There are a few clues to help you best determine if you have a maladaptive relationship with food that you are passing on to your children. The most important key is to look at how you feel when your child is not eating the way you believe they should.
If your child is a picky eater, and you worry that he/she is not getting enough nutrients, that is a normal response. When you worry about your child getting all the nutrients they need, thinking tends to go along the lines of, "how can I increase the amount of fresh green vegetables my child eats" and you do things like look on websites and talk to other moms about recipes and presentation and stuff like that that might entice your child to eat more of whatever you think it is they need to be eating. You may also think about whether you should give your child supplements, etc, and if so, what would be the best kind, etc. The point is that worry and anxiety for the child are motivating your behavior.
If your child is a picky eater and you are feeling resentful or frustrated or downright angry that your child is not eating how and what you think they should be eating, that is a clue that something maladaptive is going on in your thinking. It is perfectly alright to have a maladaptive relationship with food - in fact, in western culture, its pretty darn hard not to. What you want to strive for is to bring awareness to what belongs to you, what is your stuff, so that you can make decisions based on the needs of your child and not on your own messed up thinking about food.
My kids aren't actually picky. They eat what is put in front of them. They have some preferences, which I'm fine with catering to--not everyone has to like bell peppers. So I don't think I am creating food issues. We don't have food battles.
But I cook one meal and I put it on the table. If you refuse to eat it that is not my problem. My kids will eat plenty during the rest of the day. I just don't stress over it. But I am a total hard ass about not doing the short order cook thing. I think it is incredibly disrespectful. I guess that's a problem on my end. Oh well.
My advice may not be appropriate for you. That's ok. You are just fine how you are and I am the right kind of me.
At the risk of seeming like I'm being contrary to everyone on this thread, picky eating is unique to simple (and limited) food aversions. Parents who deal with it have more complicated issues to contemplate than feeding a child who eats most things put in front of them.
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So I think we're getting stuck on my use of the word "maladaptive." To me, "maladaptive" isn't a dirty word that means manipulation. (As an aside, I am doubtful that there is really such thing as manipulation as we typically understand it - but that is a whole other topic).
I define maladaptive as a set of behaviors resulting from values or beliefs that do not assist or support healthy emotional experiences. The process is mainly unconscious, or partially conscious, and is rarely intentionally manipulative. Every single one of us has some maladaptive behavior. It is not something to chastise ourselves about, or feel badly about, or deny, or fear.
Because maladaptive responses can be so hidden, and often they are accepted behaviors culturally and socially, it can be useful to look for clues as to when your responses are maladaptive (e.g. not promoting healthy responses). Whatever emotion you feel is one that you can be grateful for, as it is simply just like the gauge on your car's dashboard - "ah, I see my oil is running low; I should take a closer look at what is going on there." "Ah, I see I am feeling really frustrated that my child won't eat this meatloaf that I spent two hours preparing; I should take a closer look here at what might be really going on with me."
The tendency with maladaptive behaviors is that to us they feel so normal, that it must be other person who is doing something wrong. If I'm getting upset that my child will not eat what I have prepared, there must be something not quite right with my child.
I think you are saying that frustration can be a healthy, non-maladaptive indicator that a situation is simply frustrating, and even the epitome of emotional health would be frustrated. That frustration is a normal part of the human experience and doesn't indicate some deep underlying messed up thinking.
I think I made a mistake in implying that there was a sharp distinction between adaptive and maladaptive, a single, dark line that on one side is healthy and unhealthy on the other. Its not like that at all. For me, thinking in terms of authenticity and center are most helpful.
Some emotions are more authentic than others. Frustration, to me, is not the most authentic emotion. It always follows another emotion, something that lasted a split second, something that is usually either fear or grief. Fear and grief are more authentic than frustration. When I feel frustration, I know I need to look further to see what is behind that. If I have worked hard on a meal and my child rejects it, my first reaction, the more authentic reaction, is probably grief (in our culture as women it could also be fear; fear that we have failed to meet some standard regarding mothering a household).
Besides authenticity, center is the second element I like to look at. All of us lean one way or another when our needs are not met or our values are challenged. One common way to lean is in the direction of neurosis (there must be something wrong with me). Another common way to lean is in the direction of personality disorder (there must be something wrong with you). Other directions people can lean in include fantasy/non-reality (towards psychosis) and avoidance (drugs/alcohol). When a person has leaned far enough in one direction that it is impacting their functioning, mood, health, or relationships, sometimes they qualify for a diagnosis. There are things besides our basic beliefs and values which cause us to lean more, like stress. Parenting is often hard and causes us to lean more. Noticing when we are off center and aiming for center is healthy.
Just because you are feeling frustration doesn't mean you HAVE to address it. For example, yesterday I was trying to move the swivel hook for my child's tire swing from the end of the swinq where I had mistakenly placed it to the center of swing, where she would have full range to go around in circles without smashing into the supports. My first drill battery went poop after about 3 seconds. I climbed down the ladder, got a second battery from the charger, climbed back up. The second battery went poop after about 60 seconds. I climbed back down the ladder, got the third battery which was supposed to have been charged but was not, I found out, once I got to the top of the ladder again. I thought, "what a bunch of peckerheaded batteries can't even hold a *damn charge for freakin two seconds cost way more than the damn drill itself this swing is stupid she'll never even use it anyway and I am DONE." I was frustrated. I could have taken a closer look at my frustration and would probably have found some beliefs to challenge, not the least of which would have been "I am an incompetent single mom who can't even put up a swing for my child" but sometimes it is just more fun to feel frustrated. Not everything requires deep analysis.
But when dinnertime is a repeated hell, when a child has been sitting at the table for two hours trying to eat a bite of meat, when bribes and punishments have been used to no avail, it is time to find authenticity and to find center. Its also time to stop looking at the child and look at what is going on inside yourself.
I totally agree. Feelings aren't wrong or right, they just are.
my post ... was addressing the issue of whether showing frustration (or being frustrated) is an indicator of manipulation.
I didn't mean that it was an indicator of manipulation. I did mean that it was an indicator that there are probably some maladaptive beliefs and values going on that one could, or could not, choose to look at, aiming for center and aiming for authenticity. I do understand that you think frustration is a primary emotion that in itself is not indicative of anything. There are a lot of people who would agree with you, and some research to support that belief. There is also some research that supports the idea that it is not a primary emotion, but secondary to another emotion which would benefit from some attention to. I think its fine to believe what you believe; I'm not all that invested in it one way or another.
Needing to be appreciated is just one of several possibilities that might be underlying the frustration. Its good to know, don't you think? Awareness is good. Then you can get a better picture of whether its you who needs to change, or the child.
Thank you for your response. I really appreciate it.
Aw...crap! I read the word "maladaptive" as "manipulative"....so my whole response is in reference to that. But, looking forward to reading and responding 'cuz it looks like a great reply.
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Well, that would be way off topic but I'd love to hear more about that, for sure!
Ok, I think I get what you're saying here. I DO use a gauge for how I'm doing generally, which is the car. I know that when I'm off or running low on patience and perspective, I get can get a bit irritated with other drivers. Funny that you gave the car analogy and my gauge has to do with a car.
I can totally see what you're saying, too, when it comes to kids. There are definitely times when...yes, probably ALL times when I'm frustrated that it has to do with other things too.
Yes, I suppose so. Though I can think of a few folks I know who are rarely frustrated - seems a nice goal.
I am vaguely familiar with the concept of primary and secondary emotions. While it's an idea that looks good to me on paper, it isn't something that I have found that useful...perhaps an argument could be made that I'm not that good at isolating my emotions.
YES! I suppose rather than feeling like frustration is a primary or secondary emotion -- it's an emotion I suppose I kind of like in the grand scheme of things. I think it's one my family can relate to and it's one that is non-threatening. It does feel very pure to me and non-judgmental. It is rarely one that is loaded with other stuff.
Yes, I agree. And I do know women for whom I could see this being an issue, for sure.
Thank you for your response. I really appreciate it.
Yea, me too! Sorry for my mis-read. I'm BFing a toddler and brain function is a bit sllloooowww...
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