I’ve previously written about our struggle with Lily’s spotty, picky eating habits at home (though, mysteriously, she eats like a horse, and eats a wide variety of foods, at daycare). But things really came to a head last Wednesday night.
Joe, who’s now dealing with the craziness of preparing to be lead attorney on a multi-million dollar trial, came home after a tough day and cooked dinner. He cut Lily’s dinner into small pieces for her, and also put some fruit she likes in a small bowl.
Just before coming to the table, Lily – motivated by the promise of a fruit snack (we’re following daycare’s lead on this) – wanted to use the bathroom. Nothing happened on the potty, but Lily still wanted her fruit snack. We said no, not wanting to get into the habit of giving her one just for trying – she’d be there all the time otherwise – and she started falling apart.
I was determined to stick to our plan of offering her dinner and nothing beyond that. So after trying to comfort her (she refused me) and talk to her (she couldn’t hear me for all her own ad nauseum, weepy screaming of, “I want a fruit snack”), I told her, “Lily, it’s dinnertime. I’d like for you to eat with us, but with you or without you, we’re going to eat.”
I left her crying in the living room and went to the kitchen, sat down at the table, and set to mechanically eating my dinner. Joe stood at his chair sighing, miserable, saying things like, “I used to love coming home and having dinner. After all the stress at work all day, it was really nice to come home and have dinner. And now, I hate it.”
I felt terrible. The two people I love most were profoundly unhappy, and I felt absolutely helpless in altering the situation in either case. So I listened to Joe vent (and to Lily’s screams) while continuing to fork food into my mouth.
“Just eat,” I urged Joe. “We should just stick to the plan.”
“I can’t eat,” he said. “I have indigestion. The whole thing makes me sick. Every night I’m sick.”
Eventually, when Lily realized that we weren’t coming to her, she weepily came to the kitchen and let me put her in her seat. But then she waved her arm at Joe’s lovingly prepared dinner, saying “No! No! No!”
I pushed the food out of her reach and grabbed her arm to say, “If you don’t want it, just say, no thank you.” But she was beyond hearing me, and at this point, Joe lost his temper.
But his yelling only made Lily scream louder, so I unbuckled her from the seat and pulled her onto my lap, stroked her hair, and tried to tell her it was OK.
Joe paced the kitchen while letting off a lot of (extraordinarily loud) steam about how hard he works (true), and how every other kid he knows eats without a fuss, and how he’s tried to make nice meals for Lily, but instead of hearing “Thank you, Daddy,” or “That was yummy, Daddy,” he got screamed at and told “no.” He also mentioned how he ate everything when he was a kid, and how much he missed the time when, as a baby, she simply ate what we fed to her.
“And you’re ignoring me,” he accused me.
“I’m not ignoring you,” I said, still rocking Lily. “I’m just not sure what I can say, so I’m trying to just ride this out.” All of which was precisely true.
Eventually, Lily calmed a bit and I got her to eat a little of her dinner while sitting on my lap. Joe, meanwhile, grudgingly ate his now-cold food with zero enjoyment.
I felt caught in the middle of this food fight, and I hate the thought of facing this for years to come. Joe had every right to be upset, and he’s right: he’s taken pains to make Lily meals that he thinks she’d like, given her tastes, and he often gets a tantrum for his troubles; and Lily is a two year old who has no idea why this is so maddening for her father.
So there’s no right or wrong, and no choosing sides. I’m just trying my best to be there for both my partner and my child – which means not fleeing the house, as is so tempting to do when things are bad – and be a mast they can both cling to while riding out the occasional storms.
Let’s hope they’re just occasional, anyway.