The transition from weaning in a highchair to sitting and eating at the family table: How did we manage?

Sara-Jayne @keepupwiththejonesfamily

📸 Photographer, Family Outings & Raising 3 Boys
Mum to Jensen, Lyoto and Hero
Lover of Mickey Mouse and Huskies 🐕

The Daydream

I’ll start with my aspirations.  I’m a very dedicated daydreamer, so prepare yourself; cue the twinkly music.  In my pre-parenting daydreams, I would breeze into my bright, airy dining room wearing a rainbow hued, floral Cath Kidston style apron, smile as I saw my adorable children seated and chatting happily around our large, beautifully set, wooden dinner table and seat myself contentedly.  The food, fresh and healthy, with a virtual vegetable harvest would be spread out in white scalloped serving dishes and on platters [I have a thing about nautical tableware], and we’d all spend each evening enjoying our meals, discussing our day, whilst I cooed over my children with lovely table manners and beautiful etiquette. Sigh.

Now, I’m sure there are families out there who manage to achieve this *silent cry* but it didn’t quite go like that for us.  I’m a mum of three boys.  The last time I did a zoom conference, I was twirling them alternatively as they tried to use me as a somersault practice frame. It looked like the circus.

Put Your Bottom On The Chair, First Born Boy

Jensen, my first born, was just like me and walked early.  My mum called it karma.  From 8 months old, I was chasing him around and chairs were of no interest to him at all unless he could use them to climb higher somewhere.  As soon as his little bottom touched any seat, it was as though he was springboard propelled off again and on to new adventures.  I envied my friends’ Facebook posts when they wrote about cosy duvet days snuggled on the sofa watching movies, or trips to quaint little cafés.

I dreaded any time we were invited out for meals and actually felt angry when family organised them, like I was being baited.  Mealtimes anywhere other than in the safety of our own home were fraught with anxiety for me. Enjoying my own meal was impossible – ruined each time as I was either convincing him to eat the spoon fed food I was giving him –  or post 8 months old, trying to keep him seated for long enough to take a mouthful of food from his plate before having to get up and return him to his seat, over and over and over again.

Take Two – our Middle Child

Lyoto arrived the day before Jensen turned two, another early walker [my mum was still smiling about this] and at his six month milestone, we chose baby led weaning and this made everything much easier for me.  Jensen was enthralled by what his brother was up to and it wasn’t quite as terrifying when I heard the words “family dinner out” on the phone.  When Lyoto was ready to come out of his high chair, we got them a little children’s table and chair set from IKEA so that they would sit together safely without me worrying Jensen would knock his teeth out, getting up and down from a big chair.  They spent on average one out of every ten minutes with their bottoms actually on chairs, and I still couldn’t imagine going out to eat with them both by myself, so naturally we decided to take the boys to see Mickey Mouse where we’d be faced with at least two restaurants a day. Gulp.

She Ate Hot Food?

“So… What about the restaurants on holiday?” I said to Gav; “We’ll be fine” he said, nodding sagely. “It will be fine.”

Truthfully, it was all feeling quite fine, until I was taken completely by surprise and discovered that I was pregnant with Hero as we were packing the car to leave for our trip.  As soon as I saw the line on the test, morning sickness decided to say hello and suddenly there I was, in the middle of Walt Disney World, flooded with pregnancy hormones, being seated for another exciting restaurant experience in a very beautiful family restaurant.  I was completely frazzled.  Eating with children who do not like to sit down is exhausting, even in the happiest place on earth.

With heartburn creeping up my throat faster than Maleficent’s flames, and in the middle of trying to keep my two toddlers, aged just 3 and 20 months, sat in their seats for more than a minute at a time whilst Cinderella wandered over, I scanned the room, seeing so many other parents in the same predicament as me.  It didn’t feel good, but it felt normal.  I felt safe.

But then, I saw them.  A family with four children.  All. Sat. Down.  No one was snaking down under the table to escape, no one was leaping up to have to chase them.  No one was crying, or squirming, and I swear that mum was eating her own food.  She looked like she was actually on holiday. And I stared. I fixated on them so much that Gav looked too.  And instead of thinking how lucky she was, I went to the next best place – how much of a failure I was.  I wish I could go back and hug me.

Everyone Says It, Why Don’t We Believe It?

Now, we survived our first family of four holiday and made some gorgeous memories, but at the back of my mind was that mum and her family.  Then a few months later, Hero was born to remind me that all babies, all children, are different.  You know, I wish I’d had this tattooed to me from day one, or that someone called me every day to remind me as I woke up.  People throw the saying around like confetti, but it really needs to be hammered home to us parents whenever we’re feeling low.  Our children are not adults. Our children have not read the textbooks on milestones, behaviour, or social and cultural norms.

Nothing To Do With Me

Anyhow, Hero; birthed and raised and loved the same way his two brothers were, and a huge shock.  So different.  So EASY.  To this day, at six years old, I’ve not faced one difficult parenting moment, at all.  Nothing. Each milestone, no challenges.  When it came to mealtimes, Hero was content to sit and eat and smile and watch his brothers in his highchair without squirming to escape, eat whatever we gave him to try, and his transition to the family table was easy and seamless.  I went to restaurants with all three boys, and enjoyed myself like I never imagined I could.  And before people say it’s because I was calmer and more experienced… firstly, let me assure you that I’m not a naturally calm person – anyone who knows me will tell you that – and secondly, please someone enlighten me as to how having three boys instead of two makes parenting easier.  Hero’s disposition and character are him, not me – trust me.

Family Tables Are Different Too

So back to how our family is now.  Honestly, at the moment, it’s difficult.  Gav, my husband, has been working from home since March.  Set up in the boys’ room with computers and monitors galore, space is very limited here.  We’re all huddled together on the sofa and beanbags in the week, watching reruns of the A-Team with lunches balanced on trays.

Whilst I still don’t have my big mahogany table, I do have a very large foldaway table from IKEA that seats us all plus my parents, but we rarely fold that out because it takes up the whole room.  Just like each family is beautifully different, I like to think that their family table is too.  If you asked our boys, they’d tell you the family table is our old solid picnic table in the garden.  We decorate it, BBQ and celebrate, and when I think of a fun family time we’ve had with food, it’s there.

And no, it’s not my perfect daydream, but it is my imperfectly wonderful reality.  My real wish is for my boys to be happy, and healthy, having a good relationship with their food.  Like most important things in life, it really doesn’t matter what it looks like, as long as there’s love.

Food Is [Or Should Be] Fun

So if you’re reading this and you’re feeling low because you’re struggling to get your children to eat the things you know they should, or just sit still for two minutes long enough to eat anything at all, please tell yourself one thing – it’s not a parenting failure.  Then tell yourself another two things; that mealtimes will get better, and stop worrying what other people think [or say, if they’re that kind of person].  Coming together to eat, whatever that looks like, should be a source of joy and time for brilliant family memories – a time to connect – and I know that when I actually relax and let it be a fun time, it is.  Our boys ask for backyard BBQs and eat double the food, and double the variety, than they would indoors.

Think of it this way; an exam under invigilation isn’t fun.  A quiz with your friends in the pub [or over zoom like me and my friends at the moment] is the best.  Lighten up and enjoy the time together, the smooshed food on the floor which somehow always gets stuck to your bottom, and which is always noticed by people you wish it wasn’t – and hold tight to those memories of the sight of their delighted, cheeky faces disappearing under the table to glorious freedom.  They’re only young once.

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