Do you remember what it was like to go somewhere else for tea when you were a young child? A best friend would invite you out, and you would be pleased and excited, then as the day drew near the thing that you would be likely to be most worried about is – what food will I be expected to eat? What if I don’t like it?
Food is a much more emotive subject than you think. Try telling a fat person that they only have to eat less, or a thin person that all they have to do is eat more….It simply isn’t as simple as that. We don’t just eat to live, food provides us with comfort and emotional feelings as well as energy.
When your parents have divorced, or died, you are much more vulnerable to anxiety. The emotional journey you have been on already may not have been conducive to feeling secure and robust. Food becomes an even more important issue, and post the divorce the child may have become a much more ‘fussy’ eater. Often only the plainest food will do, and it has to be cooked in a certain way too.
Having a fussy eater in the house is a pain. It often means you have to prepare separate meals for different people at the table. Often you don’t want to ecnourage this as a matter of right. However, my sympathy, for step-children, lies with the child. A little bit of understanding goes a long, long way.
If your step-parent checks out with you about the food beforehand and prepares it in a way you find edible, it will make a huge difference to the quality of your visit. If on the other hand you have to eat things you can’t swallow, you feel wretched. As an adult we forget what it can be like being unable to eat certain foods – how hunger is a horrible feeling, how you feel embarrassed about it at the table, and on a very practical level it can be a mood changer. With food you can feel happy and satisfied, and in good spirits, Without food you feel cold, grotchety, unenergised and moody. Much better all round if a step-parent can accommodate the child’s food wishes without making too much fuss.
A step-child, Jill goes to visit her father’s new family. Jill lives with Mum alone since her Mum and Dad broke up. She doesn’t see her Dad all that much, he has re-married and has another child, her new step-Mum is keen she sees her father reasonably regularly. Jill is 14 and has become a vegetarian. She finds she can’t eat a lot of things. Her step-Mum buys some ready made vegetarian meals when she is over there. She cooks it but Jill can’t eat it. It’s got onions, she just can’t swallow. She tries, but the onions are cut up so small she can’t get them out. When Jill tells her step-Mum this, step-mum runs out of the kitchen, up the stairs shouting and screaming, “I can’t cope, she’s so difficult, – she won’t eat anything”. Jill feels terrible and it’s a real problem. She doesn’t want to be a problem to her Dad or Step Mum, but she just can’t eat some foods at the moment, Jill’s Mum tries to solve the problem by preparing food for her at home and letting her take them to Dad’s house, but step-Mum just throws the food in the bin.
I know how the Step-Mum feels. It’s your home and your kitchen, you want to provide food people will eat. You go to the trouble of buying vegetarian meals which is in itself a concession, but then, the step-daughter still won’t eat. You are doing all you can. You are being nice, making an effort, this isn’t your child, and it isn’t your fault your partner had this child earlier in his life. But you simply cannot cope. You certainly can’t cope with the ‘other’ woman’s food in your kitchen, the smell, the look, everything about it is just not okay. You don’t want to be ungrateful, but you really can’t put up with her being able to provide food to your step-daughter when you can’t.
Tough – eh?
But, take a deep breath, look after yourself, tell yourself this situation won’t last for ever and find something that is acceptable for the child and you.
Could the child come shopping with you? Could the child do their own cooking? Could you take instructions and consult before cooking? Could you find a meal you can all eat, and eat that until things get better….. for me in my step-family we ate spaghetti carbonara for about three years whenever we all ate together. That was a lot of spaghetti carbonara….It is a difficult und-rated problem that is hard to solve, but worth finding a way through. Good luck.