A little background: My 2.5 year old daughter is still breastfeeding. I have a 9 month old as well, breastfed too. My in laws are very critical of my decision to tandem-feed our daughters and have been telling me since DD1 was 6 months old that I need to wean her.
My 2.5 year old is kind of picky with her eating and is made worse when made to feel pressure. We eat dinner every week at my in laws and every single dinner is a huge ordeal, her grandmother literally forcing her to eat and chastising her for not eating. She is not mean, per say. She more begs my daughter to eat and whines and makes a huge deal when she feels my daughter is not eating. Grandmother has also started making comparisons with my daughters, "See baby is eating very well. She loves vegetables..." And then she goes on about how beautiful the baby is and how she's growing and is plump and blah blah blah. . My mother-in-law has also made many comments about how the baby crawled earlier, walked earlier and she whispers that the baby is prettier/smarter... It makes me absolutely sick. I don't think my oldest daughter has heard the comments about prettier/smarter.... I worry she can sense it though and I'm getting very concerned about the open campaign my mother in law has at the dinner table to manipulate my oldest daughter into doing what she wants her to do.
Tonight I demanded that my husband say something to his mother when the comparison comments began. It was a very uncomfortable confrontation with his mother saying, "They are your children!" But still pretty much saying that she doesn't agree with what we are doing and she will do what she wants. He has in the past asked his parents to not make comparisons because we are worried about increased aggression from the toddler to the baby. Tonight my husband did speak up. But then it took me standing up too and it was very uncomfortable. From what I understand, it is not appropriate for a daughter in law to confront the mother-in-law. I just couldn't take another minute of it. I have had to deal with her constand disapproval on every single issue (vaccines, when to start foods, not having my daughter in pre-school yet...) Tonight, my mother in law said that competition is good and what am I going to do when they go to school. I didn't want to tell her that I'm seriously thinking of not sending them to school but that's another story. She's gonna flip out when she finds out I want to home school the girls.
I'm just really concerned about the competition my in-laws seem to be trying to encourage between my daughters and the fact that they think it is healthy to do this. I don't understand that way of thinking. I think competition between siblings is a difficult but natural fact of life and that we don't need to encourage more of it because we will have (already do have!) enough. I'm wondering what others would do if faced with this kind of situation. I do not leave my mother in law with both of my daughters alone. My oldest daughter goes to her house alone for a couple hours a week. I'm concerned about what grandmother is saying to my daughter when I'm not there. I'm also concerned because my mother in law may be taking care of both of my daughters if I return to work in the fall. It makes me almost sick to think of it because I feel I have to be there to protect them from what I consider to be foolish old fashioned manipulation tactics. I know my mother-in-law loves my daughters and I want her to have a relationship with them but this is becoming a serious issue and it is causing me problems with my husband and with the whole family of in laws. My father in law and my sister in law take the grandmother's side on everything and are constantly going against me on every issue... I just can't take it anymore. What would you do if you were in my situation? I do want to keep a good relationship with my mother-in-law. Cutting ties is not an option but the welfare and well-being of my daughters is at stake. I feel I must do something.
Thanks in advance for your advice.
I don't have a solution for you, unfortunately, but I just wanted to quickly lend my support. I can't identify entirely, because in my marriage, I'm the Chinese one! My in-laws (who are white) have a very different orientation toward childrearing than my own parents do. I can't speak specifically to the competition issue, since I've just got one baby so far.
I will say that my brother and I were raised with a lot of competitiveness, but thankfully, we're still close to each other, and in a way, my parents' attempts to make us compete just sort of backfired. I think we realized at an early age that we have very different gifts, so my brother wasn't going to try and be better at music and literature than I was, and I certainly wasn't going to try and outdo my brother at his business acumen and his scientific mind. This is not at all to minimize what your mother-in-law is doing with your children; I just wanted to offer my personal history on the subject. Maybe when they're old enough to understand, you can help them to know how ridiculous the very idea of them competing is. I mean, they're completely unique, completely individual girls. They each have their own interests and talents, and there's absolutely no reason for either one of them to see the other as competition. You and your husband do not have a limited amount of love to give; it's not like if one does really well at one thing, that's less love and praise you have to lavish on the other. Make sure they completely understand that it doesn't work that way at all. Maybe this is just something you can do on your end to mitigate whatever effects their grandmother is having on their relationship.
I totally commend you for taking what seems to be a very difficult stand in order to protect your children. You're doing the right thing. It sounds to me like your husband's buy-in is really key here. Make sure he really, truly understands how you feel about this. Try, of course, to be as nonconfrontational with him as you can, though; remember that even though he may see your point, he's still likely to have a visceral, unconscious, "you're talking about my mother" response. And I don't know if this applies, but keep in mind that perhaps it's a little harder for him to feel the same sense of being appalled/scared/outraged/what-have-you. I say this because it's possible that this sense of pressure and competition may have been "his normal" growing up. And you know how challenging it is to see outside of your own sense of what's acceptable and normal. And on top of that, if he was indeed raised this way, he may also be thinking that, well, he turned out fine, so is it really *so* harmful? In any event, I think that this case may need to be made by him. Perhaps if you get an authentic buy-in from your husband, he can help make some in-roads with his sister? I know that all my life, it was a lot easier to gain acceptance from my parents for choices I made that they disapproved of if I could get my brother's sympathy on it first. That way they could see the issue as more of a "Well, perhaps it's a generational thing and times are simply changing," as opposed to a "Our crazy daughter has her head screwed on backwards."
Also, when my parents say/do something I don't quite like with my son, I simply tell them. My husband would never be able to do it, a combination of my parents being less receptive and my husband being very nonconfrontational. But for me, I already have this relationship established with my parents. Especially being the oddball in my family for marrying the white guy and moving away from my hometown and being a liberal, etc., I have this long history of disagreement with my parents. So even though we love each other to death, I already have the context to challenge and stand up to my own parents.
Anyway, I'm sorry I can't offer something more helpful, but I do just want to offer encouragement.
Oh, also, you've probably already done this, but have you tried redirecting her comments into something positive? I don't know what, specifically, but maybe you could try something like... "Yes, the baby is a very good eater, but _________ is discerning about food. Maybe she'll be a great chef someday!" Or when your MIL goes on and on about how pretty/smart the baby is, you can interject, "Yes, I'm so lucky! I've got one pretty baby and one gorgeous girl! I've got a smart baby and a brilliant girl! Aren't you a lucky grandma?" I mean, what kind of grandma is going to respond, "no, no, the older one's not gorgeous or brilliant." Well, hopefully not their grandma.
Thank you so much Patecake! I really appreciate your messages! You gave me great insight into this issue and I appreciate your help more than words can express. You gave me GREAT support and great ideas! Thank you sooooooo much!!!!! What you wrote makes so much sense to me and I feel very much more informed now about all of this. My DH's family is not open and does not talk much about "important things". I am starting to understand this more and more and I will tread carefully. Again, many, many thanks to you for your very thoughtful and informative posts!
Oh, I'm really happy that you found what I wrote to be helpful. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for you! I certainly don't want to generalize my own experience to all Chinese families, but I can tell you that open communication and standing up to one's elders were *not* hallmarks of my own Chinese upbringing! So, if your husband's family is similar to mine, I can definitely understand why you're in such a tough spot. I genuinely hope that you and your husband can find a way to make this situation work in a way that is healthy for your little girls. Keep me posted!
My brother and sister in law (who are also Chinese) do this with their children. I don't have parents in law, as my husband's parents are both dead, but I see this as a pattern in his family (and probably lots of Chinese families), the comparison between children. My nephew is obviously the "star" of the family (meaning he's the one who made it to college, which is a huge accomplishment, he's actually the first one in the immediate family to ever do so) and he and his parents sort of lord his success over his younger sister, who is not nearly as academic, didn't get accepted to senior high school (over here high school is not compulsory and you must pass a test to get into it), is kind of wishy washy about her future, and is constantly picked at and criticized by the entire family for it, including my husband at times. While I have never said anything to my brother and sister in law directly, what I do try to do is praise my niece in their hearing, to point out how good she is with her little cousins, to sort of "have her back," so to speak.
I know with my brother and sister in law, and also from seeing this a lot with my students, that the competition thing is supposed to motivate the kids to be better rather than make them feel bad about themselves. It works a lot of the time too, because Chinese culture emphasizes competition very strongly. As a teacher in a Chinese classroom if I want to get the kids immediately involved in whatever it is we're doing all I have to do is make it a compeition. Likewise, when test scores come out my students generally don't care what score they made, they only care about their placement within the group -- who is on top and who is on bottom. So some of what your in-laws are doing is cultural, and they might not realize that it isn't particularly healthy, especially without the cultural context of being in competition mode pretty much all the time.
I doubt you can really get your in-laws to stop doing this, but hopefully you can counteract it. I like patecake's idea of turning MIL's competitive remarks around and making them into a positive. Maybe eventually she'll give up, or, as both of the girls develop their own personalities she'll realize how silly it is to compare them. Also remember that while it has got to be annoying to hear MIL say those sorts of things, you and your husband have a much greater influence and the messages you send to your daughters can counteract what MIL says. At some point when your daughters are older you can help her understand some of the cultural reasons why MIL says and does certain things so that she won't internalize it so much and will recognize it for what it is.
Local Dialect: Thanks so much for your thoughtful and insightful reply. It really helps to think of it culturally and not so personally. I just felt so mortified by it all. It is the exact opposite of the way my parents raised me. I have to remember that they don't know any differently and that they actually probably feel it is healthy... Another subject all together.
Things have gotten a bit better. The same situation came up again and I did take your advice, Patecake and turn the comparison into a positive. This has not come up again since that evening. I know it will be an ongoing struggle but I feel like I have a gentle little tactic to use now, when this issue does come up again.
Thanks to both of you for your thoughtful advice and encouragement.
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