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Family Interference this Holiday Season

Posted by on Nov 22, 2010 in Blog Posts | 8 comments

Holidays can be hard, especially around parenting, feeding, weight etc. Here are some random tips for handling the Holidays.

So let’s say…

  • Timmy is a selective eater…
  • You have hated cranberry sauce since your folks forced you to eat it as a child…
  • Marie is heading into puberty and has put on a little weight in preparation…
  • Bobbie is smaller than cousin Cort who was born six months after him…
  • Susie has been in speech and feeding therapy for a year and the family wants to see “progress”…

All will be fodder for the Thanksgiving and Holiday tables. Your feeding (thus parenting) may feel in question.

  • “What are you feeding him!?”
  • “Just make her eat it, she won’t let herself starve.”
  • “Don’t you think she’s had enough gravy?”
  • “Here Lori, have some more beans if you’re still hungry!”

Gramma Eve raised six kids and they’re all “fine,” so she is of course a feeding expert, Uncle Sam just lost 30 pounds at his work’s Biggest Loser contest, Betty actually force-fed your three-year-old mashed potatoes last year (then he threw up) because she is convinced he’d “like potatoes if he just tried them!”

What to do? Other than boycott Thanksgiving (which is an option), here are a few thoughts. Your family will intrude, will say or do the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish with feeding, eating or body-image.

One phrase I have found particularly useful with family is, “Please follow my lead.” They don’t have to understand, agree with or actively partake in your feeding philosophies, but you can ask them, “follow my lead.” If you have a pattern of meddling family trying to get your child to eat more, less, try foods, pressure, shame, or bully, step in with a polite but firm, “Mom, please follow my lead with this.” Try not to explain or draw more attention, or argue the issue in the moment of the meal.

Hopefully beforehand you will find a moment to talk with your family and prepare them for this. “Mom, we are trying something with Susie and her eating. She is expected to be polite and participate, but we are allowing her to chose what foods and how much she will eat from what is on the table. Please don’t ask her to eat more or make a fuss over her eating. That means, don’t ask her to eat more, and also, don’t make a fuss or praise if she does eat something new. I know it’s not how you would handle it, but I hope you can just follow our lead.” (Use those words in your preparatory explanation.) Then a brief reminder when they slip up should be enough.

They will slip up and that’s not the end of the world. With repeated reminders, hopefully they will back off. Remember too, what happens the other 300-some days of the year matter most.  Even my parents after years of hearing me go on about feeding etc. still on occasion fall into habits I don’t like. With my catch phrase, they know to back off.

What to do when the talk turns to calories, fat, dieting etc. when little impressionable ears are listening? I liked this post from Weightless Blog on having a fat-talk free Thanksgiving. I particularly liked this practical line:
“I’d rather not focus on weight and food, but I’d love to hear about ___________________(fill in the blank with whatever is of interest to you).  Your goal is to refocus the conversation in a way that will allow you to connect with those around you.
or, “Hey, let’s talk about your trip to family camp this summer, we’re thinking about going next year!”

Also, I make it a point NEVER to comment on someone’s weight. (In my pre-enlightened days, I would comment if someone had lost weight. I have been clued-in and had some colleagues and friends share some difficult stories about the Holidays and eating disorders. You never know if someone is losing weight by dieting, over-exercising, binging, purging, severe restriction, or as the result of a serious illness.) Even if you don’t talk weight, a “You look great!” to a recovering anorexic or bulimic can be a terrible trigger. It can be interpreted so many ways, many of which can set folks back. “You look great,” might be interpreted as ,”You look fat.”  Commenting about someone’s appearance is automatic for many, as it was for me, that it took me awhile to come up with something else.

Skip the looks, the clothes, the weight. How about a sincere, “I am so glad to see you!” or “I missed your smile!” and “tell me about school! or New York City…”

What do you think? Have you found a way to handle the mine-fields?

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  1. Ines Anchondo

    This is great, Katja. Now, I need to find a suitable translation into Spanish (I think I have it).

    With my family I have started to be more authoritative. I tell them ‘I admit I don’t know about many things but about Weight and Nutrition I do know a lot about.’ Then, I dispel the myth of the moment and change the topic because we know we are never going to agree and that is that.

  2. Becky Henry

    THANK YOU!!! Katja, this is wonderful! Oh how glad I am to have this phrase to share with the families of those with eating disorders. This is THE most challenging holiday for most families impacted by these illnesses. To have the permission to say this statement, “Please follow my lead.” to their extended family is a gift! I love the suggestion to speak with them ahead of time too. Especially about the body comments. Great suggestions.

  3. Emgee

    Thanks for this. After last Thanksgiving, I felt really good that my family had not said anything at dinner about eating or weight. Then I stopped to recall that my mother had asked my 11-year-old son what he weighed. When he said 130, grandma said, “Gee, I don’t even weigh THAT much!” Now, my mom is 5’2″ and about 125 pounds, and my son was then a healthy 11-year-old boy on the verge of puberty, who was already taller than grandma, and is now about 5’9″. I thought, “Dang, she did it again, and I didn’t even notice.” I talked to my son about it and he said he barely noticed it and it didn’t bother him. It bothered me, because of how restricted my eating was growing up, and now I’m fat. I hope to be more aware this year, and hopefully the subject won’t come up. hope, hope…

    • katja

      great point though about how your son wasn’t bothered. I think it’s good to check in, but as I said in a recent reply to a comment, sometimes we assume our injuries will be our children’s and sometimes they don’t even notice what is a big deal to us because of our own past experiences. Maybe it is though, so it’s good that you got his input and checked in with him. if it’s not a big deal, maybe let it go… He’s smart. he realized that he was taller than her already. You are doing a great job, and that’s what really matters. Dang those parents though, eh?

      • Emgee

        I just had to write to tell you “the rest of the story”! There were 8 of us for dinner at my parents’ house, including my 22-year-old son and his 21-year-old girlfriend. Mom sat next to poor Girlfriend (who is probably normal weight, if not thinner), and announced to the table that Girlfriend didn’t have anything green on her plate, and told her she needed to add more nutrition to her diet. Triggering my past issues, of course, I responded, “It’s Thanksgiving, we all get to eat what we want.” Which seemed to resolve the issue. I suppose it proves mom is an equal-opportunity haranguer, and just fyi, she is also one of those “food-as-medicine” enthusiasts. Now on to Christmas family dinner at my house! Happy Holidays! 🙂

        • katja

          I love that you jumped in. Good for you! In my pre-elnlightened days, my mom once asked my hubby if he wanted some grapefruit at breakfast. He said “no thank you” and she replied in her, “What! I’m just joking” kind of way,”What, too healthy for you?” They are definitely “healthy” food junkies, and find anyone who doesn’t eat that way to have a moral flaw. The fact that Hubby is not rail thin as is my father is part of it. Ugh. At least now, I know better and would stand up for my loved-ones to this culinary bullying. Now though, whenever we don’t want to eat something, we say, “What, THFY?” We won’t actually say the words since we don’t want to confuse M if she’s around!


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