Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You aren't a failure if your kid hates broccoli

I say this in the most supportive, constructive manner possible: Some moms have way too much free time.

How else to explain the hordes of moms to tots who waste hours of their lives beating themselves up over nonsense?

A recent sampling, overhead during various visits to the playground: "I feel like I'm failing and my kid is going to suffer from malnutrition and be stunted." This from a mom to a two-year-old whose diet was heavy on carbs, fresh fruits and milk.

The list of things her son would consent to eat was far more varied than what a lot of toddlers ingest on a daily basis, and apparently included an assortment of fortified cereals. I felt like butting in and telling her to chill. You cannot, without medical equipment and expertise, force feed a two-year-old, and besides, a kid who eats fortified cereal and drinks milk isn't going to wind up stunted. My younger sister spent her second year eating nothing but milk, buttered pasta, honey nut cheerios and the occasional berry. She grew up into a woman of above average height and intelligence.

Indeed, the Grape eats like a giant snake. Some days it seems like he's on pace to put away his weight in food, much of it flavored to adult tastes. But two to four days a week, he prefers to subsist on crackers and milk. He went on a month-long produce strike in June. Then one day in July, he launched himself out of his stroller to lunge for the vegetables at the grocery store. I literally couldn't get them in front of him fast enough.

I could have told the mom at the park not to sweat the hunger strike. I could have passed along a theory I heard from a nurse about toddlers and food: you look at what they take in over several weeks instead of during the course of a day. But she would have either freaked out on me (she looked awfully close to a nervous breakdown) or found some other perceived failing for which to blame herself.

I read a couple of internet message boards about motherhood. Smart, educated, accomplished women literally drive themselves half insane over everything from the "right" bottles, bath tubs and sleep sacks, to the "best" Halloween costumes and birthday party venues (for kids who won't remember these events). It's as if our endless choices, chat boards and product reviews have paralyzed a generation's ability to set aside the marketing and noise in favor of trusting our instincts. I can't imagine trolling cyberspace for reviews of every diaper and toy. Who really has (or wants) the bandwidth for that?

Moms who obsess over ridiculous items like wipe warmers and bath water thermometers might be happier if instead they read a book or did some exercise. And their children would be no worse off.

Even more perplexing to me are the women who beat themselves up other their "failed" birth experiences. It's as if they're eager to get a head start on the excessive guilt that all too frequently seems to come with motherhood.

Here's a successful "birth experience": An internal baby becomes an external baby. Baby and mother emerge from the ordeal without medical complications such as hemorraging, cardiac arrest, clinical exhaustion, oxygen deprivation or death.

The mode of delivery speaks to one's fitness as a mother about as much as the cost of the wedding predicts a couple's chances of success at marriage. Childbirth isn't an end goal unto itself; it's the beginning of a long journey.

A woman in a pilates class I attend semi-regularly scheduled a c-section because her baby was breech. A couple of women from my mom's generation actually seemed stunned that she didn't want to try to deliver naturally.

First of all, how her baby exits her womb is nobody's business but hers and her doctor's. But from a practical standpoint, if I knew I was likely to need abdominal surgery, I would want to show up for the operation as well-rested as possible, and have it proceed on a civilized schedule with a fresh surgeon. I would not wish to labor for endless hours and endure the stress of a last-minute procedure, possibly in the middle of the night, a probably with a tired physician.

But's that's just me. If any of you want to give the breech birthing thing a whirl, I'm not a doctor and I'm certainly not going to stand in your way.

I will say this, though: The self-flagellation rampant among mommies (often of very privileged children) isn't healthy or productive. Stressed out moms make for stressed out kids. Your two-year-old won't be worse for wear for rejecting his broccoli, but he might actually get a complex if your head explodes from the stress of trying to coax him to eat his veggies.


  1. I was a breech baby back in 1973, and my mom delivered (more or less) naturally. I'm really surprised that I have a younger sister at all... she did come out head first and apparently that was a piece of cake compared to me.

  2. Lots of those stories from the 70s... before ultrasound!