Food Fights

Sharon writes:

Getting toddlers to eat their fruits and vegetables is tough. Getting three toddlers to eat their fruits and vegetables is nearly impossible. I have found a few simple “tricks” that help to ensure that meal time is a little easier to digest:

Almost any child will eat vegetables if they can be dipped in something, whether it’s ketchup or ranch dressing. My daughter even dips cooked carrots in ketchup!

Kids love to eat with their hands. I never get an argument if I serve corn on the cob or watermelon as a side dish.

Sometimes I’ll serve “snacks” for lunch. This consists of chunks of cheese, raisins, black olives, and small crackers. When all the food is snack-like, kids don’t realize that it is also good for them.

When making french toast, I add a few tablespoons of mashed sweet potato to the egg mixture before soaking the bread. It gives the toast a light, sweet flavor and boosts the nutritional value.

Audrey's Hardcore Food Policy:

I never cooked different foods for my children. Luckily, neither of them was a picky eater. Even when they were babies, I would puree whatever I'd prepared for their father and I, and that's what they got. My daughter loved pureed stir fry though it looked like the dog's dinner to me. When the kids got older, if they said they didn't like whatever I'd prepared for supper, I'd simply say, “That's fine, the next meal is breakfast.”

The last year I made my daughter's lunch, she convinced me that she hated peanut butter so I spent a year without using that marvelous staple of sandwich making. When September rolled around again, I told her that she was now in charge of her own lunches. She made herself peanut butter sandwiches almost every day.

Rachel adds:

Really, I think the most remarkable thing about the food fight in our household is that it is a total non-issue. Right from the start, I decided that this was not going to be a battle I was interested in fighting. I serve the kids whatever we are eating. I have never made a big fuss about having to eat anything in particular, I just put things on their plates and have discovered that most of the time they will eat their vegetables without a problem. In fact, my kids love veggies now. A pediatrician once told me that as long as they had a more or less balanced diet on a weekly (not daily) basis, they would be fine. From that point on, I never worried about it.

Kathy has a great solution!

I wish I could take credit for the wonderful sense of adventure my children have regarding food. The hotter and spicier the better, as far as they are concerned! This all comes from their father, who does most of the cooking, and will truly eat anything. What I tell the moms who ask for my advice on this topic, comes from Ellen Satter, a nutritionist out of the University of Wisconsin. She writes great books about feeding children. She states simply that is our responsibility to provide healthy food for our children, it’s their responsibility to eat it… or not. As a young mother, this was liberating for me! I did my job, and put a reasonably healthy meal in front of them. If they didn’t eat it, that was their problem. Another meal would come along in a few hours, and then maybe they could get Dad to cook it!

The Helmet Wars

Audrey writes:

I guess my son was about 12 or 13 during our Helmet War. It might be more accurate to call it the Helmet Negotiation. We'd already had some “discussions” about bicycle safety. Then we moved into a neighborhood where a group of boys around my son's age spent hours on their skateboards every day. About 6 boys. None of them wore helmets, or knee pads, or elbow pads, or any type of safety gear. It drove me crazy. What really drove me crazy was the attitude of the boys' mothers. It seemed to me that if we banded together and laid down the law about safety equipment, all of our sons would have to use it and none of them would feel dorky or overprotected. No, nope, none of the other moms were interested. They said things like, “Whaddaya gonna do?” and “Boys will be boys.”

Halfway through the summer, one boy fell badly off his skateboard. He suffered a compound fracture in his lower arm. Two days after the event, I spoke to one of his friends who'd seen the accident; the boy was still shaken describing the bone coming out of his friend's skin. Still, no safety equipment.

Naturally, my son did not want to be the only boy wearing a helmet and pads. Naturally, I did not want my son to have an horrific skull injury just so that his 12 year old ego could remain unbruised.

I offered a negotiation. We would each research to support our side of the argument. If he could find data disproving a link between helmets, etc and safety, he could ride without them. If I found data supporting a link between lack of safety gear and injury, he would have to use them. Of course I won, and learned to use the term “eggshell fracture” with confidence. My son honored his side of the bargain by not bicycling or skateboarding at all. Or he just waited until he was out of my line of sight before using a friend's bike or board.

Whaddaya gonna do? I often see adults bicycling without helmets. Sometimes they have young children with them who are wearing helmets. It seems to me that the message they are giving to their children is, “Wearing safety gear is nerdy and childish. You have to wear it now, but when you get older, you won't.” I wish that safety gear was sexier, it ain't. Helmet hair is not a good look. All the cool competitive skateboarders wear helmets and gear but that doesn't seem to translate to the kids on the street.

I think that my son learned that I wasn't going to give in when his safety was a stake. I hope he understood that I cared enough about his health to be unpopular with my own neighbors and to put being his mother above being his buddy. When he went off to college in New York City, I willed myself not to imagine him careering through traffic without a helmet.
I still wonder about other parents and the helmet wars. What's your take?

Rachel replies:

Not only do I make my kids wear their helmets, but I insist that their friends do too. If a friend shows up at our house on a bike without one, I send him home to get it. At first Noah's friends were aghast, but after a few times, they knew I was serious and started to show up wearing helmets. If they claim not to have one, I have extras to spare!

And by the way, my husband and I always wear our helmets too.

Skin Deep

Dear 4 Moms,

We are very close to another family that has 11 and 13 year old girls like we do. We are compatible in most ways and enjoy each other's company several times a week. However, I have a problem with the way the mother is constantly commenting on her daughters' appearance. She is forever fawning over them, saying how gorgeous they are, how beautiful they look in these pants, that shirt, their skin, their blond hair, their blue seems to be getting more excessive as they get older.

Frankly, it makes me squirm and I don't what, if anything, I should say to her. I love her girls and we would miss them greatly if we had a falling out, but I don't think her behavior is healthy for them (or for my kids for that matter). Is there a way I can confront her without alienating this family? Should I say something privately to my own girls?

Rachel’s take:

How big an issue is this for you? Are you willing to lose a friendship over it? The fact is, we all have different parenting styles and it is important to give people slack in the way they raise their kids. Unless their behavior poses some kind of danger, it is really not our business how they handle their own kids. I think it IS appropriate to talk to your own children about it, especially if they bring it up in a way that compares your family to their friends. “Why can’t I get as many new clothes as Janey does?” can invite a conversation about how different families have different values and rules. I would caution you not to condemn the other mom, however. Just explain that her choices are different from yours.

And honestly, I used to have a friend that thought she knew everything about parenting and was always trying to tell me the ‘right’ way to do things. It was really irritating.

Audrey's response:

You don't say how long you've known this couple or how close you are with the mom. If she is really focused on fashion and appearance, I would say that your chances of changing her behavior are pretty slim. That being said, I would counter every remark of "Oh Alexa, you are so beautiful in that spangled tube top!" with "Yup, and I bet you can do a mean cartwheel."or "And I know you can spell like nobody's business, spell MIssissippi!" If she remarks on your remarks, I would sit down with her and say frankly but gently that you are not comfortable that she praises her children's appearance so often in front of you and your children. I might say something like, "I'm a little uncomfortable that you praise Alexa and Natasha's looks so often. Your kids are gorgeous but they're also really funny and smart. Can we maybe tone down the physical compliments a bit?And if your own children bring up the issue, you can use it as moment to talk to them about what's important in your family compared to what the society thinks. This is an important issue for every child, especially girls.

Sharon adds:

Sadly, my mother was guilty of this kind of praise with me and my two sisters. Unfortunately, it came from her mother always telling her she wasn't pretty enough! I agree with Audrey to make sure that all the children involved realize you can be great at many different things in addition to being physically attractive. This is not something to keep quiet about as it can be quite harmful.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Feel free to comment!

Children's Birthday Gifts

Sharon says,
I find that as the temperature warms up, the number of birthday parties I am invited to increases as well. Often, the biggest dilemma is what to get for a gift and how much do I spend? I remember when I was a little girl, I received toys from my friends and clothing from relatives.
It seems today that it is not uncommon for parents to request gifts for their child. I myself find it offensive to see “Jeffrey would love to have gifts cards for the Gap” scrawled on the bottom of the invitation. This year, I have decided that my gift will consist of a small toy along with a small item of clothing, whether it be a sand pail and a swimsuit, or pajamas and a small teddy bear. I think this will satisfy the needs of the child and the parent.

Rachel adds,
I have to admit that I am mostly very lazy about getting gifts for my sons' friends. Usually it is a last minute trip to Wally world for a box of Legos or some sort of action figure. But once I had a great idea for a friends daughter's birthday. She was about 5 at the time and I got her a whole collection of things for baking. I found a mini muffin pan, a small whisk, mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons and a couple boxes of cake mix. I packed it all up in a basket from a discount shop. To this you could add a little apron made from a square of cloth and some ribbons, and even a chef's hat made from white cardboard stapled into a tube. My friend's daughter loved it and they had a great time making cakes and muffins together! And if you do your shopping at a dollar discount store, the whole gift would be very inexpensive.

Talking about tragedy with children

Audrey writes:

The dreadful tragedies in Burma and China are all over the news these past few days. Even if you don't watch TV, it's difficult to filter the radio and the newspapers for the young ones in your family. Our children can be finely tuned to every fluctuation in our emotional state. We worry, they worry, even if they don't know why. I believe we can wait for our children to ask difficult questions when they are ready. But we can create a comfortable atmosphere for them to ask by being open and honest about our own lives in an age appropriate manner.

Answer your child's concerns by showing them that you are donating to help the relief effort. Let them donate too. Volunteering in their own community helps children feel connected and capable in their world.
Young children are concerned about their own safety. Tell them that they are safe. Use a map of the world to show them where China and Burma are. You can also explore geology and weather together. Knowledge is a great antidote to fear. If they ask, you can tell them your own emergency plans. If your child would like to have some sort of emergency kit under his bed, help him make one.

Make sure, by word and action that your children know that you will take care of them.

Sharon responds:

For children aged 4 and younger, I think it is appropriate to wait for them to ask questions regarding situations like natural disasters. I found that when I initiate the conversation I tend to tell them more than they wanted to know and I end up scaring them by telling them about situations they hadn’t imagined.

For example, my son once saw a news program about some street flooding that showed a dog stranded on top of a picnic table. He asked me if the dog was going to be all right. I explain that it had rained really hard and the river overflowed and a whole neighborhood was just full of water. For weeks, every time it rained my son wanted me to get his “floaties” from the shed. He really had just wanted to know what happened to the dog.

Kathy replies:

I think the most important thing is to answer their questions in an age appropriate manner, and don't give them more than they ask for. I, like Sharon, make that mistake all the time. I am so happy they are talking to me, I want to keep the conversation going! I am constantly reminding myself to be like the CIA, and operate on a need to know basis. Tell them no more than they need to know, and it usually works out just fine. That's usually all they can handle, and it makes it a teachable moment, instead of a stressful one.

Welcome to 4Moms!

Variation on an old joke: How many moms does it take to answer a question? Answer: Depends.

We are a bunch of moms whose kids range in age from under 2 years to over 25. We're singers and nurses, we're drummers and teachers, we stay at home, we have careers. We've each had that long night alone in the dark, worrying and feeling like the most clueless mom on earth. We are praying for that last day in diapers, we are dreaming of that first grandchild. Between us we've had about 2000 years of mothering experience, at least it feels that way. Needless to say, while we all love our kids and we all know we are excellent mothers, we don't always agree on what an excellent mother might do in any given situation. So, ask us your questions. You're sure to get at least 4 different responses. Anything from childbirth to college tuition, from potty training to pot smoking, from grade school to graffiti. Sports, spots, sex, smoking, thumb-sucking. We've been there, we're here. Ask us.

To celebrate the Mother's Day launch of I'd like to share the best gift I've ever gotten from one of my kids, or anyone else. My daughter Heron, was 18 and away at college. I got a small package, it might have been for Mother's Day, or my birthday. Inside was an old applesauce jar. She'd taken up deccoupage that year so the outside of the jar was covered with magazine headlines like “perfect” and “girl power”. They made me smile. But inside, inside were 31 tiny slips of paper. Each one had a memory written on it, or something I'd done that she was thankful for. One mentioned the play stove I'd made her when she was 2 from contact paper and a cardboard box. Another praised my lasagna. Some were just fond memories of childhood. I've gotten great presents from both my children since then, but I can't imagine anything will ever match that gift. I do not need the Noble Prize or the Pulitzer, I've gotten the Mommy jar. Thanks Heron, I love you.