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It's not about the food: Tales of a dinner-time meltdown

Blog Listing

A collection of stories, insights, pain and laughter that details our lives, our experiences as women and mothers and the wisdom that comes out of that.

It's not about the food: Tales of a dinner-time meltdown

Bridget Wood


It's the kind of story that guarantees a giggle among mother's groups and at kinder dropoff:

My baby had just shown us her new skill of climbing out of the high chair and onto the table, when my four-year-old tossed his bowl of dinner onto the floor in protest that it wasn't 'real' tuna pasta. 

But yet how often do we look beyond the behaviour, to ask why?

Why is it that our children will eat something happily one day, and then tell us they 'don't like it' the next? Or throw it on the floor?
Why is it so hard to get some kids to eat vegetables?

Because when you live a life that's largely controlled by others, one of the few areas you can take back your power, is with the food you eat (or rather, don't eat). 

Mealtime battles aren't commonplace in our home, so this one was a red flag. I could have so easily 'given in' to his alternative dinner requests for a banana, but I knew it wasn't really about the food.

At this point, all capacity for reason and rationality had gone 'offline' in my son's developing brain. He was looking for me to set the limit and be his safe harbour; his storm of emotions threatening to overcome us both if I didn't breathe, recognise the signs, and steady myself in order to anchor him.

So I stayed with it. His anger. His tears. His protests at how 'disgusting' dinner is. 

It's not always an easy practice though, is it? The big feelings that consume our children also threaten to overcome us; because our children are setting us up to feel what they feel, and since our nervous system perceives this as a threat (even before our conscious brain comes online), we often want to run in the opposite direction by way of harsh limits, threats, or simply giving in, to avoid our own feelings of powerlessness.

Staying 'in the soup' of messy feelings with them, grounding them, is parenting as a spiritual practice. 

Which tells our own 'flight or flight' response that it is safe to be here.

Which tells our child, 'I hear you'.

Checking in with how we feel, what they're displaying, and reflecting that back, eg. 'I wonder if you feel like you can't look at me because the sad, angry feelings make you want to hide.'

In doing so we are widening our own window of tolerance for emotions, and re-patterning our perceptions of our own early experiences encoded in the far reaches of our reptilian brain. (because we can't 'react' if the seed isn't already planted within us somewhere - no one else is responsible for how we feel).

This is raising ourselves to raise our children.

Resisting the desire to run away from conflict, exert our power, and 'gain control'.

This is staying with their tears, not trying to stop them. It's believing in emotions as 'energy in motion' that need to be moved, not stifled.

And yet we can only be with our children's big feelings to the extent we can be with our own.

Which is why they are often our greatest teachers. They teach us to listen to ourselves. To reflect on our patterns, our triggers, our wounds. They also awaken our spirit for adventure, for fun, and for deep connection.

And they are very forgiving. Because we'll rarely get it 100% right; like any relationship it's a dance. 

And when we don't 'nail it'? There's no need to despair - our children are experts at getting their needs met and will find other ways and opportunities to show us where they need to heal.

They don't need to tell us what their big feelings are about (they may not understand, themselves), nor do we need to know this to help them move through it. 

Simply lean into the discomfort and they'll show you the way. And when you make it through the rough seas of their emotions, the connection and alignment to be felt within them and you, can be profound.

On this occasion, our dog was the beneficiary of tuna pasta for dinner, and a new dinner of cucumber and peanut butter was negotiated, after the tidal wave of anger and tears steadied to a stream, him enveloped in my arms. 

Because it's not about the food for me either, this time. It's about emotional health and connection to self; far more nourishing than a fairly average dinner, anyway! 


Bridget Wood is Co-Founder of Nourishing The Mother and a lover of life and connecting people to themselves through wisdom, introspection and quality questions. Bridget is also the Director and Events Manager of Suburban Sandcastles. With an insatiable appetite for knowledge and a desire to understand the bigger picture of human behaviour and how the world works, Bridget is on an inspired path to learn more deeply who we are beyond the limitations that we, and our society and culture, place upon upon us.