Last week in my blog, I admitted that I had committed all of the GERD parenting sin. Please understand that the GERD Parenting Sins are a humorous look at the real lives of real parents doing their best every day and night to care for a baby or toddler with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD. We know that each day brings new, overwhelming challenges and worries and yet we somehow manage to get out of bed every day and meet the challenges. It can seem pretty harsh when well meaning friends, relatives and strangers will judge our actions and our parenting. Our parenting choices are very personal and reflect our own style, experiences and personalities.
So let’s get to my favorite Parenting Sin: causing your child to be a picky eater. I think an outside observer such as a doctor, relative or friend will be quick to judge a toddler or child with reflux as a picky eater. Most children with reflux have strong food preferences and dislikes and may have a very, very short list of acceptable foods. I like to call a "picky eater" with reflux a "careful eater". A careful eater knows from past experience that certain foods cause discomfort so she is careful and perhaps even vigilant about avoiding certain foods. If you have a toddler or child with reflux, you fully understand what I am talking about. To an observer, it looks like you are running a restaurant for toddlers, offering food and drink on demand. Some have called this "waitress syndrome" and it is a primary characteristic of causing a picky eater. Another characteristic is "giving in" and letting the picky eater eat only the 5 foods that are on their own list of accepted foods.
My refluxer was the world’s pickiest eater during her toddler years and I often resorted to waitress syndrome to get a few calories into her thin body on a daily basis. In reality, I did not cause her to be a picky eater-it was the reflux that led to severe picky eating. She was in a great deal of pain and her reflux was not well managed. It took quite a bit of work to find a dose of medication to reduce the acid so each bite of food didn’t taste like acid or come right back up mixed with vomit. My toddler was a careful eater because as a parent, I helped her learn to distinguish between the foods that triggered reflux symptoms and those that were gentle to her stomach. From a very early age, she was able to make good choices. My parenting style was supportive and helped my daughter learn to manage her reflux by making good decisions about healthy eating. How many parents of non refluxers wish they could get their kids to make healthy eating choices?
In addition, I helped my daughter have a good attitude about eating, even when eating was the least pleasurable activity she could imagine. During the months and years that she did not want to eat and had a feeding tube, she still sat at the table with us at each meal. She had spoons and empty bowls to play with as a baby and a plate of food on her beloved cartoon character plate with special utensils every day (ok, so I was running the Disney Diner…). Even when she was getting her primary nutrition from a feeding tube, she was in the kitchen with me helping me make salad or set the table. When her stomach was ready to digest food, she was ready to approach eating with a positive attitude and the memory of happy mealtime experiences.
It did hurt me deeply when others blamed me for her picky eating. One mother of a refluxer told me she felt like she would scream if another person told her to give her refluxer chocolate because "all kids like chocolate". To oversimplify a complex medical condition that had led to a feeding problem can be too much to bear. Another mother quietly gave her child a nutrition drink each day to offset the picky eating. She knew her child was getting the calories and nutrients she needed and in time, her picky eater became a careful eater. I found that it really helped me to talk with other parents dealing with feeding issues for support and guidance.
Let me hear about your careful eater. What have you tried? What is working? How are you dealing with advice and warnings from others about your parenting decisions?