Dude, Parenting Can Be Like, Totally Harsh
by Nicole Freire
I have only been parenting for about 12 years now, and do not claim to be an expert with a psychology degree, nor am I writing a pithy book about life in the parenting trenches - which would be cool, though. I have, however, bought two or three books in the last few months about parenting the "middle years", because that is currently where we are in the childhood spectrum. Have I read any of them yet? No. It sounds lame, but they have been sitting on my nightstand for a while, mostly because this parenting stuff is HARD, and my coping strategy thus far has been to just fall exhausted into bed at night, cursing under my breath and hoping the Lunesta kicks in quickly. But over the past few months, some parenting struggles over here at Chez Freire have been.........well, let's just say they've been instructive. So naturally I have to tell you all about it in the hopes that you'll comment with your own parenting stories.
THE PEANUT BUTTER WARS
I try, like most parents, to get my children to eat food with some nutritional value. And like most parents (I suspect), this is mostly a hit or miss experience. So, when either of my daughters expresses an interest in something resembling food I jump on it.
Eggs. Those they'll eat, although one kid only eats them hard-boiled, and the other kid only eats them scrambled. The scrambled eggs kid will also occasionally eat hard-boiled eggs IF they are made into an egg salad sandwich. I try not to make them - I let my husband do that - because for me, egg salad is just an excuse to eat a jar of mayonnaise. And even I know that isn't healthy.
Fruit. Let's see -- sometimes bananas, Clementines are a go, as are strawberries, watermelon, and apples, as long as they are peeled and cut into tiny chunks. They do both have extensive orthodontia, so I do make allowances for not being to bite into an apple with gusto - even I can't eat them that way.
Protein. This is my big thing; to get some protein in them, because otherwise I am convinced they will shrivel up. One kid drinks milk in crazy amounts, the other won't touch it unless it comes with a bowl of cereal. And yes, I buy the organic kind. Tofu - one kid loves it, the other won't touch it. Cheese - one loves string cheese, the other says no way. They will both eat it in melted form.
Meat and fish. One child will happily (and has on many occasions) eaten a steak the size of her face. And then asked for more. The other child will sometimes eat chicken, but only white breast meat and no bones may be present anywhere on the plate. The steak kid will also eat lots of salmon. The sometime chicken kid loves Alaskan king crab legs -- but nothing else.
Vegetables. Hooray for ranch dressing. Most vegetables are acceptable if they're able to eat them with ranch dressing. Fine. Hidden Valley should be sending me money.
Carbohydrates. Potatoes - no. Unless they are French fry form. Pasta yes, but don't even think you can sneak whole-wheat pasta under the sauce.
Bread. Ok, this is one area where I just gave up after too many years of begging and fighting. I just could not get them to eat wheat bread. Not even drenched in butter and jam. Or honey and butter. It just wasn't going to happen, and so I finally acquiesced to white bread. I'm not crazy, I didn't go from organic wheat bread to buying Wonder Bread, but I do buy white bread. There is whole grain white bread, so there's that.
Peanut butter. This deserves it's own category, because the fights over peanut butter were epic. One kid never liked peanut butter. The kid who did like peanut butter ate the organic, has to be kept in the fridge kind, for years. But then it became Jif, and only the smooth Jif, no chunky bits of nuts. Jif was making me crazy with all the sugar and the fat, but when it became apparent that all this kid was ever to going to eat for lunch was Jif on white bread I just gave up. Jif won.
Fast food. Ok, I am now going to admit that when both of my girls were very young and easily swayed by propaganda, I made them watch "Supersize Me", the documentary about the evils of eating McDonalds. I made them watch it two or three times. I would point out McDonalds as we drove by them saying, "See? That's where they make that bad food." It worked so well that one day my youngest child found a McDonalds cup in the garbage (I had stopped for an iced tea out of desperation) and became hysterical, crying and shrieking, "Mommy is going to die from eating the bad food!" So. Not my best parenting moment. As a family, we will occasionally jump into the car and go to In and Out for hamburgers and fries and eat them in the car, because it's way too cold inside for me to sit in there and eat. I will eat In and Out because on the DVD of "Supersize Me", the extras included an interview where Morgan Spurlock talked with (and I'm not positive about this part, someone I'm sure will fact check it for me) Michael Pollan, and he said that he will let his kids eat In and Out, because the beef comes from one source and the French fries are actually made from real potatoes, not engineered potato-like sticks.
Thank you universe for the existence of Mexican food. This is one thing where both kids will eat with abandon. Burritos! Beans! Cheese! Chicken! Sour cream! Also, thank you for smoothies.
LET THE JUDGING BEGIN
I am perfectly aware that I have opened a gigantic can of organic worms by talking about food issues and children. There are those who love nothing more than telling you that whatever parenting you are doing, you are doing it wrong. That I should ignore their food quirks. That I shouldn't make more than one dinner because who needs to be a short order cook? That I am a pushover for not sticking with the organic peanut butter. That other people's children eat everything with no complaint. Maybe my kids are picky because I breastfed them both for so long. I asked my mom what she did when my sister and I were young. She said, "Remember the bowls of Cheerios you two would eat after your baths and before bed? That's because you wouldn't eat dinner."
Now, as an adult, you can have food issues and no one will insist that you cannot leave the table without eating one piece of broccoli. I will eat my body weight in sushi, but gag at the thought of putting a shrimp in my mouth. But some switch must go off inside people when they become parents. You feel that you MUST get some sort of nutrition into your child, to the extent that you will bribe your child to eat a piece of chicken the size of your pinky finger. It's utterly unreasonable, but equally driven by the monkey part of your brain.
SCREAMING AT YOUR CHILD
This is never a popular parenting thing to admit. But I will raise my hand and stand up and say, "Yes. I have screamed at my children. On occasion." Is this a good parenting technique? No. I think it was my brother-in-law who coined the term, "Using Your Metallica Voice". Sometimes the bickering or fighting gets so bad and your temper so frayed that perhaps, just perhaps, you might storm into a room and, at the top of your lungs, say something about, "If you don't shut up I will put you both in a time out! Forever!" But sometimes the Metallica Voice must be deployed; often after your child has done something potentially life-threatening that has scared the bejeesus out you. Like, "Don't you ever run into the street!" Anyway, mostly I just want to say that if you scream at your child, you should apologize afterwards. You will feel better.
CLOTHES, OH MY GOD, THE CLOTHES
Now, I have daughters, so I don't know if parents of boys have these same struggles. Please tell me if you do. I have been arguing over clothes with my girls for ages, and it finally got so bad this week that I have to come up with a new strategy. It was because of the damn rain. One kid would wear her rain boots and a rain jacket. The other WOULD NOT, and it was making me unreasonably angry. I didn't want her to be cold and wet! But she refused. Dug in her heels. How about a scarf maybe? NO. So, after much yelling and arguing I have realized that, the following clothing items will not be worn by my children:
Something lovely you bought them for Christmas.
Clothes bought by relatives.
Clothes bought with your child standing right next to you, assuring you that they like it.
Any article of clothing purchased for the purpose of keeping them warm and dry.
Shirts with buttons.
Socks that go beyond the ankle.
Shoes that fit.
Clothing chosen online, even if your child has picked it out themselves.
Clothes that are "too big" or "too small". Irregardless of actual size.
And finally.............anything I want them to wear, anything that was expensive, and anything I deem as, "looking so cute on you!"
The one clothing fight I will not give up on is the matching Christmas Eve pajamas. Now, the fighting over this has actually gotten much better. We huddle before the computer sometime in November, looking for something soft, not scratchy, not too tight, not too babyish, and in the right color and/or pattern. I always wanted matching pajamas for my sister and me at Christmas time, and when I gave birth to two girls I thought to myself, "Matching pajamas! Yay! Let the shopping begin!"
I am searching for a new strategy with clothing because it irks me so. I think that for a bit I will JUST STAY THE HECK OUT OF IT.
Think it will work?
We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.