questions for you: food beyond infancy; diapers & toilet learning

As regular readers know, I’m working on a feminist book about parenting. Will you help me write a better, more inclusive project by answering some questions?

food & eating beyond infancy: We obsess over Breast vs. Bottle, but what about the food and eating issues that arise from toddlerhood through adulthood?

  • Have your views on food and eating changed as you’ve parented?
  • In your relationship(s) with your child(ren), do you deal with food pretty much how your parents did with you, or differently? Does any of this have anything to do with your feminism?
  • People seem to hit a lot of food anxiety/conflict with A) toddlers/preschoolers and B) older children and adolescents (I’m thinking especially of the period when dieting rears its ugly head). Do you have any wisdom, or just frustration, to share about either moment?
  • Are you worried about any food-related body image issues for your children and in your parenting? How do you work with that stuff, practically and emotionally?

diapers & toilet learning

  • What’s something you wish you’d known about diapers/diapering/toilet learning before you started? Practical tips, realistic expectations, general info?
  • Has your feminism impacted your approach to toilet learning? Or to the world of cloth-vs.-disposable diapers? (That sounds unlikely at face value, I know, but some strains of feminism don’t exactly sit easily with mainstream “potty training” approaches, the marketing of diapers and toilet learning aids are super-gendered like all other children’s stuff, there’s ecofeminism, and there’s the argument that women tend to get stuck doing the extra labor involved in avoiding disposable stuff, so … anybody?)

The details:

  • By commenting on this post, you are giving me permission to quote what you say here in my book. Please indicate the age(s) of your child or children, as well as whether you’d like to be identified by full name, first name only, or a pseudonym of your choice if I end up using your words.
  • Feel free to email your responses instead of commenting here, if you prefer: molly at firsttheegg dot com.
  • Please answer any question (or questions) that strikes your fancy, in any way, at any length. Anything relevant to these topics is welcome, even if what you have to say is not really related to the questions. I’m so grateful for any thoughts you offer!

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  1. Posted 16 January 2013 at 1:31 PM | Permalink

    I have one child, a 9-month-old boy.

    I didn’t give beyond breastfeeding much thought during pregnancy, assuming I’d “make my own babyfood,” whatever that meant, at some vague point in the future. Somehow I discovered so-called Baby-Led Weaning in my son’s first months, and that is what we have been doing: offering some solids, usually taken from the course of preparing our own supper, each evening at table. I wish I had known there was such widespread support for not introducing any non-milk foods until after six months. I wasn’t in any hurry to start, but Baby seemed so interested (and had a couple teeth at 5 months) that I tortured myself going back and forth on offering something. I waited and later saw so many references to waiting that I’m glad I did.
    Body-image issues should be no less on my radar because I have a son not a daughter but to be honest, they probably will take a backseat to other issues unless something comes up, in the earlier years. My spouse and I have been lucky enough to make it through life without eating disorders or body image issues, I’m very careful of how I speak of food (no foods are “good” or “bad,” eating is never “naughty,” it’s just eating), and I hope a casual attitude towards the specifics of nutrient and calorie acquisition go a long way in preventing problems.

    Somehow my spouse (who is male) got diaper laundry duty into his daily schedule, when the dust from Baby’s birth cleared. He works full time out of the home; I stay at home with our kiddo. My husband’s no stranger to housework and tossing the diapers into the wash machine in the morning before work’s just routine now. We’ve practiced “elimination communication” since Baby was born, which Papa’s been an equal partner in, so diapers are perhaps fewer and certainly less poo-drenched than they could be, making diaper cleaning less difficult. I’m so grateful I stumbled across EC somewhere before Baby came. I see a lot written (by famous people, clever people) about how so many parenting practices I support, enjoy, are “anti-feminist.” EC seems to top the list. I suspect such accusers haven’t seen it in practice and somehow misunderstand it. My household hasn’t found that breastfeeding, cloth diapering, EC-ing, baby-led-weaning have anything to them that is intrinsically anti-woman. What IS, or can be but usually is, anti-woman are the cultural expectations, rules, and institutions that keep women from fully participating in society while engaging in these practices.

    -Jack (Connecticut)

  2. Posted 16 January 2013 at 9:07 PM | Permalink

    Jack is 4, Liam is 2.

    I will talk only about food, and leave the toilet questions to others.

    When my oldest was a small wee thing, he had some major sensory sensitivities, coupled with a mild but persistent speech and language delay, which made eating a struggle for him. A lot of his pickiness was driven by sensitivity, and it was persistent. I very much enjoy cooking and providing healthy, tasty, fresh food for my family, but having everything I made rejected by my son turned meals into a hideous chore. I also hate wasting food, both for environmentalist reasons and also for poverty reasons, and so I kept every morsel that he turned away and served it to him again and again. My desire not to throw away food and not to fight with him led to me limiting what we served him to the few tiny things he would eat, which caused me no end of stress (even though these were largely healthy items, like fruit, yogurt, and milk – I mean, he could have demanded cheese pizza and burgers). My parents demanded that we take some of everything and clean our plates, to the point that we would be spanked repeatedly for failure to comply (I had a military upbringing). I did not want to do this for a lot of reasons, because I think as much as anything it represented a desire to dominate and break my will and make me conform (very military, and not a style I emulate). But I also was not willing to serve as a grill cook, serving whatever my child’s whim demanded, and nor did I want to make three different things for three different people at every meal.

    Over time, I decided that what was important for me to teach my children in eating was an openness to trying new things, a willingness to eat with the family (so that I am not a kitchen slave), a taste for healthy foods, and a pleasant meal time. So I began structuring my behaviors at meal time to that end. After my son’s senses dulled a bit, and he began to develop his receptive language (i.e. was able to understand us), we went through a period of presenting him with exactly what we were eating and nothing else, and allowing him to eat it or not. Eventually he got the message, and now that’s what happens in my house with both kids. They eat it or they don’t, but they don’t get alternatives. And yes, this was partly motivated by my feminism, because I am not willing to kill myself in the kitchen in order to serve their whims. The kids are part of a team, and I feed the team (because I like to and I’m good at it), and the team respects my contribution of dinner by eating it and not demanding more from me. However, I respect their autonomy and individuality by taking requests for meal suggestions (if they have any), letting them pick their lunch (with some guidance towards healthy choices), and allowing them to not eat any dinner if they don’t want to. Since the 2 year old doesn’t suffer the sensitivities and is very verbal, and also has his brother’s example to follow, this has made meal times much more fluid, and allowed me to sit and eat with the family.

    Now, if I could just get the 4 year old to eat in less than an hour . . . distraction and lingering is our new battle.

  3. Posted 17 January 2013 at 6:27 AM | Permalink

    My daughter is sixteen months.

    food & eating beyond infancy:
    My views on food and eating constantly seem to be evolving, so it seems only normal to me that I’ve readdressed these issues after becoming a parent. Before having a baby we had already moved in the direction of whole/fresh/sustainable foods, and I was surprised that we moved away from that after our daughter was born. The shopping and the cooking required to eat that way were just too overwhelming on top of caring for a newborn. I was grateful for pre-packaged shortcuts and dinners that I could throw together in less than twenty minutes, and I was terrified we would eat that way for the rest of her childhood. Around the time that our daughter started solids, I finally started getting my energy and zeal back for cooking. However, I absolutely love to cook, and I can’t quite imagine that every family is capable of putting together dinners that require a lot of prep time when no one in the family actually loves to spend time in the kitchen.
    We approach food and eating differently than my parents did. Both my parents are overweight and have been my entire life. I think that my mother especially struggles with this, which did not go unnoticed by me when I was growing up. My father also grew up very poor and cannot bear to see food “go to waste.” He cannot leave food on his plate even if he is full, and I certainly had to clean my plate before leaving the table. I think it frustrates him that I don’t force my daughter to eat even if she’s eaten very little, and he doesn’t like that I don’t chastise her for throwing food on the ground (not yet, anyway, she’s sixteen months).

    I want my daughter to look forward to eating and to associate food not only with nourishment but also with the social aspects of gathering around the table to build relationships with friends and family. I also want her to realize that all food has a place in our lives (sugary, processed foods included), there are no “good” or “bad” foods, and that our diets can be well balanced. I felt this way before she was born, but I feel it even more strongly now. Food is food, and I don’t want it associated with getting fat or losing weight. Yes, this viewpoint does have to do with my feminism and my fight to keep the negative associations of food away from feelings about the female body. It is something I struggled with for a long time, and it would break my heart to see my daughter struggle the way I did for so long. I wouldn’t say that my feminsim affects what I cook, but it most certainly impacts the words I use to talk about food and what we’re eating. I don’t talk about foods we shouldn’t eat, and I don’t use food in a punishment/reward system (ex. letting her have a cookie if she finishes her vegetables). Obviously, I’ll have to revisit this kind of stuff as she gets older.
    We have been lucky that she hasn’t hit a particularly picky phase yet. I worry about how we will handle it, and I hope that we’ll be able to let her choose what she eats from the foods we prepare. To be honest, I’m worried about her going through a picky phase. How do you let your child make her own decisions about what she eats while still ensuring that she is eating a well-balanced diet?

    diapers & toilet learning
    We haven’t reached the toilet learning phase yet, so I can’t comment on that. I will say that by reading feminist parenting blogs, I have been influenced not to rush the toilet learning phase. I want to respect my daughter’s autonomy and not rush her into something she is not really ready for.
    We cloth diaper our daughter, and I can see how some women would see this movement as a step back for women. Just visit a cloth diapering discussion board to get a sense of how uninvolved fathers can be. Please don’t get me started on just how much I hate the term “daddy friendly diaper.” My husband and I chose our daughter’s cloth diapers together, and he can change a diaper as easily as I can. He knows the wash routine as well as I do and doesn’t need my help. Because I’m unemployed right now, I’m at home with our daughter the majority of the time and do the lion’s share of the housework, but I wouldn’t say that I feel chained to the home because of cloth diapers. Cloth diapering didn’t feel like a feminist decision. My husband and I making decsions together about how to raise our child, however, is influenced by my feminism.

  4. Lara
    Posted 17 January 2013 at 8:15 AM | Permalink

    I love all these thoughtful comments. I hadn’t thought of my approaches to food as “feminist,” but the posts above make me see that my feminism, or at least my insistence on at least a modicum of respect, informs how I serve dinner. We eat a family meal, you can eat whatever parts appeal to you, or not eat, it’s your choice. You can be quiet or say complementary things to the chef. I laid down these rules for my 8 and 5 year old sons a couple years ago, and it has made a huge difference in how meals feel to me. No whining, no begging for PB&J, and no special service, so I get to sit and eat. And we can have a conversation, instead of an extended negotiation over what they can eat.

    Because my kids are a bit older, our food issues have evolved. As far as feminism goes, what I notice is that I self-consciously try to present my food decisions relevant to my weight in ways that are about “health,” not “I need to lose weight.” I have had to adjust my approach to food in the past year or so, since my metabolism got a lot more efficient right about when I hit 40, and at the same time I’ve had knee issues that have reduced my normal activity level quite a bit. I need to eat quite a bit less than my husband, and even sometimes less than the kids. And I pass up desserts that are not so fabulous that I really need to partake. I’m pretty good about having a healthy attitude about it, but I never totally escape the “ack! my pants are too tight! I’m getting fat!” voices in my head. (I try to replace them with Molly’s voice, of course ;).) This is one of those moments when I feel like I need to step up, model a better person (better feminist!) than I perhaps truly am, and show my kids how I ideally want all of us to think about food and body image, even if I can’t carry it out perfectly. I do wonder, though, when the values in my own head are somewhat in conflict, what I actually end up communicating, through all my small actions.

  5. Lara
    Posted 17 January 2013 at 8:18 AM | Permalink

    P.S. Molly, I know I persist in not deciding how I want to be identified. I guess stick with “Lara.” Sometimes I think I ought to “own” my ideas a little more, since I also write about women’s issues, family, etc. But then I can’t evaluate well enough when I’m writing in bits and pieces, and quite far ahead of actual publication. Sorry to be wishy-washy.

    • Molly
      Posted 17 January 2013 at 4:39 PM | Permalink

      No problem — we can revisit that closer to the book’s completion. In the meantime, thank you for all your contributions!

  6. Erin
    Posted 17 January 2013 at 7:25 PM | Permalink

    I think my feminism has informed my approach to eating, as well as my upbringing. I had parents who – like most parents in the ’70s – forced us to clean our plates/ eat our vegetables. I spent hours sitting at the table staring at a cold plate of carrots or broccoli or whatever. They didn’t understand how revolting these things tasted to me. I was a kid who ate bland, beige food my whole childhood. My pickiness was a huge issue – everywhere I went, it came up as an issue. I have vivid memories of being a child and teenager and having the adults around me talking about my eating. It made me p aralyzingly self-conscious. I couldn’t bear to go to a dinner party well into my 20s. It was agonizing. And eventually I grew out of all those food aversions and today I eat everything, and very healthfully. I decided early on that I would offer a plate to my kids and they could eat what they wanted. My eldest (4) is just like me – extremely sensitive to flavors, textures, and smells. He used to gag on his early solids – I mean, as a 7 month old, he’d gag until he vomited over a tiny piece of soft avocado. I decided to recognize the reality of his feelings, that they were worthy of respect, as he was worthy of respect. He eats what he wants. When he got older we insist that he takes a “thank you bite” of everything on his plate to keep him trying new things. I also make them separate meals, which I know is a big food-parenting no no, but frankly I don’t mind and I want him to eat something. I know he’ll grow out of it – or he won’t. I don’t think it says anything about a person’s moral character if the only thing they like is grilled cheese, you know? He’s very thin so we worried sometimes about him not getting enough for dinner, so we instituted a before-bed snack. It’s not dessert, it’s a snack, and he always gets it. It’s not tied to what he does or does not eat for dinner. I quickly caught on to the idea that power struggles over meals were damaging, that kids eat when they are hungry, etc. But my feminism also informed my respect for his personhood, his needs and preferences.

    We used cloth diapers for ecological reasons. I never found them “extra” work, even though I guess they are a little bit extra work. I see the feminist concerns about extra labor – but it’s the same argument ultimately about breastfeeding. It’s not the act that determines whether or not the woman is doing more labor, it’s the relationship (ie, is it an equal partnership or not). I have an equal partnership, and make decisions accordingly.

    Erin, Baltimore

  7. Tertia
    Posted 17 January 2013 at 9:06 PM | Permalink

    Two very awesome questions, I look forward to reading the other responses!

    In regards to food:
    After college, a couple years before my daughter was born I got into cooking. In part as a way to save money, but also because I realize that lots of prepackaged foods really aren’t very tasty and once I started reading the ingredients that was pretty much the end of that. When I was pregnant I figured that I would feed her only homemade baby foods, and lots of vegetables, and that she wouldn’t be picky at all because duh, I am just that amazing. When she first started eating solids she was about 9 months old, I tried some purees with her at about 6 months but she wasn’t interested so I waited until she started grabbing food off my plate. I pretty much ignored the “rules” for feeding babies just as I ignored the food rules when I was pregnant because I find them to be too restrictive and encourage more stress and fear than I care for.
    When she first started eating she would honestly eat anything! I think she just liked the experience, so she wasn’t “picky” at all (I hate that word). So I was surprised that after a year old, and now that she is 18 months old, how much more selective she has become. Some days she will refuse to eat things that she loved the previous day, she mostly picks the vegetables out of every meal and throws them on the floor. At first it was frustrating to me, but I read a book called “Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater” that was really entertaining and encouraged me to stop worrying. I give her some of what we are eating every night, even things like curry and shushi. If she doesn’t want that she’ll get some fruit or yogurt or other snacks we have on hand. I don’t cheer her on for trying something new or eating vegetables, nor do I get frustrated and try to force her to eat things she doesn’t want. Some days she eats a few more crackers than I would like, but I know that she eats almost entirely fresh whole foods so I am not going to make eating stressful or unpleasant for us.
    Our family’s relationship to food is similar to my parents and the rest of my family. Sure they eat a little more prepacked food than I do now, I do remember a lot of Campbell’s soup and hot dogs when I was a kid. But usually we had a homemade dinner together every night, even when I was in high school, and we had a garden at home so there were a lot of fresh vegetables in the summer. So I don’t think of my relationship with food as directly related to my feminism, well not any more so than any other aspect of my life. Food should be enjoyable and fun and nourishing, not something to fight over or feel guilty about. But I also know I am privileged to be able to afford lots of fresh, and often organic, foods. And although being an at-home parent definitely has its negative aspects, it does leave me time and energy to make a lot of homecooked meals, go grocery shopping often, and make food a priority which I can imagine would be much more challenging for people with full time jobs outside of the home.

    (Tertia with an 18 month old)

  8. A'Llyn Ettien
    Posted 19 January 2013 at 9:44 PM | Permalink

    I don’t have much to say about food beyond infancy, since my son is only 9 months old. He had breastmilk exclusively until 6 months, and since then we’ve been going with a pretty low-pressure approach, offering him things according to what we have around, but not making a big deal out of it if he doesn’t seem to like them. I hope to avoid good food/bad food ideas, pressure to clean ones plate, and other food issues, while also emphasizing the sort of foods that recognizably originated on the planet Earth. You know…less of the neon-colored sugar cereals and stuff.

    I’m sure stuff will come up that we can’t begin to anticipate or prepare for, but at the moment he eats a variety of wholesome mashed-up stuff, drinks breastmilk, and seems comfortable indicating when he wants to eat or not to eat.

    Interestingly, we’ve JUST started to think about toilet training, and I just a few days ago looked hard to find a training seat with a gender-neutral pattern (although when I did, it was called “Mommy’s Helper”…sigh).

    We picked cloth diapers pretty much entirely on my initiative, but my husband got on board with it and does as many changes and loads of laundry as I do. I wasn’t thinking specifically of feminism when I made this choice, more of my hippie childhood where my own mother used cloth for all my siblings (she, unlike me, did pretty much all the changing and washing, so that was not noticeably feminist).

    My research suggested that ecologically it’s kind of a wash (you have high water usage and add detergents to the environment with cloth, while disposables obviously go into landfills), but that you can save a little money on cloth if you don’t mind putting in the time. I like saving money! Plus, I liked the bright colors of the cloth diapers we (I) picked, and I actually really dislike the way most disposables are branded with ‘characters.’ Pooh, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, etc. I don’t need Disney on my kid’s butt!

    Now it looks as if he may toilet train early, so we might not even be using the cloth long enough to ‘break even’ compared to disposables. I guess I kind of wish I’d known that in advance, so we might have just gone with disposable all the way? But not really…I mean, I don’t regret having gotten those lovely colorful diapers for him, and washing them hasn’t been that big a deal.

    As it developed, we have to put him in disposables for daycare, so we’ve wound up buying those anyway, and only using cloth nights and weekends. I take some comfort in the fact that at least it’s easy to find disposables that aren’t gendered. He may have Disney on his butt, but at least it’s not “pick Princesses or Cars, no in-between.” Not yet, anyway. Maybe they get worse for older kids, I could totally see that being the case.

    I don’t know how feminism, exactly, is influencing my approach to toilet training. I guess in that my husband is involved, and that we’re paying attention to how the child seems to feel about it?

    I read that they do it a lot earlier in many countries than we tend to in the U.S., and thought “I’ll put him on the toilet and see what happens.” I was prepared to just abandon the whole thing if he didn’t take to it, but he totally gets what the toilet is for and will go when we put him there, so we’re going to keep letting him sit on it at regular intervals (again, nights and weekends) while we work on getting him to be able to tell us, and/or us to be able to understand, when he needs to go so we can get him there in advance.

    So the feminism, I guess, is don’t push him or freak out if things don’t happen incredibly quickly, but try to read his signals, and if it turns out he’s ready to be out of diapers a little sooner than most kids in his daycare class or whatever? I won’t say that wouldn’t be totally fine with me. And the feminism is also that his father is there putting him on the toilet too, and supporting the low-pressure approach.

    (We just started this a week ago, so a few months from now I might be saying “yeah, that totally didn’t work out”…in which case, fine, if he’s not ready for it, he’s not.)

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