Dear fitsmiForMoms: My kids are really sensitive about their weight (we’re working on it) and I’m really worried about my mother-in-law’s visit this holiday. Maybe she’s trying to help, but she always says things to my kids like “Haven’t you had enough already” or “That’s going to go straight to your hips!” And when we’re alone, she never fails to bring up the subject (“Aren’t you going to DO something about their weight?”) and I really dread it! What can I say or do to show her that she needs to back off?”
Dr. Jacobson: Excellent question, and so good that you are thinking ahead. My suggestion is that you and your husband get on the same page and then talk to your mother-in-law in advance, AND talk to your kids in advance.
To your mother in law you need to be straightforward but non accusatory.
“Mother, We are so looking forward to your visit, and I have some good news for you. I know you are always concerned about the kids’ weights, and I want to assure you that we’re very aware of the issue and as a family, we’ve begun working on it. (You may want to give some examples here)
One of the biggest motivators for the kids is support from the people they love, and of course that includes you. The kids and your son and I have talked about what helps and what doesn’t help, and they all say that when someone comments about what they are eating or how much they are eating, it hurts their feelings, makes them mad, and makes them want to eat more, just to be defiant.
So, since I know you want to be helpful, I want to thank you in advance for not making comments regarding food/eating/weight to the kids while you are here. I know it may be hard, especially because the holidays are a time when most people overindulge, and because you are concerned, but I also know you can do it because you want the kids to be successful and this will help them in the long run. It’s a process and I know you want them to stick with it.
Thank you so much. Can’t wait to see you!”
You will also want to take her aside early in the visit and reiterate all this and answer any questions she may have about what you are doing along the lines of healthy eating. If she has suggestions, listen graciously and nod and thank her for her input and being on the same supportive team. THEN TELL HER THIS IS THE LAST CONVERSATION ANY OF YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE ABOUT THIS SUBJECT DURING THE HOLIDAY BUT YOU COULD TALK ABOUT IT WITH ME ON THE PHONE AND OUT OF EARSHOT OF THE KIDS AFTER SHE GETS HOME. Let her know that if she “slips” you (or your husband or your kids) will gently remind her…and that you all love her.
Then change the subject to something light.
To your kids: “Grandma is coming for a few days, and I want you to know that I have asked her not to talk about weight/food choices etc. while she is here. I expect that will be hard for her and that she might slip. I know it bothers you when she does this, and I want to remind you that it isn’t because she’s trying to be mean, it is because she thinks it will help and she cares about you.
So, my pledge to you is that if I hear her say something I will remind her that that is not helpful or that we are not going to talk about that. If I am not there, you have my permission to politely but firmly say to her “Grandma, I know you are trying to help but that doesn’t help.” You have my permission to repeat this to her again and again if she persists, or to come to Dad or I to ask for help.”
Remember, it is essential that your husband is in agreement with this approach so talk to him FIRST.
Then stick with the plan. Call her on it, and ask her to stop if you hear her broaching the subject.
I hope this will help and although it may be a little awkward at first, it will likely lead to a more pleasant holiday and a warmer welcome to your mother-in-law in the future.
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