5 tips on how to deal with conflict about feeding with a co-parent or caregiver
Forget mealtime battles with your kids—what about with your co-parent or co-caregiver?! As if feeding little ones wasn’t tricky enough, throw in some conflicting feeding philosophies and it can make feeding that much more challenging. Does your co-parent pressure your kids to eat at mealtime (when you believe strongly in the Division of Responsibility in Feeding?) Does your baby’s grandmother – who also provides childcare – disagree that Baby-Led Weaning is a safe method to introduce solids? With the help of parenting expert Julie Freedman-Smith, I (as a pediatric registered dietitian and separated mom of 3) have compiled my top 5 tips to establish mealtime peace and some common ground when it comes to feeding your little ones.
- Listen and acknowledge the other co-parent/caregiver's point of view
Even if you passionately disagree with the other person’s way of feeding, they likely feel strongly about their own views and beliefs for a legitimate reason. Maybe your Mother-in-Law experienced a choking incident with one of her own kids and has a fear of it happening again with your child, therefore feels very uncomfortable with Baby-Led Weaning. Maybe your husband feels as though taking a non-pressured approach to feeding at mealtime will just enable picky eating vs. setting strict boundaries around “cleaning their plate” (which was how he was raised – and he grew up ok, didn’t he?). Make sure that you broach the subject at a calm time (NOT mealtime), and when your kids aren’t around.
First, acknowledge their concerns and point of view, and do your best to show some compassion and understanding. Then gently explain to them why you feel strongly about your philosophy on feeding, offer some trusted resources such as blog posts, articles, print-outs (and even studies if needed) and explain to them that you’re open to compromising and that it doesn’t have to be 100% your way. Start with something like this:
I can see that you are feeling frustrated that Jordan isn’t eating his vegetables. It’s hard when they refuse to eat their dinner.
I’m feeling though that the pressure being put on him is actually perpetuating the problem. Is this something we can talk about?
- Be open to compromise:
Most conflicts can be met with a compromise. Not liking the fact that your partner rewards your child’s vegetable-eating with dessert? Maybe suggest that dessert is only offered if the dinner meal is eaten well, however, this isn’t communicated to the child as a bribe or reward. Or perhaps when you introduce solids, you practice baby-led weaning at the meals that you’re present, and allow your caregiver to spoon feed purees, but ask them to feed responsively (according to baby’s cues). When a partner or co-parent’s opinions and beliefs are acknowledged, taken into considering and respected, they’ll be more open to compromise and seeing your point of view. Maybe some openers are:
One thing that’s really important to us is… I’ve noticed that at your house… I’m wondering if there is a way we can make a change here.
What are the things we can agree upon? How can we make this work together?
- Remember, the only behaviour you can control is your own:
If you and your co-parent are living in separate homes, you cannot control how the other co-parent feeds your child. As tough as this is, it’s just reality. However, you can control what is happening in your own home. Creating a plan for what will happen in your home (and staying consistent with it) helps your child to feel that things with you are predictable and establishes routine. This eventually leads to fewer battles and testing behaviours.
One way to approach it with kids is by saying:
In this house we have water to drink in between meals. In your other house, you will do some things differently. I know that you can handle those changes.
- Focus on your child's needs first:
You might have a strong opinion about a certain feeding strategy but ask yourself “am I just trying to win or prove a point, or is this truly the ONLY strategy that will work for my child?”.
If you and your co-parent are in the same home and end up fighting about whose feeding strategy is correct, the conversation and the definition of the problem need to shift.
Rather than arguing about who is going to win, you need to look at the needs of the child and shift the conversation to be about what is best for them. Then you can start to determine the family rules around the particular feeding strategy. Once everyone is clear on the strategy, it is easier to stick to it.
Build a solid plan together (let’s say, about how you deal with food refusal from your picky eater at dinnertime), decide on a timeframe to give it a fair shot (consistency is key here), and set a time to evaluate how it’s going (maybe that’s two weeks or a month), and then discuss how it is working: What’s working, what’s not, how do we need to change it? Most importantly, how is it benefitting your child and is it worth staying consistent with?
I really appreciate all the work you do to keep my child safe and happy. I’m feeling uncomfortable about this, and I hope that you’ll be open to hearing my concerns/
- Consider getting help:
Sometimes a third party can be helpful in resolving conflict and understanding the other co-parent’s point of view. If there’s a sticking point where conflict continues to arise about something that is non-negotiable for you, consider seeking help from an expert such as a pediatric registered dietitian or family therapist who can help you reach a resolution that’s best for your child. You need to create a plan that can satisfy everyone, rather than something that looks good on social media or is what “everyone” is doing, or what worked for you as a child. Sometimes getting some unbiased guidance from a trusted source is all that you need to diffuse an ongoing disagreement about feeding or parenting and help shift the focus towards peaceful and consistent family meals again.
Maybe try: This pediatric dietitian who specializes in kids nutrition has so many great resources on her website. Would you be open to reading a few articles or even going in to see her for some one-on-one guidance?