As grandparents, we can pass along both good and bad traits to the next generation. Sometimes we’re not even be aware we’re doing it. That’s why it’s important for us to recognize our negative behaviors before we inflict them on another generation. A recent letter to Ask Amy made my blood boil!
In the letter, a young mom asked for advice on how to handle her mom who is fat-phobic and may be passing on her eating disorder to her 14-month old granddaughter. What’s remarkable is that the 27-year old woman who wrote has a healthy self-image after growing up with a mother who does not. She wants to protect her daughter from her mother’s destructive obsession. I commend the young mom for having the courage to stand up to her mother, but I think Amy was too soft on the grandma.
A mom asks Amy:
Dear Amy: I am a 27-year-old single mom. I’ve never been small, but I am a healthy, strong, well-proportioned size 12. My problem is with my mother. She’s extremely fat-phobic, and starts to freak out and call herself horrible fat names when she gets over a size 6. She also makes nasty comments about my weight going back to childhood, such as, “I’d kill myself if I had to wear a size 12.” I’ve learned to accept that. What I can’t and won’t accept is when she makes fat comments about my daughter. My baby is 14 months old. Her pediatrician says she is the picture of a healthy toddler — with no weight concerns. Recently the three of us went to lunch. My daughter refused to eat much of her meal and my mom very proudly declared, “I think she just doesn’t like to eat in front of me because she knows I’m counting every calorie she eats!” This attitude is so far beyond not healthy, I don’t even know what to say to her. What can I do or say to get her to stop doing this? — I’m Her Mom!
Amy’s response is:
Dear Mom: The trick for you will be to balance a healthy portion of tolerance for someone you can’t change, along with the ability to remain relatively unruffled when you decide you’ve had enough. Your mother’s self-loathing and eating issues are unfortunate. You’ll need to push back just hard enough to establish that, when it comes to your child, there is a new sheriff in town. Tell her you’ve decided that because she cannot control herself, she may not discuss food/weight in front of your daughter. Ever. This may sound like an overreaction, but you will have to overreact in order to get her attention. You respond to violations by saying: “Oops. Look at the time. We’re going to have to go.” And you pack up and leave. Do not negotiate or discuss this in front of your child. Your mother may express her hurt and outrage later. Remember when she does this that she is acting out, the way a toddler does when she has been corrected.
What disturbed me about this letter is the grandma’s toxic behavior and her potential to cause her granddaughter to develop an eating disorder. I wrote a post about parents who have an obsession with their baby’s weight and the lifelong impact it can have on their self-esteem and body image.
While I admire Amy’s advice to the young mom, I feel it was a bit restrained. She shows empathy for the grandma but doesn’t come down hard enough for my satisfaction. I don’t think it’s overreacting to inform grandma that there will be zero tolerance for any references to food, weight, or eating habits in the future—in front of the daughter and granddaughter. If the grandma doesn’t agree, then I think it’s grounds for preventing future visits.
What would you say to this young mom?