Way before you get the stroller and the car seat and the diapers, and before you decide where your baby is going to sleep, before you are showered with gifts, but just after you have announced you’re about to bring a baby into your life, you get a never-ending supply of something. Advice. Tons of it, in all flavors. Unwarranted, unsolicited, usually well meaning, packaged with the best of intentions. Then you also get the advice to ignore all the advice and go with your instinct. Which used to put me, a first time expectant mom at that time, in a conundrum. Was I supposed to ignore the advice that asked me to ignore all advice?
Once the baby is in your arms, expect a dozen different opinions on ideal bath-water temperature. The ideal brand of diapers. Or no diapers, only cloth. Or no cloth, free willy. Where to put the baby to sleep, how to put him to sleep, what angle to put the baby to sleep, what distance should be maintained between the edge of the bed to the baby’s fingertip. There is advice for everything, and it is usually conflicting.
Like every other newbie mom, I was confused. Who was actually right and who merely believed they were right? I decided to follow the path that has worked for generations past and did whatever my grandma and her grandma did with their kids. But following the advice of sages past meant sacrifice. It meant I had to adopt a way of life that revolved around food.
First, I had to process the food to transform it to a gooey, edible matter. Then, I had to clear the processing area of any signs of food preparation, to ensure superior hygiene. And the best part, I had to ensure adequate consumption of said edible blob of nutrition on which love floated like ghee on kesari. Then, I had to remove traces of consumption to keep up with the hygiene code. Rinse. Repeat.
In simpler terms, this meant my whole day was a simple rhythm - cook, clean, feed, clean, cook, clean, feed, clean. Times n. Where n was greater than the number of hours of sleep I got.
The most patience consuming step in this process was the adequate consumption a.k.a. the feeding step. Within a week, I realized how difficult this was, my uncooperative, uber-curious son would refuse to open his mouth to anything I’d made with so much dedication. I threw in the towel. Which landed on the gooey matter, which splattered all over, which I had to clean up.
Enough is enough, I decided, and changed direction. Forget sage advice, and go with Google. It was all at my fingertips. 'Fear not', the kind, wise mom without a face said over a forum," babies know exactly how much nutrition they need". My job was not to shove the food down their throat, merely to ensure adequate supply was provided.
It was easier said than done. I left food in front of my baby. My baby looked quizzical. What am I supposed to do with this? He’ll know what to do, the Wise Internet Mom’s imaginary voice reassured me. Yes, Baby knew exactly what to do. Oh look, it splatters if I smack it! It squishes through my fingers. I can smear it on my hair. And when I do this.....he knew exactly where to splatter the food which would step up the repeat cycle: clean, clean, cook, clean, clean. Thus ended experiment 1 in year 1 with me vowing never to try the Wise Internet Mom route again.
But no, no, insisted the advice columns, toddlers knew exactly how much to eat. I tried again, for persistence pays or something like that, I had learnt this axiom in Moral Studies. I must have slept through that class, for persistence did not pay, I paid for being persistent. I paid with time and effort and tears when my toddler rejected the food that was infused with nutrition and flavor.
“Preschoolers know exactly what they need, they may look like they are nibbling but they are actually eating enough.” “Kindergartners know exactly how much to eat, don’t battle over food with your 5 year old”. By now, I had formed several conspiracy theories in my head. It was all a scheme to make moms go crazy, as if the very act of being responsible for another life doesn’t do enough damage. And I seriously thought something was wrong with me. Or my child. Or both of us. A dysfunctional family, we must be, for we could not seem to get the eating part right. I believed we were in need of help.
Until now. Now, when I read this well-meaning advice-article, titled “Kids know how much to eat”, in a popular parent magazine, I did what only a mom of 5+ years experience is qualified to do with advice - I scoffed.
The truth is this. Listen up, new moms and moms-to-be for I’m about to dispense invaluable advice. (What? I’ve earned it!) Kids do NOT know how much to eat. There might be times when they are exceptionally hungry or when they like a particular food. But the majority of times, the majority of the kids need to be taught how much to eat. They need to be taught to love and enjoy food - garden with them, shop with them, cook with them, tantalize their senses with food - but if that doesn’t work and push comes to shove, shove. Shove food down their throats. For, food matters. How much they eat, what they eat, when they eat matters. They will learn to love food and become an Alton Brown of their times in their collegiate years, but to get there, they need health and nutrition and that comes only from nourishing food. If they refuse to consume that, do what it takes. All’s fair in love and food.
Ever since I have had this enlightenment, I see parents around me in a new light. If you are the mom who sacrifices girlfriend-time to run behind your toddler, bowl in one hand, spoon in another - I salute you. If you are the dad who youtubes his way through meal time, I will not judge you, but will commend you for getting your priorities right. If you schedule your spa visits and pedicures at odd times because it interferes with your kid’s lunch, I will not think you hopeless, but will applaud you. And if you are the kind who plops food in front of baby and walks away, well, you better read this
article again, you desperately need advice.
Disclaimer: This article is written half in jest and fully from my own experience. Take it with a grain of salt or spoonful of sugar, or both - whatever suits your taste :)