yeah, I feed my 3-year-old, so what?

Today I got an email from M’s teacher, saying that when my mom picked her up from lunch yesterday, M asked my mom to feed her and she did. The teacher seemed alarmed or dismayed or some other strong emotion, because I guess Montessori is all about fostering independence.

Here’s the thing: I feed M all the time. She asks or sometimes I offer. She likes being fed but she is also capable of feeding herself with or without utensils, and more often or not she does. I liken it to me saying something like, “Will you hold this door open for me?” or “Will you hand me my cup of water?” Can I do those things for myself? Yes, I can. Does asking someone to do me a small favor to make my life a bit easier in the moment mean that I will lose my ability to be independent? NO! How ridiculous is that??? So when my daughter requests that I do something for her, because it makes her feel loved and taken care of, I often choose to do it happily, because I enjoy doing nice things for her. And it teaches her, in turn, that doing nice things for people you love, even when they can do it themselves, makes you feel good and is something culturally acceptable and valuable.

Am I going to bring this up with the teacher? Probably not. I asked my mom to please not feed M at school because that is the teacher’s lunch time rule. We have to respect the rules of the places we are in if we want to stay there, even if we don’t agree. (Or we can choose to try to change them or we can leave, but I don’t think this is an issue that warrants that.) So if she asks at school, we will say something like, “The rule here is that everyone must feed themself. I love you and would like to do something nice for you after lunch, but we have to follow the rule while we eat at school.”

Does every little thing have to become an issue??

I did bring it up with the teacher. Here is my email:

Hi *****,
I spoke to my mom and asked her to please respect your lunch and snack rules that a child must feed herself. I do want to let you know, however, that we sometimes feed M***** at home when she asks. The reason for this is not because we don’t think she can do it for herself, nor do I feel that she asks because she is lazy or doesn’t feel that she is capable of eating on her own. Most of the time, not only does she feed herself with or without utensils depending on the food type, but she also prepares her own plate, serves herself, and even washes her own plate in the sink. Independence has never been a problem for her! (She is even diaper free at night now, because she requested it and chose not to drink full cups of water at bedtime and use the toilet right before sleep, because she herself did not want to wear pull-ups, completely her own initiative.) I set up everything where she can reach it (plates, cups, and utensils in a drawer she can access, toothbrush and paste and soap where she can easily reach it, stepping stools, shelves, etc all where she can access them on her own). 

Sometimes M***** asks to be fed because it makes her feel loved and taken care of, sort of like asking for a hug. “Acts of service” is very much her love language. She often requests to feed me, too, as a way of showing affection to me. She sometimes wants to be carried, for the same reason, or have me wash her hair for her. She is capable of walking and washing her own hair, and mostly does these things without my help. She has been able to independently bathe or shower with me on standby in the bathroom for the last year. In my opinion, we all like something nice done for us sometimes. I sometimes ask her to help me carry groceries, or hold the door for me, or hand me something, even though I’m capable of doing it on my own. It makes my life easier in the moment or I find it helpful, and I feel that for her it’s the same thing with being fed. I want to show her that it’s ok to ask the people you love to do something nice for you sometimes (as long as it is a polite request, not a demand), and that in the culture of our family, we enjoy doing nice things for each other just to show our love. I do not believe that feeding her sometimes when she asks in any way hampers her independence or ability to do it for herself, as she does it for almost every meal or most of every meal, and has been doing it for over a year now. 
Despite the culture and beliefs of our family and myself, we fully respect the rules of a teacher, classroom, and lunch room, and I know that you have well-thought out rules in place. I am also teaching her that when we go somewhere, a building or home that is not our own, we must respect their rules so long as they are safe and reasonable. Therefore, I will explain to her (and my mom will as well) that although we sometimes enjoy feeding her (and she sometimes feeds me!!!), that is not something we will do in the school because that is the rule there. We can show each other types of affection in the school instead, such as a hug or an “I love you”. 
Thank you for being willing to hear my explanation and for always being interested in what goes on at home! 

Author: Mother of All Things

Mother by fostering, adoption, and marriage... wife to my best friend... Bay area critical care nurse... travel in my blood, reading in my bones, clean food on my mind!

9 thoughts on “yeah, I feed my 3-year-old, so what?”

  1. Sometimes I get my eight year old dressed in the morning. Sometimes I buckle her seat belt for her. She reads to herself at night and then I read to her. She can do all this stuff by herself, but I love doing it for her sometimes and sometimes I love her doing it for herself. It’s part of being a family.

  2. You know I love Montessori, but SOMETIMES I do stuff for my kid because I need it done on my timeline or I want it done a certain way. (shocking, right?!)

  3. I do a lot of things for my (6 year old) child she is fully capable of doing for herself. Feed her bites, brush her hair, carry her around. Strangers get mad at that last one. Like me hefting my long legged child around affects their life in any way. I rocked her to sleep until 7.5 months ago. I still sing to her and then my husband snuggles her until she’s out. We have one baby and nothing but time to indulge all of our whims. 11.5 years and she’s making her own decisions, doing her own thing in this world. Until then it’s us 3 enjoying the time we have.

  4. Well said, you and Amelia and Brooke!

    I feed my nearly five year old when she asks, maybe 2-4 times a week. I carry her plenty, she falls asleep in my arms or beside us, she’s the baby. The independent, fearless, unimpressed with our adult rules and regs, do whatever the hell she wants and damn the consequences far too often, baby.

    And I’m seriously considering Montessori school for her this fall. 😀 I think she’d get so much out of that, and since we fully intend to homeschool her further down the road of our lives, I think that would be a better transition for us than standard preschool / kindergarten options.

  5. I love this! I sometimes feed Wallace. I saw my friend’s 6 year old being fed by his grandma this past weekend. Wallace and I sometimes take turn eating last bites of food and sharing with each other. He feeds the cats and puts his dishes in the sink or dishwasher. I totally like how you explain it as an act of service and a way to show love. Bingo. It is not enabling our children or letting them manipulate us.

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