Force Feeding 

Seven years ago I had my last kid.  Then this year, I had my very last kid.  Because so much time had elapsed between births, everything was different with this new baby.  I kind of felt like a first time mom in some ways.  I had to relearn all the things..  Even the way people feed their babies has changed.  For instance, there’s this ‘new’ thing called baby-led weaning.  I hadn’t heard of it before. Basically, at around 6 months of age (with your Dr’s go-ahead), you start feeding solid food to your baby.  But instead of giving it on a spoon, you put chunks of it in front of them and let them pick what they want from a variety of options.  The premise is that babies are very good at knowing what nutrients their bodies need, and will eat the foods that will give them what they need.  They claim that babies fed this way will be less picky later on, and will learn to choose healthier foods.  Sounds reasonable.

Spoon Feeding

As I read the book, I imagined parents desperately trying to spoon-feed a child some yucky purée, trying all kinds of antics to get the baby to “open wide” so they could quickly shovel in the food (just to watch them spit most of it out again).  Because we all know it’s important to finish every last bite.  (Do you read my sarcasm here?)  And the looks of disgust or surprise on the babies’ faces.  Hmm.  Parents have done this since the dawn of time, or at least, since the dawn of my time.  I was taught to do it that way.  It makes such cute videos!  But….I’m starting to see the error of our ways.  

This morning, I had some slightly over ripe bananas on the counter.  They were past the point that any of the other kids would eat them, so I chopped one up and gave it to the baby.  He would eat it, right?  He’s too young to know if a banana has a few brown spots on the outside and must therefore be shunned.  He ate some of it, but didn’t seem too interested.  One of my older kids tried to “trick” him into eating a piece of banana by putting a little applesauce on it and shoving it into his mouth.  It kind of worked. I realized that maybe he just didn’t like it.  Not because it had a little brown on the peel, but because he just wasn’t in the mood for it. Maybe “tricking” him into eating it was the wrong approach.

Babies and Intuition

Suddenly the thought popped into my mind: “what else are we force-feeding our babies?”  For decades, parents have been force feeding their kids lots of yucky things, rather than giving them a variety of options and letting them choose what they like.   Thing is, babies  haven’t been un-taught to listen to their intuition yet.  Babies inherently know what they need; that is, until being ‘force-fed’ teaches it out of them.  “Do as you’re told” and the part about kids being “seen and not heard” have been around for I don’t know how long; at least since the 50’s or 60’s, if “Leave it to Beaver” is at all accurate.  But today’s babies aren’t falling for it.  They aren’t having any of it.  They won’t dutifully swallow every belief system being force-fed to them.  So it’s time we stop trying.  A much healthier approach, a more peaceful approach, is to lay forth a variety of options and allow children to choose to believe what is right for them.  And they will choose it, as long as we haven’t un-taught them to trust themselves, as many of our parents have taught us. (With much love and adoration for our parents; they were doing the best they could.)

It Comes Down To Trust

It can be scary.  What if they choke?  Yes, they may gag or choke on an idea, but they won’t choke to death.  Their bodies have very good reflexes.  And on the rare occasion that it gets beyond what they can handle, mom and dad are right there to help them.  But that doesn’t mean it’s then ok to pull back completely and not let them try anything new anymore.  We have to let them keep trying.  Maybe they weren’t ready for that yet, but they will get there.  Eventually, they will be able to handle all the complex ideas this world has to offer.  But it doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes years.  And practice.  Babies still need their parents to offer ideas so that they can safely get a taste.  

But, How?

But it’s not up to us to scare or threaten or trick or bribe our kids into believing us.  It’s time for parents to let their children pick and choose what ideas are right for them, and which ones to leave on the table.  Because some of it is toxic.  Some things really will make our children choke to death, so to speak.  But not being able to choose for themselves is where the real tragedy lies.  I’m not suggesting we all completely go hands-off and let all the children run wild. Of course parents are needed!!  They are there to guide, influence, to love, support.  And yes, also to teach.  But I can’t think of many times when actually forcing isn’t doing more harm than good.  (Unless we are talking about immediate risk of physical harm….maybe then it’s warranted.  If your child is running into busy traffic, by all means.)

Yep.  Baby-led learning definitely seems like the way to go, in my opinion.  And if your baby isn’t a baby anymore, that’s ok.  It’s never too late to begin baby/child/teen/adult-child -led learning.

[Written Aug. 2020 Edited June 2022]

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