“It’s too bright… too loud… too squishy… too spicy… too weird looking.” Those are all things I’ve heard from one of my kids. I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong…I’m a really healthy eater, how could I have a kid who didn’t like ANY vegetables? Why would he freak out when I forgot his sunglasses at the park? How could I get him to just be a little more flexible?? What could I do to be a better mom?
It wasn’t like I was trying to get him to eat quiche or Brussels sprouts. Every time he refused to eat something “normal” like carrots or hot dogs, I felt myself getting angry. I definitely yelled more than I care to admit. “All your other brothers are eating it! You need to eat something besides peanut butter and jelly! If you don’t eat vegetables, you’re going to end up with scurvy!”
Then when he was three, we discovered he had something called sensory processing disorder. Wait…so he’s not just picky or difficult?? Suddenly I had a label to go with these quirks and idiosyncrasies – and it all made sense.
Some parents don’t like labels, but for me, having a label made me a better mom.
That label helped me to change my mindset. He wasn’t trying to be problematic or avoid foods he just didn’t like. I learned to recognize his triggers and accommodate them when I could. I forced myself to be patient with him as his body struggled to process all the different and overwhelming smells, tastes, and sounds around him. I tried not to take it personally. I don’t do it perfectly, but shifting my perspective has changed the way I react to him, which has made me a better mom.
It’s taken multiple exposures over many years for him to try new things. I’ve had to be okay with letting him eat the same five foods everyday…for years. I rejoice over the tiniest try of a new food. I’ve had to throw out all the advice I’ve been given to “make him take at least one bite” or “not cater to his every need.”
If I’m being honest, years later, I still don’t fully understand all his triggers, and it can frustrate me at times. But giving him the time and space to become comfortable – without me forcing him to move faster than he’s ready – has made all the difference. And that little label helped me be a better mom to him.
Each meal I make, I include some options that I know he will eat: I leave some plain hamburger out of the casserole before I mix it; I put noodles and sauce in separate bowls on the table; I always have one veggie he likes (because yes, he DOES eat some vegetables now!). I always keep a hat or sunglasses in the car. I watch for when he’s getting overwhelmed in a loud room and offer him an out.
But most of all, I changed my mindset from needing to fix him to supporting his needs. Instead of trying to change him, he’s changing me. He’s teaching me to be a better mom. Making me more patient, more understanding, and more compassionate. At least I hope so.