BEL MOONEY: Should I fuss and nag over my picky grandchild’s eating habits?
I hope you can offer advice on what’s become a huge issue in our family.
I have three adult children and four grandchildren, the oldest nearly 12. I love my family, including the partners of my children. But as a healthcare worker I simply cannot watch what’s going on with my eldest granddaughter any longer. Yet I fear arguments if I speak.
We did everything to support my son and his unexpectedly pregnant partner, looking after the baby one day a week, so the parents could go out to work, and helping them financially. They had another child and married.
However, for the past ten years my granddaughter has eaten pasta almost every day for her main meal. This started when she was about one and the only thing they managed to get down her after a tummy bug was pasta. It’s now turned into a psychological issue.
Foods she eats: pasta, cheese, bread, cucumber, cakes, biscuits, sweets, custard, milk, chocolate yoghurt and cereal. I am worried for her future health.
As I still cook her dinner once a week, I find myself making her pasta with my ‘magic sauce’, which has very neutral coloured veg in it whizzed up into the cheese sauce. She manages at most to have a teaspoon of this. Some years ago, my daughter-in-law took her to the doctor, who said there was nothing to worry about, as she was growing. So the issue is skirted round.
When they come to dinner, I always make sure there’s pasta for her. I don’t want to cause her any more anxiety around food.
At big family occasions the parents say that they will bring food for her but often forget which, of course, sends the child into a panic. Then she withdraws from the social interaction.
The parents then get defensive and say to her: ‘You’ll have to eat what’s there — you’ll have to learn.’ But how can she learn without the right tools and support?
Her younger sister has a fairly normal diet in comparison: chicken, lamb, broccoli, potatoes etc and I have no doubt her diet will expand as she gets older.
My son once said he needed to take his elder daughter to see someone privately, but it was too expensive. I’d pay, but how should I approach it without upsetting anyone?
Do I stay quiet or offer support? Please tell me I’m an interfering old Nan who should stop worrying and that everything will be OK and that one day she’ll eat a variety of foods.
This week Bel answers a question from a woman who asks whether she should fuss and nag over her picky grandchild’s eating habits
Your letter is a reminder that many of us share similar experiences, and might be able to help each other by sharing.
A couple of weeks ago, we had two of our grandchildren to stay. Because I’m also cooking for my mother these days, I decided on meals that would surely suit everybody: yummy chicken casserole with mash and, next day, my special, delicious shepherd’s pie.
Thought of the day
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (U.S. poet, 1807-1882)
To cut to the chase, mealtimes were awful. Tears. Refusal. Painful picking at good food as if it were poison. ‘How did they get to be so fussy?’ I wailed, ‘When I was little we ate everything put in front of us and my own two were the same.’
I was frustrated, disappointed, tired and cross.
You recognise that whole scenario, don’t you? When my grandson refused even to look at the chicken, I stalked off to make him macaroni with butter and grated cheese. So he ‘won’.
But there we go again, seeing food as a battleground and it does none of us any good. In fact — as we know from the statistics showing how many young people have food disorders — it can do terrible harm.
Your knowledge of healthy eating is professional, mine is just common sense, but surely both of us would be wise to step back?
You are perfectly placed to obtain professional advice about diet and related problems. There’s also an interesting video on the MIND website: mind.org.uk/ information-support/types-of- mental-health-problems/eating- problems/about-eating-problems.
But my suggestion is that you use that energy to stop yourself from worrying. Being a loving grandparent can be quite hard, especially if you think the parents are (perhaps) making mistakes, but know that expressing an opinion will cause conflict.
The person who’d suffer most from arguments would be the child. That’s why I would keep my counsel and see how the situation develops. Children are influenced by their peers and perhaps she’ll have a new best friend she wishes to please on sleepovers. (‘Fish fingers? Great!’) We can also remember that generations of Italian children are brought up eating simple pasta and cheese.
Of course, you long for your granddaughter to eat a good, varied diet with vegetables and fruit — and it may come. I hope it does for our fussy eaters, too.
In the meantime, nothing should be done to make the situation worse. I won’t call you ‘an interfering old Nan’, but I will advise you to watch, wait and stop other family members from turning this into a ‘huge issue’.
If your son and daughter-in-law ask for advice, all well and good. They are aware there is a problem and are trying to be relaxed about it. And the next time my little beloveds come to stay, I shall be making . . . pasta.
I yearn for my teenage sweetheart
A few weeks ago, you published a letter from ‘Alan’ who was in torment thinking about a girl he knew 50 years ago. This resonated with my own experience.
I had a sheltered life and left home when I was 18. When I’d been in my job for a few weeks, a new chap started. After a while, he asked me out and then we enjoyed going to the cinema, theatre and concerts.
I think he liked me and I certainly liked him, but I was too shy to say. This went on for 18 months, but he wanted more than I (with no experience of men) was able to give.
Then I took a job abroad, even though my boyfriend begged me to stay.
I then found out he was seeing someone else, but I had made my plans, so what could I say?
Within a year of being abroad, I married. On my wedding day I knew it was a mistake, but went through with it. The marriage lasted six years and we had two sons. He was a bad husband and an even worse father.
I was now back in this country and we divorced. Life was hard, I raised our sons on my own, my ex wasn’t bothered. My best achievements are my sons, who are hard-working and good fathers.
I was a single parent for three years, then met my partner. We’ve been together a long time but have nothing in common and I don’t love him. Separate bedrooms for years. He hasn’t always treated me well and I’ve asked him to leave many times, but he won’t go.
I’m now getting old and can’t sleep thinking about the chap I once knew and wish I’d told him how I really felt. I hope he is happy. Is it normal to think of someone after 50-odd years?
Naturally, I looked back to that letter from ‘Alan’ — published on August 14 — and the first thing I notice is that your stories are far from similar.
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Both ‘first loves’ lasted 18 months, but the key difference is that Alan wrote: ‘I have been married for more than 50 years and have a wonderful wife . . .’ but you describe one failed marriage and now the feeling of being stuck in a long, unloving relationship you wish would end.
I suggested that Alan was mourning his lost youth, but with you I sense a desperate yearning for a ‘lost love’ who (in truth) barely figured at the time. Young people in love want to be together all the time. But you yearned for travel and he found somebody else.
You ask if such feelings of loss are ‘normal’ and my broad-brush answer is surely ‘Yes’. There’s nothing unusual about remembering, with deep nostalgia, a time when our dreams and loves and hopes seemed as lithe and tireless as our young limbs. A time when the world felt full of choices.
You make the point in your longer letter that having been brought up in a ‘sheltered’ way, you wanted ‘more’ and no boyfriend would be allowed to get in your way. This was determined and brave of a girl with little experience of life — and had your first marriage worked, I suspect you might never have thought about that boy again.
Your whole letter has to be seen in the light of your unhappiness with the man you share your life with.
In the same postbag I had a letter from a woman called R, who says: ‘I’m trapped in a loveless relationship and don’t know what to do. We’ve been together 32 years but haven’t shared a bedroom for at least five or six years.
‘I don’t want to try counselling or anything like that, I don’t believe our “relationship” is worth saving and just want to move on with my life.’
Does that describe your situation, Glynis? I don’t know how old you are, but it’s never too late to make changes in life. It’s important that you and R realise that an organisation like Relate does offer counselling to those who don’t necessarily wish to save their relationship, but need help to pick their way through possible actions towards some kind of resolution.
I’d advise trying that rather than stagnating. Your thoughts about that old lost love should make you realise you need to take control of your life anew.
And finally… Celebrate Christmas your way
Last week’s letter from a lady who is already dreading Christmas (not because she is alone, but because she is somehow always disappointed) struck an unexpected chord.
Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.
Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Names are changed to protect identities.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
More than one reader made the suggestion that it makes you actually feel good if you donate to charity at Christmas.
A big ‘Yes’ to that thought. In the past I’ve sent virtual gifts through the charity Send A Cow (sendacow.org), which means like-minded friends know I’m thinking of them but want my money to be useful to those in real need — £33 buys a goat!
Pam wrote to say she and her husband gave up sending cards and giving presents and had their favourite lasagne last Christmas Day. That wouldn’t please me, because I like sending cards, giving presents and eating the traditional roast.
But good for Pam for celebrating ‘our chosen way to enjoy Christmas. We even went out for a bike ride in the afternoon last year. We are both a young 70 now and after years of trying to keep everyone else happy, we are now keeping ourselves happy’.
It touched me deeply that more than one reader was thoughtful enough to mention my father’s death.
Here, for example, is Sandra: ‘My heart goes out to you as you face your first Christmas without your beloved father, but I know that you will draw your family around you, and remember him with love . . .
‘And with all the terrible events at the moment, it is going to be a hard time for everyone without their loved ones. I so love Christmas, with all the traditions, especially special family ones handed down over the years, but I don’t care if all we can get is cheese on toast for Christmas lunch, the main thing is to have my loved ones with me!’
Of course, not everyone has dear friends/family to share the day with, but Sandra’s loving nature shines from those words. And as soon as I recover from this horrible cold, I’m starting on my Christmas lists.