My mom is staying for dinner because her hubby is going out with his daughter. The Ex told me yesterday she would be by tonight. The Ex calls at about 6:20 and says she is on her way over. I tell her we are getting ready to sit down for dinner but come on over. She does, and plays with The Boy (fixes the tracks on his trains for him, something Mommy cannot do), and then the four of us sit down to dinner. The Boy has food issues. We have established this. By food issues I mean that he does not eat. And we need him to. So he has string cheese, some chicken and some pork (my mom's), some green beans and a piece of sourdough bread with butter. He screws around with the bread and sorta licks off the butter. Then he starts breaking it up and sticking his fingers through it. I inform him that we do not play with our food...take it from him when he continues...give it back when he says he will just eat it...take it when that doesn't happen. You get the idea. Lately with his green beans he has been pulling them apart and only eating the "babies" out of the middle. I think he gets this from his recently enjoying edamame. But still. Not with green beans. And he lays the remnants all over his place mat. Again I explain that we don't play with our food and that food stays on our plate. Meanwhile Ex starts putting the remnants on certain parts of his place mat (he has Thomas place mat) on the faces and making jokes about eating Percy's smile. Or eating Percy's eyes. He laughs at her and then promptly chomps down on some of the remnants. The Ex looks at me and says, "See?" with a smug look on her face. They continue to play the game of putting the food on the place mat and eating it off of the "eyes" of a train. And I will admit that he did eat some cheese and some green beans. A few. But then when he tried to go back to his plate and started smearing his hands all in the BBQ sauce he had requested and then "washing his hands" with it, it became apparent that we were just playing with our food. He was looking at Mom and playing and sometimes licking some BBQ sauce off his hands. He never ate any chicken or pork, and had probably 5 pieces of string cheese, opened about 15 green beans and maybe consumed 7 of them, and had about 2 bites of bread and butter. That's it. Then he got his vitamins and his 10 M&M's for taking them (he hates them with a passion).
He ate. While playing with his food on his place mat, we lightened the mood and he was able to eat some of what was on there. One could argue that if they mood hadn't been lightened and playful that there would have been no food consumed at all. I tend to be very regimented and follow a somewhat strict routine. When The Ex and I were together, I welcomed the fact that she was much more "fun" than I was. I thought The Boy would get a good balance because she could bring some chaos and fun into the routines and structure that I know a young child needs. It isn't a bad thing to sometimes mix it up and let dinnertime be playful and fun. And if we happen to, god forbid, break from the routine and eat our green beans off a place mat rather than a plate, then life will move on. And we will have consumed some food in the mean time.
I eat with this child every single night. And I struggle with the balance of getting him to ACTUALLY EAT SOMETHING with teaching him to have decent table manners. We don't abandon all rules in the name of 7 green beans. And I can almost guarantee that if the games had been stopped by taking the plate and giving back after understanding that we don't play, that just as much food (if not more) would have been consumed after said understanding. I go through this with him every night. He tests, I set the limits, he gets the limits and works within it and we move on. But he tests every night. That is his job right now. He is 2. And it is my job--no wait, sorry--it is our job as parents to set those limits for him. To make sure that he learns that it isn't funny to "wash" your hand with BBQ sauce during a meal. And that if we were to take him out in public with some of our friends, we would be mortified if he did that. So why is it cute at home? At home is where the limits are set. And it is something I have to do every night. But I guess when you're not there every night, you want to have fun. Setting limits can kinda suck sometimes. I guess I just want her to know that that is part of parenting. And when you CONSISTENTLY don't set limits, and just have fun with your child, then you really aren't parenting. You are a fun babysitter, or Aunt or something. But it isn't parenting. It seems I am all alone on that one.