The Showdown

My daughter is staring at me from cross the table and my son is looking aimlessly at his plate. The silence is deafening. They have one instruction to follow before we enjoy our night together. Eat the food on your plate all gone.

I hate what dinner time has become. I value meals together as a family and we almost always eat together but when the only conversation is the repetition of the words “take a bite” and “eat your food” I feel less inclined to circle up the wagons for mealtime.

I’ve stopped caring. If it were up to me they would just sit there until bedtime and if they still didn’t eat then they would just have to wait until breakfast. I’m done with issuing out reminders at fifteen second intervals.

Thank goodness for my wife to balance out my approach. Except tonight she is at the rec center so here I sit watching my kids offer up every excuse known to man while I try things my way.

First they were just being silly and playing, having too much fun to worry about eating. I repeated our table rules. “Sit in your chair. No playing. And eat your food.” It got to the point though where I finally had to issue a Stop Talking notice, that’s when the silent standoff began.

“Daddy, I have to tell you something”

“No Ella you need to eat your food”

“This chicken is very chewy. Because that’s what I needed to tell you”

Ten more minutes of silence go by and they have taken maybe a half a bite each.

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“I told you this is a bad dinner, dad.”

“You still need to eat it.”

“My tummy hurts”

“Do you want a snack instead? Then your tummy doesn’t hurt, now eat”

More silence follows.

My son just fell asleep at the table…

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We have been sitting here for over an hour. I don’t know what to do. They are both just moving the food around on their plate or staring out the window. I really hate it when our nights end like this, but I feel like I need to teach them that sometimes you just have to grin and bear it. Sometimes you don’t get exactly what you want. That part of life is doing what you don’t like so you can enjoy the things you do like.

I started to wonder if this was really worth it. There is a point as a parent when you just have to decide to go all in and call their bluff. Tonight was that night.

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Pax was the first to finish and put his plate in the sink.  Now Ella sat at the table alone and tears flowed. I agreed to sit with her which helped her calm down.

Yet now that they’re almost done and we’ve let the evening slip by us in silence I wonder if there are any real winners from this lesson tonight. They didn’t get to enjoy playing the games they love and I didn’t get to have a laughing good time with my children before work tomorrow.

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18 Replies to “The Showdown”

  1. I know. It sucks. My parents would have me sitting until it was bedtime. Of course, they went to go watch tv while I sat there. It doesn’t work as well with my kids – darn open concept living/dining room!

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  2. I tried this numerous times. It just left a sick feeling in my stomach, and probably theirs, too, at the end of the evening. When I think of the lost quality time with them, it still upsets me and it has been over 30 years. Did it teach them anything? Unfortunately, I don’t think so, other than a very negative attitude toward meal time, maybe. It wasn’t worth it. They won’t starve and besides, would you eat something that tasted terrible to you?

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    1. Truthfully the chicken was very tasty and I’m not biased just because I made it 🙂 but I do regret it. Unfortunately I make mistakes like this all the time. I’m constantly being challenged as the authority and sometimes I feel like its no big deal but other times I just want to flex my parental muscles to keep the universe in balance. Which fails but still I try. And when she lied about her stomach hurting it only reinforced my bullheadedness.

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      1. That was very well put. I often wondered why I felt it was necessary to make a big deal out of something, that in the long run, was really not that important. But maybe that is a way to prove parental authority (at least to ourselves) and maybe to out children. I eventually relaxed as a parent and adopted the saying “don’t sweat the small stuff” when they became pre-teens. This was mostly for my own sanity.

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      2. Yes but you were probably only able to relax when they were that age because of the “little” things you fought over when they were younger. I don’t know. I’m hoping that as they get older they will demonstrate that they recognize my authority and then it will be easier for me to give them space. Thanks for the thought provoking comments! You should comment more often 🙂

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  3. an hour is way too long for children of this age to play this game, i would have given them a 15 minutes, and if they still were playing this game, i would have told them both to empty their plates and put them in the sink and both of them would get absoulty nothing to eat until breakfast, they need to realize that mommy and daddy mean what they say!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Good Luck!!

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    1. I also considered this a quarter of the way through it but I had already made one of those dumb parental threats that said of they don’t eat it all they won’t be able to play tonight and that thy were going to sit there until they ate it. .. Maybe next time I’ll try the timer.

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  4. My policy is everyone eats everything on their plate at every meal. we portion out the smaller children’s plates accordingly so that seconds are always an option. We’ve ended up in this battle with all three of ours and several children of other families that were staying over. our typical practice with ours is that we set a timer, once everyone else has cleared their plate the last person eating has no more than ten minutes to finish theirs or stricter punishment will be enforced. my five year old has taken to puking when he really doesn’t want to comply. we have had to let him know that if we have to set a timer for him he will receive a spanking in addition to the time requirement. for our family the root issue is one of obedience.
    A funny sidenote, my wife made awesome homemade spaghetti and meatballs the other night and it looked so good I heartily dished out everyone’s plate (we had 4 other children at the house in addition to our 3) and I got down to 3 bites left on my plate and i was legitimately stuffed. I looked around and saw the same feeling setting in around the table when the children had all been eating heartily up to that point. I thought at that point that wisdom suggested a break from the normal rule so all at the table were able to leave on their plates what they couldn’t finish and our bullmastiff hobbes was grateful.
    On the whole though we feel there is one rule for the whole table, eat all your food, all the time.

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    1. Definitely some points to ponder. What struck me about your comment was how you had hard an fast rules so that expectations were clear every night. Compared to my night which was more the exception because Erica wasn’t home and suddenly I changed the rules of the game. Thanks for the good thoughts!

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  5. This is the story of our family meals every night and it has been for over 2 years. I actually get anxiety when the table is set. It is so frustrating and although I’ve tried so many different approaches, nothing has worked yet.

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  6. This is one of those hard lessons that children have to learn. I remember the exact same stand off when I was little…I was the one sitting in my chair, staring at the peas on my plate, then lining them up in a row,…and then making them look like little flowers..one pea in the middle and 5 others making the “petals” around the outside. Anyway, eventually I had to eat them, Because Dad said so. and after all…he ate all his peas.It was the same thing with math homework. I would agonize over the problems. Not because I didn’t know how to add or subtract…but because I wanted to do things my way…which was to stuff the worksheet in my math book…pretend it didn’t exist, go watch TV then later tell the teacher I “lost” it. I soon realized that crying and whining was not going to get me anywhere. And neither was being stubborn or deceptive. The dinner lessons and the homework lessons are so draining for parents…still those stand offs really do amount to something for kids in the long run. Obeying authority, learning not to waste food, being grateful for what you have, doing a task on time, and not resorting to excuses for being undisciplined in your work are life long lessons that make us responsible adults. Between you and me… I still line up my peas on my plate before I eat them, but it’s not because I dread eating them…it’s because it’s FUN!

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    1. I laughed about the peas in the shape of a flower! I could see Ella doing that. I agree that the lessons we have to teach kids are often very draining, but important. I still can’t fight the feeling that it was too much, too harsh. Finding that perfect balance is a constant struggle. I don’t want to be cruel some times and to lenient others. I want to find that right mix and be consistent, with opportunities to show grace occasionally.

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  7. I remember my mom making me sit for hours to eat a turkey pot pie at age 3 or 4 and all I could think about was the poor turkey getting chopped up. I just couldn’t eat it. 20 years later I became a complete vegetarian… I think I was always sensitive to those things.

    I have had many obese friends who attribute their weight issues to being required to clean their plate. That mentality is not helpful in a world filled with super sized portions.

    All that to say if the kids don’t eat a reasonable portion, they can not eat any snacks or junk that evening. Breakfast is the next meal offered.

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    1. Wow. I never thought about it from my daughters perspective. Kids do tend to think of things completely differently than adults. I will need to be sensitive to that.

      Usually we don’t make her clean her plate, but that night I knew she would put up a fight because it want Mac and cheese, so I gave her a small amount and started dinner with my expectations.

      You’re right though. We have to consider how much we put on the plate when we make these kinds of statements.

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  8. My little boy is 3, when we got him from Fostercare a year ago he had taught himself to throw up the minute any food he deemed disgusting. We had a bucket by the table for several months before I realized it was ALL control and not a sensitive gag reflex as others would have me believe…we are now fully past the food issues but I had to gain control at my dinner table. I did this in the following ways – 1. when the parents are done eating so are the kiddos, if they do not eat their dinner there is nothing else except water until breakfast. 2. Only place a few bites of each item on the kids plates – even if it is a food we know the child does not like it goes on the plate (we have a one bite rule, must try 1 bite of everything on plate). If there is a meal that is particularly challenging, we are happy to save the plate and offer it again the next day for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I have made meals that I know my kiddo likes during that time as an incentive to eat the plate (from the challenging meal). I do not make them finish the plate from the previous meal but they must take a few bites of everything on their plate before enjoying the yummy meal.

    Hope this makes sense – it took a couple months but we finally have no food issues at the table. There are still things that are not as popular and will be left until last but they all know that unless they want it for breakfast, they must eat 1 bite before being excused from table.

    Best of luck!!

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