As a parent, it’s a constant battle between doing what’s right for my kids and trying to do what’s right for my kids.
I know you’re thinking, that doesn’t make sense. But anyone with a highly sensitive child knows how difficult it is to find a balance between honoring your child’s sensory needs and introducing new stimuli.
My oldest son Francis (8 yo) really struggles with textures, sensations, foods and much more. We stick very closely to what we know WORKS for him. He has his routine, his SAME foods, his SAME shirts/ pants, his SAME blankets/ sheets. We create consistency where we know he can thrive.
As a mom, I understand circulating this routine makes his world (AND mine) go round. Because believe me, if ONE minute detail is out of balance, we’re going to have (in his words) the “worst day ever”.
I pick my battles, work with transitions that soothe his nervous system, and exercise understanding that new or changed things do not register in his body as positives.
Today, for whatever reason, I threw my rule book out.
Despite knowing the hurricane of terror that ensues when I introduce new stimuli, after his 3rd consecutive cheese sandwich, I snapped. I KNOW this was a bad call on my part. I KNOW food is his lowest priority.
But I couldn’t stand by and condone these unhealthy habits anymore.
I decided to sit with him and talked about introducing fruits to his diet. If he agreed, he could have the cheesy snacks he desired. I emphasized the importance of his health and wanting his body to be filled with foods that promote wellness.
In that moment, his bright eyes showed promise and commitment, “YES! Mommy, I want to be healthier!”
A revolutionary victory! Yes! A mom win!
I chose watermelon, under the assumption this would be the easiest transition to fruits and placed a bowl of pink yummy-ness in front of him. That’s when the storm began to brew. Furrowed brows and tear-filled eyes, he launched into a tirade. He expressed extreme displeasure for it, all of it... the texture, the seeds, the temperature, the color, the size… on and on, he listed every wretched detail that a watermelon could possess.
Now here I am in the throws of a monumental battle….. over watermelon. Mom victory obliterated. Dismay eats at my heart. I’m defeated as quickly as I had won.
I hang my head low because now, not only does my child outright REFUSE to eat ANYTHING that’s good for him, he’s having a full-on meltdown over the presentation of new food. How DARE I do this to him!
I quickly turned on myself, berating my terribleness…
How could I do this to my child?
How did I let things get this far?
What kind of mom am I?
On and on through a tornado of self- abuse while my child writhes in pain…. all over watermelon.
I fought hard against saying all the things I WANTED to say: Your brothers eat healthily, why can’t you?
You’re destroying your body!
Can’t you just try?
But the truth is, he can’t. And I know that. Somewhere inside of me, I KNOW this is torture for him. He WANTS to like food. He DOES try occasionally. But as a sensory-activated child, he doesn’t LIKE sweet, salty, unfamiliar textures, or combinations of tastes. As a sensations kid (or sensations avoiding kid) tastes trigger all types of really uncomfortable feelings in his whole body. From his mouth to his throat to his belly.
And I know better.
Now I’m completely embarrassed. As a mom, I’m trying to do what’s right for my child by getting him to eat healthy foods. But as a person, I see a kid who genuinely struggles with the sensations of food.
I want to do what’s right for him. But in this moment, is it more important to shovel fruit down his unwilling throat, or honor the overwhelm that’s whirring inside?
I don’t want to force him into something that sends his whole body into absolute overwhelm.
I don’t want to fight over watermelon.
It’s not easy, this parenting thing. There’s never one right answer. There’s never one right way. There are situations in their aspects. And just because I asked my child to eat a watermelon and he refused doesn’t make me a bad mom. My child has every right to say no to what makes him truly uncomfortable, and I need to respect that. But it also doesn’t mean I’ll give up trying, and continue looking for windows of opportunity for me to introduce new stimuli in hopes he’ll one day accept newness, change and maybe, just maybe…. even watermelon.