Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Guilt Files - Food

I think for most, if not all, mothers Guilt is a part of the package of motherhood.  No matter how well you look after your children, how closely you follow one parenting guru or another there will always be those areas and times when you feel you have failed.  For many of us those times are more often than not.  I certainly have my fair share of guilt and anxiety over my failures as a mum.  Sometimes we're so busy trying to look like we're the perfect parent (or at least not look like a complete idiot) that we gloss over the difficulties, bury ourselves in guilt and overlook the fact that though we may still be afloat there are others looking to us who are drowning for lack of empathy and still more others who - though swan-like on the surface - are madly fighting just like we are.

Serene and alone...
So, I'm going to do a couple of 'Guilt Files' posts to hopefully encourage my fellow mums that they are not alone in this.  That at the end of the day even a mother (or father) is only human.

Food is probably the most controversial, most difficult, most emotional of parenting hurdles - certainly for me.  From the moment you find out you're pregnant - in fact, from the moment you start thinking about having a baby - food becomes a battle ground.  It is an area of our lives that can reduce me to tears of frustration and has given me years of stress and worry.

So, how many levels of Parenting Guilt have you achieved in the Food Conflict?

Stage One of the Food Conflict begins with several exploratory incursions in the form of:
  1. Forbidden food that is believed to harm your baby (shellfish & soft cheeses)
  2. Food you must eat for the sake of your baby & yourself (usually requiring a supplement like folic acid)
  3. Food you should eat to provide the right nuitrition (fruit and vegetables)
  4. Food you have a sudden aversion to or that makes you ill
  5. Food you have a sudden craving for
  6. Quantities of food
Some women embrace the new food rules, taking the opportunity to take control of their health.  Some seem to step into a new freedom to eat what they like (with or without regard to the forbidden foods), revelling in cravings and the need to snack between meals.  Others resent the restrictions, the imposition of new food regimes, but doggedly keep them as far as they are able. 

I think pregnancy wise I fall into the second category.  I don't like most of the forbidden foods anyway, so felt no great loss there and otherwise adhered to only two main rules for my food: aim for fat rather than sugar - as the sugar is passed to the baby and the fat is generally not; and increase iron intake - mostly because I hate taking the iron supplements!  But with that attitude comes guilt.  Am I being unhealthy and failing my unborn child?  Should I not enter into a pattern of eating copious amounts of fruit and vegetables and drinking healthy brews and... well to be quite frank I don't know what else.

#First Level Guilt Achieved

Stage Two of the Conflict brings a choice of weapons: Breast or Bottle or Mixed Feeding.

Miss C - bottle with a friend
It is both an emotive and practical dilema.  There are so many guidelines and so much advice from family, friends, experts and complete strangers.  I won't get into the debates here, but just to say I choose to breastfeed because - once we were over the first hurdles of latching, pain and frequency - it was a lot less fuss and bother than sterilising, mixing and carting around bottles.  Breast may be best, but there are many very healthy children raised on formula, and some very stressed mummies trying to breastfeed on demand in what seems a never ending cycle.  Do what you need to, I say, and don't feel guilty. 

#Second Level Guilt Achieved

Stage Three of the Conflict is like entering the jaws of hell in my experience.

I hate weaning.

First you have the argument about when to start.  The official advice has been the same for about the last six years - start at six months.  I know there are many, many arguments for this.  But I also know that my eldest - who was weaned at four months because of the advice at the time - was perfectly healthy, just as my two year old - who I weaned as late as possible because of the struggle to find fresh friut and veg in the Falklands - was also perfectly healthy.  I started my six month old on solids last month because I was tired of having to feed him every two hours, even through the night, and he won't drink formula to fill him up (which I found to be a successful strategy with my eldest two).  The first time he slept for more than five hours in a stretch was the night after his first proper puree meal.  I will take all the advice under review - and follow my instincts - and try not to feel guilty for disagreeing with the experts.

#Third Level Guilt Achieved

Miss A enjoying her food
Secondly, you have what to feed them.  At the puree stage I confess to being deeply dependent on shop bought meals.  Apart from a delicious cinamon banana recipe - of which I eat every other spoonful - my attempts at purees have met with everything from mild distaste to outright rejection.  Not being the greatest cook in the world, and with increasingly less time, I have swallowed my pride and my guilt and gone with the easy option.  The other day I read on the BBC news website about a study that has been done by researchers at the University of Glasgow stating that
"The majority of [shop bought]  products had energy content similar to breast milk and would not serve the intended purpose of enhancing the nutrient density and diversity of taste and texture in infants’ diets" (http://adc.bmj.com/content/98/10/793.abstract)
compared with 'home made' food.  Once again I am thrown into a dither of worry and guilt.  Call me a bad mother, but I doubt if anything I was able to produce would resemble the 'home made' food they were comparing it to.  I look at the recipes in the baby books and wonder how people find the energy to put together all those ingredients, asssuming you can find them in your sleep-starved stumble around the supermarket.  I choose Ella's Kitchen and Plum when I can afford to because they taste nicer to me than the more traditional companies, but I have no idea if they are actually any better nutritionally.  I should probably do some more research, I should probably learn to cook baby food...  Sigh.
#Fourth Level Guilt Achieved

Fussy Eater

Stage Four brings you an new enemy - your child's taste buds and aversion to anything new.  The Fussy Eater has entered the fray.

Miss I eating plain pasta
You wonder what you did wrong in the earlier stages to cause your child to only eat pasta, plain bread and fruit (Miss I aged 3), or only cheese, yoghurt and banana (Miss C on a bad day).  Why will they suddenly not eat Shepherd's Pie or Lasagne - which used to be weekly staples - just because I've not cooked it for a month?  Why will Miss I still not eat jam, but Mr J and Miss A would live off Ham & Pickle sandwiches if they were allowed?  Should I be insisting that Mr J eats carrots, peas and broccoli, or is it okay because he'll happily eat two apples, a banana and an orange a day?  Have I made too much fuss about food?  Should I make more fuss about what they eat?  Why have I let food become a battle zone...?  Oh, the guilt...

#Fifth Level Guilt Achieved

Congratulations, you are now ready to graduate to #Guilt Level Six and Above:

Miss C demanding Biscuit!
School dinners vs Packed Lunch Guilt - Mummy, PLLLLEEEEEASSSE can we have packed lunch?

Starving Child Guilt - No, you can't have any more food!  You've already eaten everything.

Biscuit Monster & Sugar High Guilt - How many biscuits and sweets can a child actually eat?.

Junk Food Guilt - It's only every now and again, honest

Family dinner at the table - But Daddy's not home yet.

I often approach meal times with something verging on despair, trying to decide whether to go for easy options or try something new.  I hate the demands for food as soon as I meet them off the school bus, or as soon as they wake up.  I am grateful that my children have school dinners because it is one less thing for me to think about and they are encouraged to eat a good variety - they've started eating roast dinners and mashed potato.

At the end of the day I can only do what I can manage on the day - which is probably not my best, but is hopefully good enough.  My children are healthy and active and they eat fruit.  So far, so good. 

 Do you struggle in the Food Conflict?  Share your traumas and lessen your guilt.  I can't be the only one...  Or, if you are a super mum, I'm happy to receive some hints - but no more guilt please...


  1. look at the trouble i had with graeme not a vegetable on his plate but meat and yorkshire puds he would loved to have had every day or pizza etc and it hasnt did him much harm has it .xx your doing ok there fit and heathly what more can u ask for lv xxx

  2. I know! I'm sure they'll be fine....

  3. I feed my kids far too much crap! hey ho ;-)

  4. Yeah! My two year old is a series Biscuit Monster these days and as long as my hubby isn't watching we both have one!

  5. I regularly struggle with food for Grace and I think I always will! I really disliked weaning too! I think whatever you do as a parent guilt is par for the course! Thanks for linking to PoCoLo x

  6. Very well put, you capture the dilemmas really well, here here to no more guilt!

  7. That's why I wanted to write the post - part confession, part therapy, part support! Thanks for hosting PoCoLo!

  8. Thank you. I really hope that I can encourage parents to know they're not the only ones!


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