Four Moms Q and A: Read Alouds; Finding Souse (and a Spouse), Bad Language in Books, Picky Eaters, Meals with Preschoolers

4moms35kids-1 It’s Thursday once more, which means it’s another Four Moms Q and A, whoot!

I’m interested in tips on how to time read alouds/bible time/family devotions and when to place them in our day to try to maximize attention spans. I have so many good books and resources that I want to use, but it feels forced when I try to sit us down to use them sometimes. Part will be simply establishing the routine, but have you found that pre-meals or post-meals, bedtime or when first waking, etc. has been a better time for holding preschoolers attention? Or am I dreaming by suggesting holding preschoolers attention?

Depends on the preschoolers, and whether the readings are just for that age group or older children as well and you just need the preschooler’s not to run wild and interrupt.  We’ve done different things and different times, and they all worked moderately well until they didn’t and then we switched.

Sometimes I would read aloud while the children ate lunch- for a while, that is what worked spectacularly well.  I ate my lunch while I was preparing theirs, or I ate it after everybody else was done.  I read aloud through the meal and we got through a lot of material. They can’t interrupt when their mouths are full- okay, that’s a lie. They totally can, and do, but at least their interruptions are muffled.

Other times we have gathered in the master bedroom before breakfast and read aloud a few minutes while drowzy todders snuggled up with mom and siblings on the bed.

There was a period of time when we had afternoon tea every day at around 4 o’clock- it wasn’t fancy. Often it was just popcorn and hot cocoa or lemon-ade, depending on the season.  I would read aloud while the children munched and quietly colored or played with blocks.

And other times we have had read alouds in the evening before Dad goes to bed.

Ah, and sometimes I read aloud while they folded laundry or matched socks!

Advice on helping children find a souse?

Mostly in Pennsylvania, I think, among the PA Dutch in particular.  More about that here.

Okay, seriously.  I am not sure now that I attempt to answer this question if it meant figure out where the boys are (you’re welcome), or figure out what sort of traits to look for.

To answer the first question, we did not really do that- we ‘found’ our ‘boys’ naturally doing what we were doing- babysitting, going to church, going to hymn singings. It’s true that I went to a few more of those external occasions than I might otherwise because I think it’s good for young people to get opportunities to get to know other young people, but none of those ‘extra’ things I did are where our girls met their boys.

As to the second possible meaning, what traits to look for… there are some things we have done, off the top of my head.  We comment, a lot, about boys in movies (especially the Jane Austen movies), and we talked about when the bad boys seemed appealing and agreed that was fun in a movie but in real life it was pretty miserable.  We also talked about the fact that yes, Mr. Knightly is wonderful, but most men are not up to those standards, and most girls aren’t Jane Austen or Emma, either.  What was particularly effective (I think, because the Equuschick brings this one up a lot), were things like the time the kids and I had a very horrible day which reached its nadir about the time I got the van stuck axle deep in the mud with my birthday ice-cream melting in the back, and I slipped and feel in the mud most spectacularly while trying to figure things out.  I had to walk across the road to a farm house to borrow a phone to call my husband.  When he came to get us, I said to the girls, “This is what a knight in shining armour does- all the flowery speeches and tightly fitted waistcoats in the world are not worth a feather compared to this.”  Well, I said something like that, anyway.  I know I said the knight in shining armour bit.

You know what I did not tell them?  My husband’s job that year was incredibly stressful and difficult and he had problems with his chain of command and especially his immediate boss. So when I called him, his first response was frustration.  And he said he’d come get us when he got off work in 90 minutes.  It was my birthday.  My ice cream was melting.  I had mud from ankles all the way up to the back of my head- I had fallen hard.  I had been having a long, hard already. I was hurting.  So I explained this, but quickly and not as tearfully or as loudly as I wanted to because I was borrowing somebody else’s phone and he was listening to me.  My husband heard me, and he left work and came and got us immediately.

But more than talking about what to look for in the boys, we talked to the girls about becoming the sort of women they needed to be, becoming whole people of their own,  devoted to God, pursuing their interests and God’s Will for them.

Is bad language in books a deal breaker for you when deciding what to let your kids read? I was previewing a book the other day that I know I read as a tween (or thereabouts), and was sort of appalled at the language. Granted, it’s about young soldiers in the Vietnam War, but still, it’s a young adult book. I came to the conclusion that this book isn’t appropriate for my 10 year old daughter, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever be comfortable with her reading it. How do you handle this issue? What are your guidelines?

My guidelines are not very objective.

In general terms, I think most swearing is merely a social construct- with the exception of taking the Lord’s name in vain which is profane because He said so.  The other words?    Well, you know, there are a couple of three words I know for a fact are meaningless words in my country but they  have a very vile and crude connotation in England and Australia.  And there is a word that is swearing here, that my South African uncle who is a minister uses in daily conversation and it means nothing at all to him.  You can turn any word into a swear by attaching the adjective ‘dog’ to it, if I read dramabeans right, and some things an older person can say to a younger person there are swearing if the younger person says them to the older person.  See- totally social constructions.

Theoretically, since those ‘bad words’ are merely a social construct, I ought to be able to tell my kids, “Swear words are merely a social construct and what words are considered swear words will vary by place and time, but we do live in *this* place and *this* time, so don’t say *these* words because you will shock Grandmama and people will think you are a bad person,”  and then I would be done.

That’s theory, however, not how things mostly go at my house.  I’m still a little embarrassed to admit this because our culture so successfully brainwashes us, but if the book is otherwise one I feel is very important for my kids to read and the language is unacceptable to me, I use white-out and then write in my own phrases or words.  It’s really a case by case basis, though, both for the book and the kids. Some kids would be less vulnerable to this or more oblivious than others, some are more sensitive, some are more likely than others to repeat what they hear or read.  I did not want to explain the ‘f’ word to my 10 year olds, even if I did think it was merely a social construct, albeit, a somewhat brutal one.

I also was far, far pickier about what my 13 and unders read, and involved myself a little bit less as they grew older.

what kind of facilitate-the-family-meal tips help with a table full of preschoolers?

Fix their plates and bring them to the table, along with the towels you will need to wipe up spilled drinks.  Have a pitcher of water to refill those spilled drinks. Don’t fill their plates too full- and use the dessert plates, not the regular dinner plates. Only put an inch or so of water in their cups, so when they do knock them over, it’s not too bad.   Remain cheerful, especially when it turns out to be you who spills the entire pitcher on the table.   We eventually made a rule that nobody got seconds until Mommy got firsts. I think that is my favorite rule, ever.  Anybody else?

Our 2 year old often refused to “try dinner”. We just want him to give the food a chance, but he refuses. We have even stooped to the level of bargaining (If you try dinner, you can have ice cream), to no avail. Is this a moot issue, and we shouldn’t expect our 2 year old to try a dish (its nothing weird or hot or such)? Should we continue in this battle of the wills (each and every night)? He’s hungry, I know that as he asks for other stuff. I just want him to give dinner a try. And this isn’t just a few dishes, this is every night that we go through this unwillingness to take even one bite. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Be forewarned-  I am going to be straightforward in sharing our approach and the reason for it.  But it was our approach.  I am not saying it needs to be yours, although I generally disagree with the live and let live approach to food for reasons I will explain.  I know it sounds like I am being bossy, but that’s just the way I sound, and, after all, I am answering a question I was asked.=)

I don’t know if it’s the strength of my personality, my extreme comfort with the moral authority of being the parent, the easy going natures of our seven kids* , the general neurological normalcy of  six out of the seven kids, or some combination thereof, but yes, all our kids did take a taste of everything I served.    Partly this is also how I was raised- I grew up knowing that it was not acceptable to refuse to even taste the food our parents cooked and served, or anybody served us. It was especially not acceptable to decide you did not like something if you’d never even had it.  I don’t remember not knowing that.  So my kids had to have a taste.

Choosing not to eat the food that the cook served was simply not an option- with one exception each.  Every child could choose one food they did not want to eat, and they didn’t have to eat it again- although they were encouraged to try it a couple of times a year to see if their tastes had changed.  That one food could not be beans, because we couldn’t afford kids who turned up their noses at legumes.  Again,  They did not have to do more- and, as I stress every time I write about this, our tastes were sometimes homeopathic. You almost needed a magnifying glass to see the food on the spoon it was so small an amount.

I did not plead or cajole or bargain because I felt that pleading, cajoling, and bargaining reinforce the wrong message- that obedience is optional.  And since I did not plead, cajole, or bargain in other areas, either, while they did test the limits often enough, they really did not expect to ‘win’ any conflicts of this nature.

I would have required the taste in a non-nonsense, but pleasant enough fashion, but I would not have spent a lot of time on it- once I asked, if the child refused, I’d have briskly, firmly, but not harshly, held a two year old in my arms with his hands down and made sure the spoon made it into the mouth- with such a ridiculously small amount on it that there would be nothing to gag on at all.   I wouldn’t even have done an entire pea, if peas were the issue. I’d have sliced the pea into quarters and then knicked a tiny smidgen off one of the quarters. No children were harmed in this process, and none of the children have eating issues or horrible memories of being force-fed.  As soon as the molecule of food was in the mouth, I’d have given them a drink if they wanted, or a bit of what they did like,  dropped the issue and offered other foods at the table- and I did always try to include other foods that the kids would eat. When we have liver, for instance, I have lots of mashed potatoes and people who don’t eat liver can fill up on that.

I know this is very controversial, and LOTS of people disagree with me very strong about this.  Shrug.  I am very comfortable with my stance and how well it worked for us.  Most of the people who have disagreed with me on this have had children younger than mine with character traits and behaviors I really did not admire, and while I won’t say letting them treat Mom like a short order cook is the cause of those issues, the attitude that Mom has that allows her to be treated like a short order cook definitely is a contributing factor.

Often when somebody is telling me why I am wrong, they will share stories of their childhood where they threw up their forced mouthful of peas or whatever- and I agree that this would be traumatic, but it’s also totally not what I did, which is why this time I have emphasized the absolutely ridiculously small scale that I am talking about when I require a taste. I, too, remember miserable dinners where I wasn’t allowed to leave the table until food was eaten, or at least a large mouthful taken in and eaten.  I remember weeping piteously over liver, which I now love.  But that is not what we are doing.  The taste I require is small, and if I think a child is having a really hard time over it, it is so minute that an ant could not gag on it.  And since we are not spending time pleading and begging, but would fairly quickly get the spoon into the child’s mouth and be done with it, it did not ruin the meal, either.  Think of it like medicine the child has to take, and just get it over with and move on- that was my approach, anyway.

I also don’t want to be discouraging nor do I want to get all preachy and self-righteous about it, but not only did this work for me very well with all seven of ours (and with Blynken and Nod, who will eat salad at my house but not at their mother’s), it’s also the only possible option for at least a third of the known world.  Kids who won’t eat their dinner and turn up their noses at what Mom serves- that is totally a first world problem.  Most families in the world, like the “Natomo family of Mali, Africa,” just don’t have the luxury of thinking in terms of favourites.  They eat what they have.  This reality tells me that catering to picky eaters is really not required to be a good mom.

This is not a control freak,  ‘who’s the boss’ issue for me.  It’s about manners, gratitude, character, respect for the person who prepared your food and serves you, and selfishness.  I believe that, in general, being a picky eater is a character issue.

Lady M shared this in the comments to another 4 moms post asking a similar question:

Your child may have a sensory issue or perhaps an allergy. Pay attention to texture and food types. Our 3rd child (4 1/2) as oral defensiveness issues (the ped. dentist labelled it very accurately, lol!). If the child is doing it with a multitude of foods/drinks/toothbrushing, it is seriously worth doing some looking into. We are in the midst of doing some of our own working through. When introducing something they say they don’t like, we require first a smell of it. Then he can eat a bite of something else. Next, he has to lick a small bite (LICK only here). Then he can eat a bite of something else. The lick part might happen several times. I am okay with that. Finally, he has to at least try a small bite of the offending food. You will likely go through this several times. My son often has a drink of water handy to wash the offending food down. It is all about babysteps, IMHO. I want him to grow up to not be tremendously picky. My older 2 are not (even with the dairy allergy that the oldest one has). I have hopes for this one some day as well.

Not that she needs my permission or approval at all (and neither do any of you, we can still be friends even if all your kids and you as well are picky eaters), but I could live with this approach, too, since the goal is the same- making steps toward getting the child to taste what is served.


* Okay, I do know it is not the easy going nature of all seven kids, because, HAH!


Whew. I spent way too much time on that one, didn’t I?

Don’t miss what the other four moms have to say:
Smockity Frocks,

Raising Olives,

and ME, at the Common Room

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