navigating the peanut gallery: How to deal with family and friends when talking about your feeding decisions
I get asked a lot about how to discuss feeding with family members, friends or anyone else. These are people in your life who have good intentions, but often don’t respect or may challenge your feelings and beliefs when it comes to how you feed your little ones. This can be tricky to navigate: we want to make our loved ones feel heard, but ultimately we want them to value our beliefs and approach. Here are my 6 tips to navigating these challenging waters. Did you find something that works well for you? Let me know.
Prepare them in advance. This is my number 1 tip, no matter what challenge you are discussing. Talk to others before an outing or event, or just about your feeding strategy in general. I suggest letting them know about your feeding philosophy and how you plan to raise your child. Share with them information on the division of responsibility or whatever approach you choose to follow, and why you choose to follow this approach. I get asked this question a lot as related to baby led weaning, or skipping the purees when it comes to starting solids. When parents want to follow this approach to feeding, many other caregivers are wary, maybe partly because they are scared, but also partly because it’s not “the way they did it.” For this instance, we need to let them know what we have chosen and why. I find it’s most helpful to tell them about the approach you are choosing to follow, and why you are using this method of feeding. Have them join you at a class on introducing solids (or have them watch my Introduction to Solids Webinar, which talks all about baby-led weaning). Another challenge might be navigating the division of responsibility with other caregivers (letting our children be responsible for the how much and whether of eating). How might you approach this subject? Before your child spends time with a new family member, talk to them. For example, “Aunt Karen, we follow something called the division of responsibility. We allow Sally to choose what to eat based on what we are offering her. When you give her lunch while watching her today, can you follow this approach? I am happy to answer any questions you might have.” Or how about the grandparent that loves to provide sweets? “Mom, thanks so much for watching Alex today. It means so much to me that she gets to have this special time with you. At this point, we are trying not to offer cookies (which might not be on the menu). Could you not give her any cookies today? I brought some snacks here for you that the two of you can enjoy together.” Whatever you want to convey, talking about it BEFORE it is an issue is the most helpful.
Give them the information, the research and the facts. Explain why you are making the choices you are, and how they can help. If you want to be really on top of it, print out some articles highlighting your choices and why you have come to the decision you have. Education can be so helpful! I have had so many conversations with friends and families about the division of responsibility and some are truly amazed at the philosophy and the research behind this approach.
Engage in conversation without talking down. As you are talking to those that may have opinions about feeding, hear them out. This does not mean that you need to follow what they say. Ultimately your child is your responsibility, but it can be helpful for you (and really for them) to hear them out. Try commenting without judgement. “That’s interesting that was how you did it. We have decided to try something different. Can you be on board to try this with us? I know it may be different than what you are used to, but we can work on this together.”
Deep. Breaths. I am the first to understand that some family members may be more passionate than others. When you feel put down, judged or shamed based on your way of doing something, try not to let those around you bring you down. I think about employing some mindfulness techniques. Close your eyes and count to 10. Take 5 deep breaths. Find your support system and talk to them.
Know that you are not going to please everyone. As with all things parenting everyone has an idea of how things should be and may feel their way is the right way. Know that what you are doing is in the best interest of your child and try to tune out the noise. Sometimes we have to make choices. If a caregiver is not going to respect what we have chosen, but they are watching our child, we may need to figure out what is most valuable to us. I think this can be really tricky to navigate. Join my Facebook community, or lean on a friend who shares similar values for support. You’ve got this!
Think about how you are speaking in front of your children. Although we may have the best intentions to chat with a family member or friend prior to a big event, it may not happen. If a family member is doing something you don’t like, speak up. In our family, this happens often when a family member tries to tell one of my children they have “had enough” or “to eat their vegetables before dessert.” I may something like, “Mom, we let Sydney decide how much she wants to eat with her given food. Sydney, it’s your choice how much you eat,” and then after the fact I may explain myself to the family member. I try not to get into an argument or heated debate in front of a child.
P.S. I use my mom as an example in this post, but I have to say she is fully on board with how we feed our children and respects what we do. She reads my blog posts so I wanted to give a huge shoutout to her :). We talk a lot about feeding (obviously!) and it’s helpful to have so much trust around her caregiving abilities.