Emotional Safety and the Negative Mother in Law - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 7 Old 01-06-2013, 05:38 AM - Thread Starter
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My mother-in-law is always on a diet and always putting herself (or others) down for their weight/size. The first thing she notices and comments about people is their body type, "Oh wow, he's really big," or "I want her body she is so skinny." She is always giving my husband a hard time about his belly and it got so irritating to him a few weeks ago he had to tell her straight up, "Stop making fun of me mom." She stopped in the moment, but was right back to it the next week. 


We have an 8 month old son and I am trying to think of a way I can talk with my MIL about my concerns with her voicing her opinions on body image. I do not want my son to constantly hear all her negative comments, I want him to have a positive self-image and respect for his body. 


Last night, while looking at old pictures with my husband and MIL, she exclaimed, "Oh I like that one, that's when I was skinny." (Mind you, she is 5'7 and probably 170, not fat by any means). My husband just shook his head at the comment and then my MIL said "What? Why are you shaking your head at me? You have a problem?" She got so defensive and my husband responded, "Mom, you are skinny now, why do you always have to put yourself down?" My MIL then rattled off about how she grew up in a heavy home and was always told to watch her weight and that's just how she is and if my husband doesn't  like it, she guesses he doesn't like her!  


Now that this whole situation just happened, I have no idea how on earth I am going to approach this topic without her getting all defensive, taking it personal and turning into a total martyr. Suggestions on how to bring it up and/or specific statements I could use?

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#2 of 7 Old 01-06-2013, 09:57 AM
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Moving this to parenting. Welcome to MDC!

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#3 of 7 Old 01-06-2013, 10:17 AM
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Maybe saying something like, "I'm so sorry you're scarred by your childhood. Don't worry, we love you." *every* time she makes a weight comment, she'll get so annoyed she'll stop making those kinds of remarks.
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#4 of 7 Old 01-06-2013, 11:00 AM
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Your Dh should say the same thing she said to him next time she starts in on him about his looks and each time following that. The response really needs to be his. Modeling standing up for yourself firmly is a great thing for kids to see.
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#5 of 7 Old 01-08-2013, 09:43 AM
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We have a similar struggle with MIL.  


When she brings up weight/skinny/fat stuff with myself or dh, we kinda blow her off and don't engage her (comments like "oh, you've lost weight/gained weight").  She seems to expect to have engaging conversations with us about this, so that helps initially.  

I always lie (for myself or dh) just to mess with her if I bother to join the conversation, too (I had a grandmother who made similar comments when I was a teen, and did the same as I figured it was none of her business in the first place, I figure it screws with that whole mentality of 'its always good to lose weight/be skinny' and makes them question either what they're trying to see or why they're even saying something.).  Not that this is the best option - just something I've happened to do being around behavior like this.


If it escalates or is something she's trying to start up with either of the kids (we have 2 dd's and don't want for them to have anything close to the same body issues as MIL does) we shut down her conversation with something like "hey, MIL, we don't talk about our bodies that way in our home/don't make comments like that around the kids - it's not good for them/it's not okay" and we distract and try to start up some other activity (parenting techniques work great for parents/IL's too winky.gif).  I'd love to explain why or wish she had a better understanding of how/why these kinds of comments are bad to be around as a child, but we've found she doesn't really listen/respect our points about stuff as parents so it's unlikely that'll ever happen.  It's also meant we do minimize the amount of time our kids have unsupervised with MIL (until they're old enough to understand her issues and defend themselves against her to some degree - sometime in the late teens or something, depending on when and whether we have extensive conversations with our kids about it all).



If a lot of her comments are about others - you could sidestep the weight issue a little, too, with reminders about talking kindly about others ONLY, for the sake of your ds.  When he's older, this might be a great way to minimize her negative comments - helping her focus on being a positive role for your ds making kind comments about other people - 'what a cool shirt that man has', 'she really has beautiful hair', etc. and seeing people for other parts of themselves than she might normally. 

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#6 of 7 Old 01-08-2013, 02:15 PM
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Originally Posted by pek64 View Post

Maybe saying something like, "I'm so sorry you're scarred by your childhood. Don't worry, we love you." *every* time she makes a weight comment, she'll get so annoyed she'll stop making those kinds of remarks.



Whoa, I would never say that to my MIL or anyone else. That's very confrontational and patronizing, and while it's probably true do you really want to launch into that kind of battle or discussion with her? Sounds like she's not ready to look at things from that kind of perspective.


As for your son, I wanted to ask how much your MIL sees him and how much one-on-one time she has with him? What kind of influence does she really have on him? I would view it something like tv or advertising or the internet: something you certainly need to protect and educate your child about, but may be impossible or not necessary or wanted to completely eliminate from his life. As for that I have no specific advice, but just to encourage you that you and your husband are his parents and the primary influences in his life and what will become his views and opinions....when he's old enough you will need to talk with him (in an age appropriate way) about all of that stuff, including your MIL's views. I hope other parents here can offer more advice like what to say, etc.. Our parents' and in-laws flaws and awful conditiong are just another crazy thing out there in this crazy world we need to help our children navigate and meet with insight and wisdom.


Good luck!

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#7 of 7 Old 01-10-2013, 09:23 AM
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I have similar issues with my mom, and for this and other reasons we only visit her once about every few months, for about two or so hours at a time. It's a big concern for me now because my 12yo has become very self conscious about her body. She is about 5'8" now (I am nearly 5'10") and over the past year, has switched from feeling quite good about being tall to suddenly wanting to stop growing. Now.


Dd's weight is in the healthy range, but she frets because her belly is not flat like those of the models she sees on tv in their bikinis, even though she understands that most of them have gone without food and water for something like 24 hours before the photo shoot. Dd also worries because I am obese, so she thinks she has "the fat gene." I honestly don't believe I have a "fat gene;" I was thin all throughout my growing up years, but developed the habit of eating to fill emotional needs -- but remained thin in spite of that, probably due to my height, until it all caught up with me as an adult. I've explained all this to dd, and have also explained that she is a much more active person than I ever was. She currently goes out nearly every day, even in this cold weather, and takes a three-mile walk with our dog. She will also be starting basketball soon, and she participates in any group sports she has a chance to. We never push her to exercise, she does it on her own. I was never like this. I liked lying on the couch and reading.


So dd just doesn't need anyone trying to stress her out about weight or body size. Some of my mom's comments may be unintentional, such as when dd tried on some pants my mom offered her, and they were too tight, and my mom said she'd give them to so-and-so because she was thin. So-and-so is also just medium height and not as tall as my dd, which I pointed out to dd, but she was still upset by my mom's comment and felt like that meant she wasn't thin.


I think I need to help my dd not be so quick to take every comment like the above one as a jab, because I think it's just good practice to assume positive intent wherever possible. But I have had to talk with my mom, twice, about comments that she's made directly to my dd. On one occasion, she informed my dd that I used to be really thin, and didn't start gaining weight until I was older -- therefore dd was probably going to get heavy, too. I was very upset with my mom over this and made it clear that it was never to happen again.


Then on our next visit, while I was helping dd2 in the restroom, my mom told dd1 that if she was ever worried that she was gaining weight, she could just eat less. I think maybe my mom was somehow trying to make my dd feel better about her previous comment, but it really upset my dd. She told me about it after we left, and I called my mom later and told her that this had bothered dd and I really didn't want her saying things to her about her weight. It's been several months and it hasn't happened again.


On the one hand, I'd say that it's only necessary to confront Grandma if she's saying things directly to or about my children's weight -- but on the other hand, I can see how someone who's always going on about her own weight. and calling herself fat when she's really thin, can also indirectly hurt anyone who's larger than she is, who doesn't already feel good about his or her own weight. So I think I'd definitely avoid spending time with people who are weight obsessed for any reason. Of course, my own dd is rather weight obessed right now and I don't avoid spending time with her, but this thread has got me thinking that I really should introduce the idea to her that calling herself fat in front of others can end up hurting some people's feelings. For example, she has one friend who currently has a rather large belly, who could feel hurt by dd going on about her own much smaller belly.


This friend spent the night last weekend, and I discovered them lying on the floor of dd's bedroom, doing belly exercises with some of dd's weights on top of their bellies. I told them I didn't think this was a good idea and they might hurt themselves.

Susan -- married WAHMomma to two lovely girls (born 2000 and 2005), who started out unschooling and have now embarked on the public school adventure.
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