Children teach us important things about ourselves if we are only willing to listen

When you think you have something covered, there comes your child to show you how much work you still have left to do.

The hardest thing for me becoming a new mother was breastfeeding, and as my baby became a toddler, mealtime and feeding outweighed the struggles of breastfeeding by a lot. I was so sure of how I wanted to feed my children and what I considered to be the healthiest route possible that I slammed right into the wall; actually, it was more like a mirror than a wall. What is most challenging about our children is always what we need to work on in ourselves.

In my experience struggling with breastfeeding and fighting with my toddler to eat anything at some point was a strong push for me to look inwards. I developed anorexia when I was a teenager and was in it pretty bad for a few years. On my worst day, I could go on a whole day with only eating one green apple, diet coke, and a tuna salad for dinner. After a lot of work, therapy, and expert help, I got better. Just when I had thought that I had put all those years of restriction behind me, I had a child that only wanted to eat sugar. His refusal to eat “healthy” foods and his strong wish to eat sweets struck a deep chord in me. The conflict between him and me at mealtimes was getting out of hand. At some point, I had to step out of the house and have my husband feed the kid because I couldn’t handle it. Thankfully, I asked for help, and that is where my parenting work began. I had to go back and go within to overcome this struggle. The fantasy that with a few tips and reading some parenting books, you will get your child to cooperate the way you planned is fictitious. The most crucial aspect of parenting work happens internally, finding and healing your past and inner child. The hope of giving my child a healthy relationship with food meant that I needed to look at my pain, trauma, and personal relationship with food. I needed to look at my judgments, prejudices, and values around food, and only after I started the process of making peace with these was I able to make peace with my child’s preferences and desires.

Making peace with my child didn’t mean I gave in to his desire to have popsicles for breakfast and chocolate for dinner; it meant that I didn’t have a visceral reaction to his requests. Rather than spending my energy trying to hide sweets and worrying about his health, I was able to relax and trust that my child would make the right choices for his body. Holding space for his desires helped him relax too because he didn’t have to fight with me to get what he wanted (sweets). I still keep my boundaries and commitments to provide nutrient-rich options, but I hold space for his needs to eat foods that don’t fit into those options. By looking inwards, I noticed that the issue was not that my son refused to eat anything I offered; instead, I still had issues with my inner child and I couldn’t listen to his needs because I had work to do on my relationship with food. Children teach us important things about ourselves if we are only willing to listen.