Cheese!!!!”  Get a grip, Girlfriend.  I can acknowledge all these things, and yet I can’t get Zen about it.  I can’t fully disengage from this back and forth.  Am I too tired? Too overextended? Just not enlightened enough? All possible.

I also know I’m not alone.  I had an hour long conversation with a Mom friend who has a Toddler Girl– all about how deeply we despise meal time.  And it made me feel better.  It made me feel a lot better, actually.  I admitted to her how pathetic it felt to get frustrated with a person who has six teeth.  She admitted to me that she feels Purgatory might be “feeding a group of Toddlers for all eternity.”  We both couldn’t believe that somebody else was feeling the exact same way that we were.  So that’s my point, I guess.  I don’t have any words of wisdom or great solutions for our Toddlers being an enormous pain in the ass during four precise times during the day.  I just know that I think about my friend at Dinner Time every day– while my own child is taking every piece of her meal, staring me straight in the eyes, and dropping it on to the floor– and I wonder how many deep breaths she is taking at that very moment.

I also think about how the other 22 hours of my day are spent with an insanely sweet and hilarious version of my child– one who will run over to me, wrap her arms around my neck, put her forehead against mine, and tell me cheekily: “Mama, I seeeeeee you!”  And that child I’m obsessed with.  She makes me laugh, and she makes me feel like I’m doing something right with my life– and most of all she makes me forget that four times a day I am usually seated across from her, white knuckling a plastic compartmentalized plate and counting silently to ten.

 

xoxo

EAM

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46 Comments

  1. Deb says:

    If your only problem is she won’t eat her mac ‘n cheese why worry about it. She’ll eat what her body needs.

    01.18.16Reply
    • mom of toddler says:

      Wow. What a supportive comment. :-/

      01.18.16Reply
    • Britt says:

      She’s worrying because it’s stressful! She’s a great mom doing a great job. How wonderful of her to share her struggles and anxieties so candidly with all of us. I imagine it’s because she assumes her essay will be read by supportive moms who are pulling Mac n cheese out of their hair right alongside her. Try to be the supportive reader.

      01.20.16Reply
  2. Melanie says:

    Obviously, this is terrible, terrible advice… But I would turn the tv on and my toddler would zone out. Then I’d shovel in all the food! Now she’s a great eater but we’ve been stuck with the tv on at meal times ever since. It’s a trade off!

    01.18.16Reply
    • Alisha says:

      Haha yes same thing here.

      01.18.16Reply
    • Raina says:

      SAME!!! No shame at all. Also my other trick is pretending I’m about to eat something (that I made for them) and as soon as a bite is going into my mouth, they NEED TO TRY IT. So I’m like, “Ugh, FINE. You eat it then!” while smiling on the inside at how clever I am. haha! Works every time!

      01.20.16Reply
    • Britt says:

      I do the same thing! Put on Frozen and shovel veggies in while Queen Elsa hits the high notes.

      01.20.16Reply
  3. Alisha says:

    Yesterday my almost 2 year old wanted milk. I poured her a cup in a purple cup. But she didn’t want it. She wanted it out of a purple cup. Yeah, exactly, it’s confusing.

    01.18.16Reply
    • Dayna says:

      ❤️❤️❤️❤️? Have u been reading my diary?!? My 20 month old has become quite the little opinionated gal. I love and appreciate her “personality” but I tell ya , this momma thing is not easy. Love to share with other mommas going thru the same thing.

      01.18.16Reply
  4. April says:

    Toddlers can seriously be the biggest A-holes! Just when you think you start to gain control of a situation, she’ll throw you a new challenge that makes you want to claw out your eyes even more than the first! Hang in there Momma! We all go through it… Deep breaths and booze 🙂

    01.18.16Reply
    • agree with the booze 🙂 mommy’s medicine along with deep breathing

      01.19.16Reply
      • April says:

        Amen!

        01.21.16Reply
  5. Amy says:

    You are not alone. I have a 21 month old girl and often struggle with meal time as well. Thanks for your candid words and honesty!

    01.18.16Reply
  6. Katie says:

    Thank you for the warning! I have a 1 year old “perfect eater” and I know I need to be prepared for a change.

    01.18.16Reply
  7. Natalie Rubio says:

    This is why we love you. Your down to earth attitude and wonderful advice inspire me daily. Keep up the good work Mama!

    01.18.16Reply
  8. Vickie M says:

    My sweet mama!! You are an amazing mom! Dont ever doubt that, even in the most challenging times!! 🙂 Me, being a mom of two boys, that have all my love, but have also challenged me so so much, let me tell you NOT TO GIVE IN! The approach I had that worked for me was: “honey, this is the food we have today. If you dont want it you can leave the table- NO whining.. When you feel hungry come back, but THIS is what you will eat again. IF you finish THIS meal, you can have a snack of YOUR choice! This is NOT a restaurant. You eat what mommy has cooked for the day. ” Trust me.. They will let themselves starve to death! Once they are hungry enough, they will devour it! You are the boss, not them.. Power struggles have only just begun mama dear.. Hang in there! You are not alone, and we all love you! 😉 from one mama to another.. Xoxoxo

    01.18.16Reply
    • Vickie M says:

      I am sorry, I meant “they will NOT let themselves starve to death” ..

      01.18.16Reply
    • Megan says:

      OMG Eva you made me laugh but and cry because I’m in the same very real struggle with my toddler. I wish the meal struggle didn’t bother me, but it does really stress me out and frustrate me. I am very grateful you wrote this article on your blog, first of all to remind me that I’m not the only parent going through this, and second for the opportunity to read all of the awesome replies and comments from other moms. Thank you sincerely ?? and here’s to picking our battles and not stressing over meals ?. Keep up good work, you have a great blog. And don’t forget to feel good about the fact you are helping and inspiring people like me! ??

      01.19.16Reply
  9. Keren says:

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I literally get anxiety about mealtimes with my almost 18 month old. She used to try everything as well! Literally everything – it was unreal!!! Now she does the exact same thing Marlowe. Forwarding your post to my husband asap as you articulate this so much better than I ever could!

    01.18.16Reply
  10. Erin says:

    You can try the “grazing method”! It’s sounds silly but my daughter use to eat really well and with out a fuss then 2 weeks ago nothing not a damn thing would please her! After a lot of heart ache and googling we found that toddlers sometimes have to much energy to sit down for an entire meal. We put a cup cake holder full of healthy food and she love being able to pick what she wanted when she wanted it through out the day and it brought the screaming /tears back down to no napping and scraped knees! We will see how long it lasts for but desperate times call for desperate measures !

    01.18.16Reply
  11. Michelle says:

    Omg I love you for posting this! THIS IS MY FREAKING LIFE. My 17m old daughter is the best thing ever, except at meal time. I dread feeding this girl with a passion. And then when I ask other mom
    Friends and they say they’re baby just ate a whole steak or some crap like that, I get so agitated hah! I know what I’m NOT supposed to do but it’s become such a point of desperation that we’ve resorted to playing wheels on the bus on the iPad and she refuses to open her mouth, then I turn off the video and say it’ll come back once you eat. She then opens her mouth, I insert the food, restart the video, and the process continues until the dinner is done. WHYYYY

    01.18.16Reply
  12. mom of toddler says:

    I get it. I feel the same way. And then she whines all day that she’s hungry. I want to pull my hair out!

    01.18.16Reply
  13. Tracy says:

    Meal time, nap time, and bed time are all currently testing my patience and sanity. Not to mention that my 1 year old is STILL waking up once all night SCREAMING.

    Sending out an SOS.

    01.18.16Reply
  14. Katie Morene says:

    Ahhh, this is just the beginning says the mother of a 22-year old daughter! As always, hindsight can bring the perspective that is difficult (if not impossible) to find when you’re facing the battleground on a daily basis. Things that continually worked for me if #1. I could remember them AS SOON AS the battle started and #2. If I could step out of the way.
    Pick your battles – Some things are not worth your sanity. My daughter started wearing mis-matched socks when she went to a school that required a uniform. She often wears mis-matched socks to this day!
    Allow natural consequences to occur – Marlowe will be hungry if she doesn’t eat. She will be cold if she doesn’t wear a jacket. She won’t have gas money for her car if she buys that super cute jacket. Oops, I might be thinking about my college girl.
    Disengage – It’s no fun to pick on someone, push their buttons, throw a fit, throw food or stamp your foot if no one reacts. What’s the point if I can’t get you to react in a way that makes me feel powerful and in control.
    As soon as you figure out this battle, enjoy it; another one will start before you know it! I look back on the battles I choose and wish I had chosen more wisely at times. Regardless of their age, I think all kids want consistent rules and guidelines, structure and boundaries with lots of love, fun and kisses thrown in for good measure.
    p.s. Try giving Marlowe one piece of food at a time then do something else in the kitchen (and pretend) you are not paying attention and don’t really care if she eats it or not. In other words, quit playing her game with her rules!

    01.18.16Reply
  15. Megan Holman says:

    Something to think about: Marlowe is clearly very smart, she’s potty training already, has good language skills for her age, and great motor skills. Often times, the smarter the child, the more challenging the behaviors, as their search for independence may be more in depth than others. I was fortunately blessed with a kiddo who never really went through the button-pushing toddler phases. He is more than making up for it in his pre-teen years (he turns 12 in 3 weeks), but I have stories from my mom that are very similar to yours. I was a nightmare eater and honestly, still am today. I think a big part of that was a lack of boundaries set when I was young and my mom catering to my tantrums. I agree with another poster, Marlowe will learn quickly to eat what she’s given or be hungry, if you give her a piece of food and move away, so she can’t see your reaction. It won’t be easy! In any event, you’re an amazing mom! I love your blog, because you are so real and open and it makes the rest of us feel like we’re all dealing with the same things and not crazy. Thank you!

    01.18.16Reply
  16. Mel says:

    Thank you for writing this post! I’m sorry you’re going through this but I’m glad I’m not the only one!! There is nothing more frustrating than preparing a beautiful meal for my 16 month old (of foods he loved yesterday), only to have him shake his head and spit out every bite I give him! And God forbid I try to feed him something new! I did resort to the TV at mealtime, which does work, but I found letting him feed himself has made him more interested in eating. And he is starting to try new things if I give him something to dip it in (ketchup, dressing, yogurt). On the bright side, obsessing about my son’s eating has made me focus less on my eating , which is good for the baby weight! ? Hang in there!

    01.18.16Reply
  17. imamexi_cant says:

    Thanks so much for sharing! Glad to know we are not alone. Hubby and I continually second guess ourselves because our 2 year old has become a picky eater. Are we bad parents? She used to eat seaweed chips, arugala and beets. We thought she has a refined palate…but no, like over night it all changed. Every meal is a struggle. We hide protein in her noodles and trick her into taken spoons full of beans. The struggle is real.

    01.18.16Reply
  18. Anne says:

    Oh thank you so much for writing this! I don’t have any advice, either, unfortunately but just wanted to let you know that I’m yet another mama with a difficult eater! My daughter is almost 4 (FOUR!!) and has never been the best eater. I often wish I could get those many, many hours back that I spent making all of her food when she was a baby! It’s even harder now that she’s eating “real” food. When she doesn’t want what is on her plate or we won’t let her have something that she specifically asks for (usually for good reason) it’s like WWIII. She flips out. Three year old tantrums are not fun to deal with in the least. My mom tells me “she’ll eat when she’s hungry” and “she’s thriving and growing so try to not worry about it”. Easier said than done, am I right? I despise mealtime. BUT the rest of each day is pretty great so it all balances out, right? Hang in there! Marlowe is the cutest and I love reading about her! 🙂

    01.18.16Reply
  19. KathM says:

    Katie Morene, you’re right on.”

    01.18.16Reply
  20. Nancy says:
    01.18.16Reply
  21. Dayna says:

    As always, u speak to exactly what is presently going on in my world. Carrington (my 20 month old) is the sweetest, funniest person I know until meal time comes around. The battle rages. I, like u, once had the easiest no thrills baby eater on my hands and then boom 17 or so months hit and she decided she had opinions hahaha. I love her personality and deeeeep down appreciate that she has a mind of her own aka feisty, sassy pants but my gooooodness is this a trying time. Never would I have imagined I would be in a mental battle with a person the size of a poodle. Ah well…we march on!! ?❤️

    01.18.16Reply
  22. Marta says:

    Please get rid of the pesky banner at the top of each page on your blog! It ought to disappear when a selection is made. Right now on my Android, it interferes with seeing my comment as I type?!

    01.18.16Reply
  23. Courtney says:

    Ugh. We’ve started going into this phase as well. The only thing is I have have twins and it’s ‘monkey see monkey do’. If one starts chucking food on the floor the other starts too. Hang in there. I feel your pain too.

    01.18.16Reply
  24. Azalia says:

    I’m having a dejavu reading this ?
    I asked my daughter’s pediatrician what was going on, and how can this happen and she won’t eat her mac and cheese?! Who does NOT like mac n’ cheese???? He very nonchalantly just said that she was doing fine and the bottom line is… If she is hungry she will eat. I just stopped giving her too many snacks so she could build up an appetite. This seemed to work for the most part. She still flings her food across the room when she’s over it tho .. ?
    Don’t worry, Marlowe will move on from this phase and you will one day tell her all these funny stories ☺️

    01.18.16Reply
  25. Greg Fillmore says:

    Hello Eva with parent co leaders,
    My mother and I had talks about this, as well as two of my dear friends who have two girls that are well past the terrible twos, now in the young adult grasslands (the age group ‘teenager’ did not exist until the 1950’s, I have a humble preference for young adult just something for the folks here to consider).
    My friend Brianna, shared this with me, when their oldest daughter, was two. She, had found some excellent books, about pre, as well as toddlers.
    She shared, that at that age, from what I recall it is from 16 months to 36 months or so (these are 13 year old human computer brain files, anything from the wise members of this blog to correct me, please do, darn human brains!) are ALL about testing boundaries.
    Both my dear friend Brianna, as well as my mother shared the wisdom of ‘needs vs privileges’.
    Take away a sweet treat, or an especially favorite food from your pre and or toddler, consistently, is what both my friend, and my mother observed, worked wonders.
    However each child is unique. Sometimes this works, sometimes less so.
    It would be neat, to hear what the wise parents, in Mrs. Martinos superior blog, has to share from their field experiences.
    Thanks sincerely for this blog Eva, it helps make a difference in many peoples lives.
    Also the editing on the happilyevaafter youtube channel is of very good quality. 🙂

    All the best,
    Greg Fillmore

    01.18.16Reply
  26. Amanda says:

    Went through the EXACT same thing. Hate to say it but the iPad saved us? I put on youtube kids (it’s a separate app.) and put on educational vids. Counting, spelling, colors, numbers etc. I did this I’m sure so I didn’t feel so guilty and like I was giving in. But something magical happened- he ate!!! Clean plate club. We phased the iPad out so its not needed for every meal. But I leaned in it heavily and it got us through this phase. And that’s all it is a phase. ?????????

    01.19.16Reply
  27. OMG. My current life with a two-year old as well. I literally can’t stand meal times these days. And like you, I used to be so proud of my adventurous little eater 😉

    01.20.16Reply
  28. Lauren says:

    This is hilarious and my life! My son is almost 23 months and we’ve been dealing with this for months. My formerly fantastic eater is on a mealtime boycott and only wants snacks and fruit. I’ve found that recently when I give him a choice about where to sit for mealtime he’s significantly more agreeable. So instead of forcing him into his highchair, I say “it’s time for breakfast/lunch/dinner, would you like to sit in your highchair or at your table?” And he runs to the one he wants – it’s never the same one any day or any meal, but it gives him a sense of decision making that satisfies his need to be in control. He’s been eating much better lately now that we’ve been using that technique. Not sure it works for everyone but I wanted to share. Good luck!

    01.21.16Reply
  29. Eva, you’ve nailed this one, girl! I have a 3.5 year old and a 16 month old baby girl. Dinner time can be the worst! Thank you for always being so honest about your experiences and making me feel less alone. I’m not sure what is worse, the actual meal time experience or the before experience, where my daughter squeals at my feet the entire time I’m cooking dinner. This is not a fast-food restaurant kiddo. Dinner takes time, please wait ten minutes while I heat everything up in the microwave. 😉 Ha!

    01.22.16Reply
  30. M says:

    Egads. My 11-month old is already there. Up to two days ago I could get her to eat anything by means of being stuffed in a cheerio (meat, egg, cheese, curry, you name it). Now even cheerios are poison, to be hurled across the room, to the dogs’ great delight. Sigh. ELEVEN MONTHS OLD. Them toddler years are going to be grand. *sob*

    01.26.16Reply
  31. Sarah says:

    I have a two and a half year old spirited little girl. Each meal time caused me a near panic attack until I stumbled upon the book, “Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense” by Ellyn Sattter. Now, I actually look forward to having meals and snacks with my daughter. I can not recommend this book enough to any parent but especially to any parent of a picky toddler.

    01.26.16Reply
  32. Theresa says:

    Thanks Eva for letting us know we are not alone. Its a mystery how toddlers eat, that’s for sure.

    01.27.16Reply
  33. AHHHHH!!! I am obsessed with all these comments!! Thanks so much for contributing to this board, those of you who have shared your own experiences!
    It makes me feel awesome to know I’m not alone in this (as suspected), but you are also helping a lot of other Moms too!

    So proud of the awesome Happily Eva After community :)))))

    xoxoxo
    EAM

    01.27.16Reply
  34. T. Martino says:

    Oh my goodness!! Thank you for this blog post. I just tuned in after seeing your Instagram update. I am so here with you. My 20- month old son was a great eater until 3 months ago. Now he throws food on the floor (usually something he just said yes to, like apple slices or tomato slices) and often times just sits there and stares at his food not daring to touch it let alone bite into it. What is going on here? I have used sweet talk and ultimatums and it hasn’t worked. On rare occasions he will wolf down a big meal! It used to make me feel like we turned the corner, but alas, I now know better! This not eating thing happens for several meals then eating happens again. I am going to try leaving him alone (no staring, no white knuckles) and if he doesn’t eat what I cook for him I will let him know that it will be put away for consumption later. Thanks for the post and for the idea!

    01.27.16Reply
  35. Anne says:

    I firmly and wholly believe that it is our job to provide balanced and healthy foods, and it is their job to eat it. Please ladies, I beg you, don’t get into a power struggle….the child wins every. single. time. There are just 2 things a toddler can control: what goes into their body (food) and what comes out (potty). This is why these are the two minefields of parenting a toddler.
    Disengage!!! Don’t hover, cajole, or comment. Place to food down, sit and eat yourself, or otherwise engage yourself nearby, but still chatting….”What shall we do after nap?”
    Brutal truth? Leave her be. (Said with love and respect!). She is the boss of her body….it is awful to have stressful mealtimes and pressure around food. Food is not the problem….it’s about power. Let her have the power to decide what she’d like. If she changes her mind? OK! I’ll wrap this up for later!
    I made a tray in my fridge….on it were carrot sticks in water, celery, yogurt, hummus dip, hard boiled eggs, whatever. I allowed my child to choose from the tray and carry it to the table. Again, no commenting or cajoling….leave it to her….because anything you placed onto that tray ok! Remove yourself from the struggle and the struggle will end. I promise!!!

    01.28.16Reply