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help a reader out: I can’t enforce my house rules- they’re following ‘doctors’ orders’

Posted by on Aug 9, 2011 in Blog Posts | 6 comments

Alright my wise and wonderful readers, help me answer this one! I’ll weigh in soon, but love what you guys come up with, and other mothers are such an amazing source of wisdom…

This was inspired by my recent post about failure-to-thrive, but also relates to a post about protecting your kids from difficult feeding situations. What about when it’s in your own home??

“I struggle with a related problem with one family that lives a couple hours away and frequently stays with us when they come to our town. Both their kids were extremely premature and had growth issues – the younger is 3.5 and has had a feeding tube since before she was 1. Their mother always pushes as much rich food as she can, all day long. (The little one is not permitted to drink water, ever. She drinks milk with extra cream added.) The older one has suddenly become quite plump, which I suspect is her normal shape (she looks a lot like both her parents), but her mother is still in the mindset of pushing her to eat.

I’ve mentioned Ellyn Satter to the mother, but I don’t want to push an agenda on them, even if I suspect it would be better for their kids. My problem is that I can’t really enforce my house rules when they visit, given that they’re following doctors’ orders. But it seems unfair to my daughter to not be allowed to share in whatever snack her friends are eating when they visit, so she often ends up with lots of extra “treats” at odd times, throwing off her regular eating schedule. (Last time the visit also disrupted her sleep schedule…)

Right now the visits are infrequent enough that I don’t worry about it too much, but it bugs me a bit, and it could certainly become more of an issue over time. I also don’t really know what to tell my daughter about the different rules. I don’t have a big problem telling my nieces to knock it off when they start rummaging around in my refrigerator 20 minutes before dinner, but this is different somehow.”

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  1. Kyra

    Having a conversation in which you frame the agenda you don’t want to push, as your agenda, might present it without being pushy. Try explaining that you are trying out this Ellyn Satter eating dynamic thing in your household and ask if she can help you out in coming up with a way to handle things so each kid’s/family’s eating habits don’t interfere with the other’s. Then you have a not-pushy relevance to explain the philosophy and concept, and she is welcome to analyze and consider its merits without being pushed to accept or implement it beyond what is necessary to respect your family’s use of it while a guest in your house (which she would then have a voice in planning).

    She might be interested in the concept of her children developing an internal sense of what foods they need to grow healthily; on the other hand, she might not be content to trust them easily. You can present it as an interesting and potentially-relevant philosophical discussion, without pressure (ask her for the philosophy behind her doctor’s way of thinking, as well, so that it’s an equal exchange of ideas, even though her way of doing things won’t be as relevant to your child; it will lessen any sense of you telling her what to do); as for the practical situation, getting her input will lessen the sense of her being told what to do, framing it instead in terms of working together to solve a problem.

  2. KellyK

    How about explaining your house rules to her and asking her not to push food on the other kids around your daughter? If they need additional snacks, there might be ways to work that in so that it doesn’t mess with your daughter’s routine–can they schedule snacks while they’re out and about, for example? (I think “hiding” that the other kids are eating more would be counterproductive, but there might be ways to be discreet about it without making it a bigger deal.)

    As far as explaining, how about telling your daughter that they were born early and little and are eating in a way that helps them catch up and grow.

    • katja

      Kelly, I like your ideas! One thing, to clarify, with these kids, there are often no “snacks.” I’ve seen moms, and worked with families who literally ALWAYS have food, sippy-cups etc full of Boost, or shakes, or cookies and are basically always shoving it at the child, following them around, sticking it in their mouths. I wonder if that’s been her experience?

    • Elizabeth

      It’s not so much scheduled extra snacks, as any time a kid mentions food, it’s an emergency that you drop everything and feed them right now, because it might never happen again!

      I’m exaggerating a little, but it does feel like that sometimes. The mom often does ask permission, but it’s often in the form, “You want some toast? Sure, let me fix you some toast right now! Oh, is it OK if she eats some toast now? And would your daughter like some?” When my daughter is standing right there, it’s hard to handle.

      • Kyra

        That’s a specific concern to mention to her—point out to her that if she asks you for permission when your daughter is present, you can’t answer without expressing overt control over whether your daughter is allowed to accept the offered food, which she is supposed to be learning to do for herself, and that by making the offer of food known to your daughter, you can’t refuse without being the bad guy, so to speak; at the same time, kids at that age are also just beginning to learn impulse control and are pretty suggestible, so that the offer of food when she’s not hungry might still consistently override a lack of hunger, simply because consuming food is a pleasurable and interesting activity.

        Try asking her to let you take the initiative on offering food to your child—to not ask, herself, but just quietly provide the food to her children and let you decide whether to ask your daughter if she wants any.

        • katja

          Great points, and I like this Kyra… You might also add something like, “It must have been so hard for you to worry about their growth and how much they eat. We are working hard to to help our daughter learn to eat the right amount for her and things are going really well with out routine. it’s sometimes hard when you offer her food, because even if she’s not hungry, she wants to take part” then I like what Kyra said about asking her to just provide food to her kids discreetly. Once your daughter is old enough, you can just say, “That’s how her mommy feeds her, I get to help you with your eating. We just had lunch, so why don’t we let them have their extra snack and do some legos together.” Something like that. it will be trial and error. I would try to avoid saying, “eating that way helps them grow” because the research actually shows that is not true. You might say, “Their mommy decides how she feeds her children.” and not go further. Always emphasize that your daughter can be trusted to know how much she needs to eat, so protect her from pressure messages. (maybe not blatantly in front of her friends.) Now, how to tolerate the routine disruption is another question! These are delicate issues with lots of vulnerable mommy identity issues, so I don’t have an easy answer. Maybe, “My little one does so much better with our usual routine, do you think we can try to get the kids in bed a little earlier” or maybe plan visits when you can handle melt-downs the next day. Not easy! My M, now almost 6 can finally tolerate schedule disruptions without being a nightmare the next day!