Tuesday, November 12, 2013

To never be hungry

I think I made a painful parenting error last night. Not one that I can joke about. But one that breaks my heart, brings me to tears, and has created an emotional wound of sadness in my sweet 5 year old.  
It all started with my immense frustration with Benji for not eating dinner. He almost never eats dinner. Night after night he tells me that he doesn't like whatever I have cooked. Then he goes to bed hungry.
I had finally had enough.
"You HAVE to eat, Benjamin! Your body needs food for you to be healthy!"
We argued for a bit, then in my frustration, I called him to me so I could show him pictures of what happens when you don't eat food.
Dramatic. I know.
I showed him heartbreaking pictures of skeletal children with bloated bellies. My voice cracked as I told him, "This boy doesn't have food to eat. His family can't afford enough food, so his body is very sick."
Benji asked me question after question about why the starving people looked the way they did. I answered honestly, my chest tight with regret. Regret for not being able to help these hungry people. Regret for presenting this mature topic to such a young child. Regret that some of the pictures we saw were of children even younger than Benji.
This is serious stuff. It is so cliché to tempt a child to eat his dinner by talking about children starving in some remote location. Like that even helps. But I took it one step further with the pictures.
Benji started crying.
"I don't want to be like that."
My heart. I pulled him into a hug, "I promise you will never be like that. I promise we will always have food to keep you healthy. You just have to eat it."
To a 5 year old, full of trust, that is a reassuring promise. To me, it broke my heart even more, because I was so painfully aware of our privilege. We will never be so hungry that our bodies wither away.
I helped Benji eat his dinner. Afterward, he lifted up his shirt to show me his full belly; his body lean, yet healthy.
And as I tucked him into bed, he asked me to comfort him with a prayer. Those sickly bodies were weighing heavily on his mind, and well as mine.
Such a serious topic for a young child. Did I do the wrong thing? Exposing him to such horrors? Will it help him take better care of his body? Or will he develop body image or diet issues because of it? Will it teach him compassion? Or fear?
My heart.


Michelle Collett said...

Parenting is all about second guessing yourself. Our best intentions can turn out poorly, and things we didn't even think about could be huge for them.

Our children not eating is so frustrating.

And that other children are drying of hungry is so devastating.

Michelle Collett said...

Oh yeah, one of my friends posted this on Facebook last week. You could show it to Benji.