I didn’t have high expectations when my daughter was born. Really, I didn’t. I wanted her to be herself, to get to know her, to learn who she was on her own time. I didn’t need her to be smart or funny or especially coordinated. I didn’t dream of her playing varsity sports or getting into an Ivy League college, or even getting straight A’s.
I did, however, expect that she would want to eat.
I’d always heard how voracious babies are. My friends told me horror stories of children who woke up every hour-and-a-half for six months, demanding to be fed. They told me about having their milk sucked dry during growth spurts and about all the unlikely places they’d had to stop along the side of the road because the baby got hungry.
No one told me stories about newborns who weren’t interested in food. They didn’t tell me about the kids who would much rather sleep than eat, about the ones who had to be tickled with ice cubes to get them to bother suckling at all.
When I realized my daughter wasn’t eating in the ways I’d been taught to think of as “normal,” I panicked. Postpartum hormones combined with new mother worries to produce the perfect storm of anxiety. I began to dread being home alone with my girl, not because I didn’t enjoy her, but because then the awful responsibility of making sure she got enough to eat sat only with me, and I didn’t know if I could get the job done.
Still, my baby grew. Sluggishly, perhaps, but she did get bigger. That didn’t quell my concerns, though. I felt like I had to keep fighting to get her to consume more or the doctors might think something was wrong. I didn’t want that. I wanted to be a decent mother, to be able to nurture my child, to at least succeed at the basics like making sure she had enough food and fluids.
My expectations, small as they were, got the best of me for a while. As she got older, our days revolved around mealtimes, around finding something (anything!) that she would enjoy for more than a few bites. I felt myself shrinking as my world revolved around the number of tablespoons consumed and ounces drank. I stopped going out if it meant being gone over a meal, because I could best control what she ate and make sure she got “enough” when we had all our food at home.
I got sucked into a bad place. My daughter’s eating became a vortex, and it inhaled more than just the two of us. Anyone who was around during mealtime got taken into its swirl. Even worse, most of the people I talked to regularly knew all about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and worrying that things might not be OK.
It was during one of my many conversation about my baby’s size and eating habits that my eyes were opened to what was really going on. “So she’s not a good eater,” someone said. “Doesn’t she exceed your expectations every other way?”
“I didn’t have any expectations,” I said. “I just wanted her to eat.”
My interlocutor was gracious enough not to point out the contradiction inherent in my statement, but I saw it for myself as I said it. True, I didn’t have certain types of expectations, but I did plan for my baby to be certain ways and not others. As much as I hated this truth, it seemed that I had expectations for my daughter after all.
But my expectations didn’t just focus on her. They were, in fact, two-fold. I expected her to eat, but I expected to be able to cajole her into it when she didn’t want to. I expected myself to be a good mother, and making sure my child had enough food not only on her plate but in her stomach seemed fundamental to that.
These realizations proved a turning point for me in my relationship with my daughter. Once I could see my expectations as expectations, I could begin to let them go. Until then, I didn’t know what to do with the part of me that felt consumed with her eating. I didn’t know what drove me, and so I couldn’t tell where all the stress was coming from.
Still, letting them go wasn’t easy. I began to pray for wisdom, to see my way through to a place where I could both care for my girl and not become obsessed with it. Eating is essential for life, so I couldn’t walk away from the project entirely, but seeing my expectations exposed helped me do something that many parents struggle with. I began to take all my negative feelings to the One who created both she and I, and ask Him for help.
I believe that children are a gift from the Lord, but I don’t think that means they cease being His when he chooses to share them with us. Instead, we’re given part of something very special to hold. But in the end, it’s His arms that encircle us all. He is still the Change-Bringer, the one who can make tomorrow’s situation different from today’s. As I sat with this truth, I came to see that He holds both my daughter and I in the palm of His hand, and we can either rest in what He gives us there or we can struggle to carry the situation ourselves.
My daughter is 18-months-old now. Meals are still the diciest parts of many days. But she’s not just my baby. She’s also Jesus’ little girl, and He’ll take care of her where I can’t. He’s proven over and over that He will always exceed my expectations, even if it’s in ways I never would have planned.