One of the most important thing I’ve learned about parenting is that you have to pick your battles. Because once you start one, you have to win it. As soon as a child starts winning a battle of the wills, he’ll never give up. You have to decide whether a given situation is worth fighting over or creating a lesson from, and, frankly, some hills just are not worth dying on.
My second child is my challenging one. On top of ADD and related issues, he also has a lot of food issues. I think he comes by them legitimately–he has some pretty severe food allergies–and so some foods make him sick, so I suspect that when he was little and we didn’t know about his allergies, he got very fearful of trying new things because he didn’t know if it would make him sick. However, as he’s gotten bigger, that has translated into very picky eating. Even if it’s not something he’s allergic to, there are a lot of foods he plain won’t eat. He hates trying new things, and trying to get him to eat something he doesn’t want to is tantamount to waterboarding.
We’ve tried every trick in the book. “No dessert until you finish.” He doesn’t care. He’d rather go without dessert. “Nothing else until you finish, even if you’re eating this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” He actually made himself sick one time with that one, refusing to eat until he was lying on the couch, lethargic and totally out of energy, to the point where I was actually worried about him. We’ve made him take a bite, at which point he either holds it in his mouth for hours on end or makes himself throw up. There is no trick we haven’t tried, and now, most of the time, this is not a battle I fight. I fix food I know he likes, or I give him another option if he doesn’t want what I fixed. Sometimes I still say, “Sorry, this is what we’re having,” and he’ll skip a meal because he’s stubborn, but usually I don’t make a big deal of it, because it’s not worth the fight.
Once in awhile, though, it is worth it. At some point, we all have to learn to do things we don’t like. We all have to suck it up and be polite, and we have to deal with stuff we don’t want to deal with. And he’s old enough to learn that lesson. So, last night at dinner, we had a learning moment.
I fixed something everyone likes, but along with it, I made some corn and beans. They actually turned out really well. Quite tasty, and totally edible, but none of the kids were impressed. Nevertheless, the other three ate at least a little bit. Enough to satisfy me that they’re cooperating and getting out of their comfort zone a little and trying something new with a good attitude.
My challenge child, though, well, that’s a different story.
I made him take one bite.
Not even a big bite. One small bite, simply to get him to eat something healthy and stretch himself a little bit.
He put it in his mouth, and refused to chew or swallow. We begged, cajoled, pleaded, and ordered, and he still refused to eat it. We let him take a swig of water to wash it down, and he held both the water and the mushy gross food in his mouth. We talked about ice cream for dessert.
He tried to communicate his displeasure, and I responded with “I can’t understand you when you say ‘mmm-mmmm-mmmm’. Swallow your food and then talk to me.”
So he wrote me notes.
“May I spit it out and not have ice cream?”
No. You still need to eat it.
“I’ll do anything but eat it!”
“I don’t feel hungry!”
Then came the bargaining.
“May I have 3 spankings?”
I actually laughed at that one. Then he crossed out the 3 and changed it to a 5.
Still no go.
Meanwhile, he’s drooling and stuff because he’s had this food in his mouth for two hours at this point, and he’s getting it on his shirt and whatnot, but he was feeling pretty miserable and wanted a hug. Now, I was beyond done with this battle, but at this point, I had to win. There was a lesson here, and he needed to get it over with, so I tried to make the situation even less comfortable in the hope that it would tip the scales and he’d finish. I told him I didn’t want to hug him because he had slobber all over him, and when he finished his bite he could change his shirt and THEN snuggle. I also made him sit on the floor so he wouldn’t get drool on the couch.
And, eventually, the consequences were no longer worth it to him, and he swallowed his bite. You’d have thought he just climbed Mt. Everest, the pride radiated so much. There was much rejoicing, both from him and from us.
I don’t set out to torture my kids, and there are a lot of battles I choose not to fight, but sometimes, you just have to win, or every other parenting struggle will be that much harder.