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Let Grammas feed your kids however they want?

Posted by on Aug 4, 2011 in Blog Posts | 5 comments

Hi! I’m glad to b back from vacation.  I missed you! A post about food and Gramma’s struck my attention-while I was staying with-you guessed it-  M’s Grandmother. The author wants parents to “leave the relatives alone when it comes to feeding your children.” I thought this post was interesting, sweet, but pretty clueless in terms of what happens in many homes.

She fondly remembers her days with her idyllic-Gramma, who likely doled out cookies and milk, warm hugs and hard candies. It’s sweet that she wants other children to have that experience, free from hyper-involvement from parents, or worry about sugar grams and veggies, but the reality is that many grandparents and relatives can be counterproductive with feeding and even downright abusive. In my opinion, parents need to protect their children in those cases.

I’m not talking about freaking out if there are extra desserts- M actually had one day on vacation where she ate ice-cream three times. I agree with the author that for the occasional visit, a more lax structure, and less balance or more sweets is fine.

But, here are a few examples where I do think we need to draw the line…

• if your parents/relatives force your child to eat or try foods
• if they make your child eat something to the point of tears or vomiting (certainly if they make the child eat the ‘gagged-up’ foods)
• if they are yelling or angry around meals about who is eating what or how much.
• if they are trying to get your child to lose weight and feed/talk about food or their bodies in harmful ways
• if they are trying to get your kid to gain weight by pushing, forcing food
• if you are trying hard to establish the Division of Responsibility with feeding and have extended visits, it is reasonable to ask relatives to try their best with it. In our early years with DOR, I often reminded my parents (as we had done some mild “portion control” in her early months…) to be sure to let M decide when she was done eating. “Even if she seems to eat a ton or nothing, I don’t care what you feed her, just let her eat until she is done.”

If your own memories of eating at home were traumatic, that’s a pretty good clue you should not leave the relatives to do whatever they want. If you were weighed daily, were taunted or dieted etc…

Ideally, before you leave your kids with relatives, eat a few meals together. Observe, listen. Let the small stuff slide (see my second linked post below) but protect your kids- not from cookies or calories, but from comments (“look at your tummy, you’ve obviously had enough,” “you have to eat all your food before you can watch TV, you’re too skinny”)  and pressure with feeding.

Here is my post on how to talk to family about your child’s eating if their interference is not benign.

Here’s another with some more examples and phrases you can try.

What do you think?

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  1. Twistie

    This. So much this.

    As with everyone else in life (bosses, landlords, teachers, religious leaders, politicians, neighbors, bank tellers, etc.) grandparents come in all flavors: awesome, horrific, generous, neurotic, quick on the pickup, clueless, funny, frightening, and so on down the line. One idea based on a Platonic Ideal that many people just don’t have in their lives isn’t going to work.

    There are a couple people in my life whom I adore and love to spend time with, but really hate to eat with because mealtimes with them are filled brimful of the body shame and diet talk I do so much to avoid in general. They know I’m a fat acceptance activist. They see me wear my scarlet Fat necklace everywhere. They’ve even read some of my posts over at Manolo for the Big Girl (shameless plug!) on FA and the futility of dieting. And yet they rattle off lists of foods they dare not eat because they are ‘bad’ and ask me to give them permission to eat something they really want, and sometimes make comments about what I’ve chosen for my meal, inform me that it’s alright for me to eat something because they made it with all low-cal/low-fat ingredients… and there are grandparents who are just like that.

    All they want is the welfare and happiness of their grandchild, and they’ve heard what you have to say about how you’re dealing with feeding your child, but they cannot let go of their preconceived notions of what should happen at the table. They are absolutely sincere in wanting to be helpful, but they simply cannot comprehend what you’re telling them so it doesn’t even register in their brains.

    And then there are the grandparents who do hear you, but feel no obligation to follow your rules. Again, they may be absolutely sincere in wanting the best for your child, but they ‘know’ that restricting or forcing or reminding the kids about the poor starving children in (fill in the blank with currently fashionable country with high child starvation rate) so they won’t waste food.

    Beyond that are the ones who are actively abusive, who don’t care about the welfare of the child, but only about power and control. I knew a couple kids who were raised by monsters like that. If they have children now, guess what? The grandparents should NEVER be left alone around a table with those kids. Or, you know, much of anywhere else.

    So no. You can’t assume there will be no problem until you’ve not only explained your food philosophy as it pertains to raising your child with the grandparents, but ALSO witnessed how they interpret what you said.

    As you say, a bit of relaxation (extra desserts, food on a little different schedule, etc.) is no problem. But there are so many other possibilities that you just can’t assume your message got through clearly until you see.

  2. Nicole

    First of all, I’d like to say that your blog has changed my life! My anxiety has been greatly reduced ever since I met you in the school parking lot. I’ve shared the DOR with many friends since then and they have also seen dramatic results in their lives as the dinner table becomes a place to connect rather than a place to battle. Thank you for your work!!
    I now watch my child (occasionally) dish up scoop after scoop of rice and it does not stress me out in the least. I know that she’s listening to her body and getting what she needs. I served hearts of palm with a salad the other night and (because I said nothing other than naming it) she put one on her plate and tried it. I feel so good about feeding her now.

    So here’s my question. My husband and daughter are going alone to visit my in-laws for four days. I have historically been a bit of a freak about food and my mother-in-law senses this. I have probably come across as pretty judgemental about all the processed and unhealthy foods that they eat. Here is the email I just got from her. She says:

    “Will you write up some instructions for the snacks and food that Helen likes so we keep her on a good schedule? I will remember to take snacks and a water bottle, etc. when we go places to do fun things. Also let us know of anything specific that she shouldn’t be eating and we will definitely keep sweets to a minimum while we are out at different places.”

    What would you recommend telling her without overwhelming her with too much information? I have so much to say, but I want to keep it simple. I know I’m dealing with a dreamy situation, but I feel like I want to take the right step and not screw it up.


    • katja

      Lucky!! If it’s a short visit, you might want to let her have some fun… How about this?
      “MIL, thank you so much for asking. It’s great that you asked because we are so enjoying our meals and snacks these days. Susie is trying new foods, and we are trying a few new things ourselves! I really appreciate that you are planning snacks and water when you’re on the go. We find she is so much happier when she eats every 3-4 hours, a little something with fat, protein and carbs. A few ideas would be cheese and crackers with an apple, or ice-cream with berries. She doesn’ like *insert here* (for us it’s peanut butter) but other than that, if she has a few things on the table she can pick and chose from, she’ll be fine. She really loves your spaghetti, and if you’re not sure she likes what you serve, she will eat bread and butter, and steamed frozen corn is a favorite side dish. I so appreciate you asking. i think the most important thing is we don’t pressure her to eat more or less than she wants, and we don’t force her to try new foods. Some meals and snacks she eats a lot, and we let her, and at other times she hardly eats anything. It all evens out. We find that just being good company seems to be helping her learn to like new foods. The main thing is you all enjoy your visit, so I hope you will feel free to include a treat now and then WITH her meals and snacks…” Is that the kind of thing you are looking for?

      • Nicole

        This is perfect!!
        Thank you so much for your prompt reply. I really appreciate your suggestions!

    • katja

      Also, thanks SO much for your kind words. I am always beyond thrilled to know that what I do makes a difference!


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