As parents, especially moms, we are wired with the desire to nourish and care for our children. But when your child has feeding challenges it can create a lot of parental stress that is hard to handle.
I spend a lot of time on the couch nursing baby number four these days. And I can only look at my phone or stare at the wall for so long. Which means I’ve gotten back into reading! It’s been great to actually have time to read again. Even if it’s usually short intervals because I get sleepy or lose focus. Postpartum sleep deprivation will do that.
Recently my husband suggested a book he bought called “Boys Should Be Boys” by Meg Meeker, MD. Sure, I thought. I’ll give it a look. After all, we do have two sons! And a pediatrician should have some good advice.
I felt encouraged that a lot of it was right in line with how we raise our children – don’t overschedule, let them have plenty of free time, let them explore outside, give them attention. Great.
All About Mom
Then I got to the chapter specifically for moms. I found a few areas to work on and more encouragement that I’m doing an ok job at this parenting thing.
And then I read one line that made me pause for a moment.
“In my medical practice, the most stressed-out mothers I have encountered are often the mothers whose sons have growth issues. If a child fails to eat well and fails to grow, a mother subconsciously feels that she has failed.”
It wasn’t until about thirty minutes later that the weight of that statement really hit me and the tears started flowing.
After four years of watching my youngest daughter struggle with eating and being undernourished and now having another baby that struggles to eat, it was the first time I didn’t feel alone.
I’m not just the crazy mom that worries too much about her kids. If a pediatrician sees the parents of children with feeding challenges as the most stressed out, then it’s not just me!
And it’s Not Just You, Either!
To the mom who couldn’t breastfeed despite her best efforts – you are not alone.
To the parents of a child with an undiagnosed tongue tie resulting in undernourishment – you are not alone.
To the mother of a kid going through feeding therapy – you are not alone.
To the parent of a child whose diet is limited to ten foods – you are not alone.
To the parents of kids who throw tantrums at every meal – you are not alone.
To the mom who gets anxious before every checkup, fearing that your child is still not growing – you are not alone.
To the mom of a kid with food allergies – you are not alone.
To the mom that puts her life on hold to make feeding her children well a priority – you are not alone.
And to the mom whose baby screams at every feed, whose day is consumed with feeding attempts and you can hardly leave the house – YOU are not alone. I am not alone.
In her book “Cold Tangerines” Shauna Niequist describes feeding others like this:
“[F]eeding the people I love is a hands-on way of loving them. When you nourish and sustain someone, essentially, you’re saying that you want them to thrive, to be happy and healthy and able to live well.”
That is exactly how I feel about feeding my children. And it’s a challenge when there is a road block in the way.
I see other moms of little ones going out on dates or out with friends, while I’m over here wondering if I can manage a trip to the grocery store between feeding attempts. I see other families going to the beach or the zoo for the day, and I can’t go anywhere for more than an hour without a private place to breastfeed. There is no such thing as being discrete with all the bouncing, back arching and screaming going on.
The parental stress of a child with feeding challenges is very real, but hard to understand if you’ve never been through it. If you know a mom struggling with feeding issues give her some encouragement and maybe a helping hand. She is doing such important and demanding work!
I focus a lot on health and nutrition for kids. But also for parents. It’s important for mom and dad to be healthy not only to set a good example, but also to be able to properly care for your kids.
I’ve been working on my own health for many years. And it’s always a challenge during pregnancy and breastfeeding when I am sharing nutrients and often on a limited diet for baby’s food intolerances.
But one of the biggest factors in health problems is not the food you eat but instead the amount of stress in your life.
Ask any doctor and they will tell you to reduce stress.
You can declutter your house, free up time in your schedule, simplify meals and try to get to bed earlier…but you can’t get rid of your child! The parental stress of a child with feeding challenges is a permanent fixture as long as the feeding troubles remain.
I often joke with my big kids that baby brother only wants to eat as soon as I sit down to eat. So I have to rush through every meal with a fussy baby. Eating too quickly, not chewing thoroughly and eating while stressed is a recipe for disastrous digestion. Yep, that’s me. You too? I pretty much have a constant stomach ache from the tension.
The stress impacts how I interact with my other children and my husband. If my little guy is having a bad day I am having a bad day and patience goes out the window. If my four year old refuses to eat my anxiety builds and it shows.
Help for Feeding Challenges
I can’t make your stress go away, but I can offer assurance that you are not alone. And encouragement that you will get through this. As kids get older the feeding gets easier. And there are things you can do right now to at least ease the problems. I outline the details in my book “Why Won’t My Child Eat?!” I have tips for breastfeeding struggles here and feeding a child with sensory processing disorder here.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Dr. Meeker.
“Mothers love through sacrifice. They act. They will surrender whatever is necessary to keep their son alive. Whether it’s intuitive or not, that is what love does.”
Caring for a child with feeding challenges is stressful. It’s hard work. And it shows your deep, deep love for your child. Some days are more challenging than others. And some days you just need a good cry. But don’t give up. You’re doing a great job. Keep it up!
I wrote this post to encourage others. But also to encourage myself as I’m right there with you dealing with multiple children with feeding challenges at the same time. It is stressful. And it’s OK to admit it. Just know you are NOT a failure!
I hope that ten years from now when I’m not struggling with very young children this post can still offer encouragement to those in the midst of the challenge. And I will still be here to help you along the journey!