My Support System: My Dad
Have you heard the phrase, “good cop, bad cop”? Well, in my family, that was pretty true when it came to my picky eating. As I noted in my post about my mom, she was very calm, patient, and rarely pressured me. But when it came to my dad, this wasn’t always the case. Instead, it took him a little longer to become part of my support system.
He is Part of My Support System Now
Before I go any further, I want to clarify that my dad is an AMAZING father. It’s just that his patience ran thin when it came to my picky eating. And honestly, I get it! As a bonus mom of three kids, anytime they refuse to eat the food I prepared without giving it a chance gets my blood boiling. Especially when I think it’s something they’d like. It almost feels like they are rejecting it because it wasn’t their idea for dinner. So I understand why he would get hot under the collar when I wouldn’t try new food, and I’m sure you do too. now I can confidently say he has become a solid member of my support system.
Anyone who knows him knows how hard he works, how much he cares about his family and friends, and wouldn’t peg him as a hothead. But once dinnertime rolled around and I refused to eat the food on my plate, his gloves would come off. I was nervous to write this post. I was afraid that readers would think I am holding a grudge against my dad for how rocky our start was with my picky eating. But that’s not the case at all! I want to show how a parent can turn their approach to picky eating around to become a member of their picky eater’s support system.
Setting the Scene
When I was a kid, a typical dinnertime setup looked like this:
My parents sat/stood inside the kitchen peninsula because there was no room for them, and so they could grab more drinks, plates, silverware, or other things we forgot. This setup also gave my dad a front-row seat to my eating habits. He saw how I ate the same thing almost every night and how little it was. Every once in a while, he would put a piece of new food on my plate and tell me he wanted me to try it. I would DREAD these moments. Instead of feeling like he was part of my support system, it felt like he was finding new ways to make me try new food.
Why This Didn’t Work For Me
First of all, I didn’t know when it would happen. When it did, it put me on edge, which is never a good state for a picky eater to be in at the dinner table. Secondly, I felt like the spotlight was on me because I had two parents and four sisters very aware that I had to try a new food that night. They all wanted to see what would happen. This pressure compounded the fear and anxiety I was already feeling. I would completely shut down and, more often than not, start crying. From my perspective, this frustrated my dad more. At the moment, I thought he was trying to win by getting me to do something I did not want to do. This perspective decreased my trust in him, and so it never felt like he was looking out for my best interest in those moments.
Never Ending Battles
Dinnertime felt like a battle I was sure to lose no matter what I did. I could 1) refuse to try the food and probably be sent to my room for the night. Or 2) eat the food, hate it, then have no one believe me. There were times my sisters accused me of saying I didn’t like the food just because I was being stubborn and didn’t want to admit I liked something. This lack of trust goes two ways. When you don’t trust your picky eater is telling the truth and say so, they won’t trust that you care about their growth. That was true for me.
Being set up in this way made me lose trust in my dad. Over time, it felt like he cared more about getting me to eat new food instead of helping me grow. So it didn’t matter what he gave me to try. I was sure that I wouldn’t like it because he didn’t know what food I liked. In my mind, he was trying to win another battle. So I shut down. I refused to eat. And I stopped listening to him. I never imagined he could be part of my support system.
I’m sure many parents can relate to how my dad first approached my picky eating. You are so tired of seeing good food go to waste because your picky eater refuses to try it. You are sure they like the food, but they are stubborn by refusing to eat. So, you do what seems logical. You give them a bite of food you think they’ll like, then tell them to eat it. Then you watch them to be sure they eat it and don’t feed it to the dog.
The kid explodes.
Crying, screaming, running away from the table, you name it. The kid gets out as soon as the food touches their plate. It’s like they are determined to never try something new, and it is exhausting.
I understand now that my dad was on my side, but he took a different approach than I needed. His motives behind trying to get me to try new foods were to help me grow. He feared I would have fewer opportunities in life by being restricted by my picky eating. He feared that:
- I would not be healthy,
- colleagues and friends would judge me, and
- I wouldn’t travel because there wouldn’t be anything for me to eat in a different country.
I’m sure there’s more that he thought about, but those are the ones that resonate most with me. These motives are the same as mine as I work through my journey as a picky eater. I realize now he was always on my side, but he just needed to adjust his approach.
The Good News – He is Now a Major Part of My Support System
The good news is, my dad turned it around by the time I hit middle school. He stopped making me sit at the table until I tried a new food. He stopped watching me eat every night. And, finally, he stopped pressuring me to eat more than my safe foods. Instead, his view of my picky eating changed. He started talking to others about picky eating and learning about others who deal with it daily. These eaters included professionals who disguise the food they don’t eat at dinner parties to avoid judgment. The day he had that conversation, he came home and told me about it as soon as possible. He was visibly excited that others “make it” in professional settings as picky eaters.
It was around this time that my mom discovered the bridge process, which I’ve adopted. He supported it from the get-go. When we went to restaurants, he started looking for dishes similar to food I already liked. He didn’t push anything on me but kept an eye out for anything that may work.
He also started to trust me. That was key for both of us to lose the stress of picky eating. I no longer felt like he didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t like something. I didn’t feel like he was arming himself with the reasons I should like something when I didn’t. Instead, he took me by my word and stopped asking questions. When I presented the idea that I may have ARFID, he didn’t scoff or question me. Instead we had a real conversation about it and discussed treatment.
Where We Are Now – What You Can Learn from My Dad
I totally trust my dad now. He is one of my biggest supporters for my blog and my work to become the Unpicky Eater. The following are what you can learn from him to be your picky eater’s biggest supporter:
- Be patient
- Take them seriously
- Don’t assume you know what your picky eater is thinking or feeling
- Don’t surprise your picky eater with new food
- Don’t put the focus on them
- Talk with other parents or picky eaters on what helps them
- Look out for your picky eater at new restaurants
- Talk with your picky eater to fully understand what they like, don’t like, and why