My husband won’t leave my 13yo daughter alone. He thinks she’s overweight and doesn’t exercise enough. He’s constantly saying things like, “Haven’t you had enough?” and “Are you sure you want to eat THAT?” He went berserk the other day when he saw her eating a Hershey’s bar. And last weekend he took her out on a jog and came home furious because she wouldn’t cooperate. I’ve told him that he’s not helping but he just steamrolls over me saying, “If she doesn’t exercise NOW, she NEVER will.” or “If she doesn’t get her weight under control, it’s going to be ten times harder later on.” Maybe he’s right. But all I see happening is our daughter pulling away from him and eating when he’s not looking.
So your husband’s anxious about your daughter’s weight, he’s making things worse, and he’s ready to lash out at you if you disagree with him. Challenging! What you need to do is defuse the situation gently, mustering all of your tact and wisdom, so that he can relax his defenses and consider your (well-researched) point of view. Maybe he’ll even come to you one day saying, “You know, I think there’s a better way to go about this,” and then go on to state your ideas as if they were HIS. Victory to you either way, and bonus points if you can avoid saying “I told you so!”
So, what to do? First, admire the best in your husband – he cares deeply about your daughter – and then arm yourself with this knowledge: Study after study of parenting shows that nagging and hounding typically has the opposite effect on our children. Especially when it comes to weight management and teens! The three things that have the most impact on kids’ healthy decisions are good self esteem, good modeling by parents, and family meals. (Check out Ten Things Teens Wished Their Parents Knew About Weight Loss and Worst Things Parents Do To Overweight Teens)
So how do you get your husband to understand that his intrusive and critical approach is doing more harm than good?
A few suggestions:
Try talking with your husband at a peaceful time when your daughter is not around. Compliment him for how much he appears to care for your daughter’s welfare. Then gently observe that the things you are BOTH doing don’t seem to be having much impact. Finally, problem solve together about how to:
1. Improve the food environment in your home: make a point of having family meals together at least three times a week, more if possible. Family meals are so powerful that it doesn’t even matter what you eat so much as that you are all together. Cook healthy meals for everyone – don’t single out your daughter — and stock your fridge and pantry with healthy snacks that are easy to grab-and-go. Don’t play food police, but try to structure snack and meal-times so that nobody has to think about food in between (i.e. try to avoid mindless “grazing”). Don’t eliminate treats, but try not to let them compete with nutritious foods. Be a model by eating healthy yourself.
2. Model good exercise: go for evening walks together and invite her: park at the far end of the parking lot at the mall so you walk a little; walk to the store; make sure that you do a half hour of movement every day (can be broken up into three ten-minute chunks), and don’t complain about it, instead comment out loud about how it energizes you and makes you feel good. Don’t tell her that she should exercise too, but invite her occasionally, and accept whatever level of exercise she does. Find family activities that are fun and at least involve standing up…like visiting the zoo, gardening, hula hooping, or playing tennis, badminton or bocce ball.
3. Boost your daughter’s self esteem: Show an interest in her schoolwork and social life and compliment her on good decisions she makes in life, on her manners, and on her loyalty to her friends. Have fun with her and show her that she is loved. Compliment her appearance when she grooms herself well or dresses nicely (don’t add the ‘but’ about how much nicer she would look if her were thinner). Make sure that when you are together, you don’t focus on the things she hasn’t done, or should do, but on the things she has accomplished.
End the conversation with your husband with an action plan, a mutual vow to avoid nagging and negativity, and a joint understanding that changes take time. Plan to get together again in a week or so to compare notes and see how you are doing.
Still having problems?
Many parents need the help of a professional to figure out how to work better together for their children’s welfare. If you’re still stuck after trying the above, you may want to seek out a counselor or psychologist with good knowledge of adolescents and weight issues to help you two find a consolidated approach. The American Psychological Association has a search engine to help you find an appropriate person, as does Psychology Today’s website. You might propose to your husband that since you two cannot seem to agree on an approach, and since your differences are probably making the situation worse rather than better, consulting with a professional to help you find common ground might be a good investment.
Last but not least, remember that even if you can’t get your husband on board, if YOU educate yourself and feel confident about the best approach, live healthy, and work with your family in these more positive ways, your daughter will be more resilient.
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