I have finally figured out why Pumpkin's potty regression is bothering me so much, and no, it is not because I'm cleaning up a lot of poop (although I wouldn't say that I enjoy that aspect of it). It is because it is taking me back to the way I felt when Pumpkin was a baby and just would not sleep through the night. It is making me feel like I must be doing it all wrong. Surely something as simple as going potty (or sleeping) shouldn't be this hard?
Rationally, I know that yes, indeed, sleeping and pottying can be this hard for some kids. Just because something seems easy to us as adults (and actually, sleep, at least isn't that easy for some adults), that doesn't mean it will be easy for a kid. The amount of brain development that is going to occur between now and when Pumpkin is an adult is staggering, so why should I expect her to be rational about the potty? But on an emotional level, my gut wrenches a bit every time some one asks me how the potty training is going, because admitting the truth feels like admitting that I've screwed up.
So it is killing me to suddenly be reading all of this guilt and angst from people about feeding their kids. I'm not going to link to the blog posts that I've read, because the last thing I'd want to do is make anyone feel even worse about this by somehow implying that they shouldn't feel what they do. Eating is another thing that seems so simple, until you try to feed your kid. And just like some kids are easier sleepers than others, some are easier to feed than others.
The proximal cause of all of this angst is Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution TV show. I've never seen the show- TV is so low on my priority list right now that I might as well replace our television set with a potted plant- so I only know what I've read about it. Therefore, I have no feeling for whether Jamie Oliver would be pleased that he's making people feel guilty or horrified. (If you have been living in an even deeper cave than I have, you can read Marion Nestle's write up about the show to get an idea of what it is about.) I, for one, think that making people feel guilty is never a good way to bring about lasting change, so it saddens me to read guilt-ridden blog posts about food from women whose good motherhood practically oozes from the computer screen.
It doesn't surprise me, though- just read the comments on Marion Nestle's follow up story about an evaluation of the results of Jamie Oliver's show to see why parents might feel guilty. If our kids won't eat their vegetables it is clearly all our fault and all we need to do is sit them down with a plate of spinach for dinner and tell them that is all they are getting and/or that they aren't leaving the table until they eat their greens.
I call bullshit on this idea. I think that these strict, inflexible approaches to vegetable eating probably do work for some kids. Heck, they may even work for most kids, I don't know. But I know for a fact that they didn't work on me as a kid, and I'm grateful that my parents recognized that pretty quickly and switched tactics. I am still a picky eater, but I now eat a variety of vegetables, and I'm a fairly healthy adult. I don't seem to have suffered any lasting harm from my "white food years", and we can all look back and laugh at how I once stopped eating pizza because my parents told me that the spaghetti sauce I wouldn't eat was the same as the sauce on pizza. (Yes, this is a true story.)
I suspect that temperament and other genetic factors play a role in eating, just like they do in sleep. For instance, a supertaster is unlikely to ever eat unadorned green vegetables, because they taste very bitter to her. Perhaps the strict approaches work well for your average everyday toddler food defiance, but I don't think they are likely to work well on a really picky eater. The cry it out sleep training methods don't work on some kids (as anyone who has had a child cry until she throws up can attest), so why should we expect strict "eat it or starve" approaches to feeding to work on everyone?
None of this should be taken to mean that I think our food system is all hunky-dory. I think there are some serious problems with how we approach food. Long time readers might remember that I went on a little food reading kick when I was pregnant with Petunia, and came away wanting some changes in both my own approach to food and my country's approach to food. I may even agree with Jamie Oliver's goals- since I didn't watch the show, I don't know. But I also think we are prone to looking for silver bullet solutions to our problems with obesity and the like. We vilify certain foods- high-fructose corn syrup and "processed" foods are the current targets- but don't stop to think about what the real problems are (too much added sugar of any sort and too much salt and fat, respectfully, in my opinion).
We seem to have a hard time thinking about food issues sensibly. I have yet to see any evidence that convinces me that my body can tell the difference between the glucose and fructose in HFCS and the glucose and fructose in sucrose. But the evidence that my body doesn't need all that extra refined sugar is pretty strong. So I won't scour the grocery store looking for cookies made with "real" sugar to give to Pumpkin- I'll limit her intake of cookies.
I also don't think the vitamins in the food I serve my children can tell whether the food was made with love or for profit. Food is not inherently bad for us just because someone else made it, even if that someone else is workers 2054 through 2078 in some giant company. I think we should judge our food on its ingredients and not on how it was made. Take the sweet potatoes that are currently Petunia's favorite food. I could make these from scratch. I could cook up some sweet potatoes and puree them with water. But I can also buy "processed" sweet potato baby food. The ingredients in this are sweet potatoes and water. Does it really matter who does the pureeing? Similarly, I rely heavily on preshredded cheese to make it easier for me to get dinner ready in the limited time I have after we get home from day care. The ingredients in that are cheese, some starch (to keep the cheese from lumping together in the bag), and natamycin (to inhibit mold growth). I'm not too concerned about either of these "extra" ingredients, so why should I feel bad that I'm not the one who shredded the cheese?
Am I thrilled that Pumpkin will only eat chicken if it is formed into a nugget and breaded? No. Do I wish I could get her to eat a vegetable other than sweet potato fries? Of course. Am I going to feel guilty about her eating habits because of what somebody who has never met me or my (extremely stubborn but really quite wonderful) little girl says? No way.