This blog post was inspired by a friend of mine who I adore. She is a great mother and overall human being. She cares deeply for her children and family and presented this question to me as she figured I would relate. The question was something along the lines of….
How do I deal with my in-lawns continuing to feed my child shit food despite requests for them to not do this?
There is actually a lot to unpack here. Inspiration for this blog post was born!
It’s not about the food
I’m going to shoot right to the core of the issues here. We can come back to the food part later if it makes sense to do so. What you’re really feeling is disrespected. You’ve put a lot of time and energy into growing a little human and doing what you think is best for them. You know that junk food is bad and you don’t want them to have too much of it and it can feel VERY scary for this to be outside of your control when they are being cared for by a family member.
I always tell my clients that when engaging in a conversation around whatever issue, is to get to the heart of the matter. So in this case…. it isn’t about the food. It’s more uncomfortable. It is a conversation about WHO calls the shots and what everyone’s role is here. You are feeling like your role is being stomped on and in a weird place because maybe this caregiver is “helping you out” or “doing you a favor.” And you feel reliant on them.
So this is likely bring up a lot for you. It might be important to set boundaries, engage in consequences and so forth… but here are a few things to consider first.
The caretaker is wanting to be seen as “special”
I’m sure you likely know deep down the reason why your parent or in-law or whoever this is, continues to feed your child shit food and even try to keep it a secret from you, likely isn’t because they are an evil villain (I mean maybe they are but I’m going to go with the statistical norm here and say that they aren’t.) This person wants your child to like them and they’re so fucking insecure in themselves they literally feel like they need to buy your child’s love with donuts. They also just simply don’t know how else to bond with your child.
This is a THEM issue. They likely aren’t trying to blatantly disrespect you, instead they are a bit too concerned with pleasing their grandchild and wanting to feel loved by them that they do what they think will gain that love. Also keep in mind, they are doing this unconsciously. How were they loved? What made them feel special? What is their relationship like with food? If it’s material posessions, then they constantly show up with toys… whatever it is… it is about THEM. It is about wanting to feel special/loved. Again, they also do not have knowledge of how else to show love other than the ways that they already know. Which comes from how they were loved and the beliefs of society at large.
Give Specific Recommendations
It’s really helpful to give specific recommendations. For some reason we often shy away from this. If the caregiver wants to bond with your child, it might be helpful to educate them that it is more about consistency with a desired thing, than the thing itself. There can be a cross over of something that is both desired and healthy. If the caretaker is with your child one day a week and they take them out for ice cream every time, suggest another SPECIFIC thing for them to do weekly that the child will enjoy. Again, it’s about consistency, reliability and memory making here. That is what will create that special, loving bond that the child will remember.
They could go for a walk and can give the child some fruit to eat along the way.
They could go to the park and play “I-Spy.”
They could go to the museum and explore
There are obviously a million things for them to do, but if they want that special “grandparent”
thing, then it’s really about consistency that will develop this feeling with the child. Just how our children learn to trust us when we are there for them consistently, the same thing can happen at the grandparent level.
Don’t be afraid to say, “I understand you want something really special and consistent to do with your grandchild so they can look back on fond memories with you. I came up with a list of ideas that do not center around sugar or material possessions. If you come up with any other ideas let me know. It’s important to me that we agree upon the shared activity. I appreciate your help and I want you two to have a wonderful relationship.”
That statement overlaps a bit with my next point.
Validate their wants/needs/desires
I’ve already eluded to this above, but I want to reiterate it… Validate and name what the caregiver is wanting. “I know you want a special bond with my child and I want that for you too.” “My child just adores spending time with you.” “My child really likes it when you _____” (share something your child enjoys about the caregiver that doesn’t have to do with sugar or gifting or some other maladaptive behavior). The caregiver feels a bit out of control, because you, as the parent, ARE in control, not them. By seeing and naming what is important to them, they will feel safer with you being in control and may be more inclined to follow through with your requests as a result.
Consider your own control issues
I saved this for last.. the fun part. A lot of parenting and life in general is giving up control. Parenting is just one form that really get pushes and tests you among the many other things in life that can push and test you. Such as illness, job changes, other relationships, etc. If the caregiver is taking your child for one donut once a week… and you’re really up in arms about it… What is this about for YOU? Yes you may be feeling disrespected as you said “no donuts,” but why is it such a BIG deal? What is getting triggered within you? Why do you feel like you really have THAT much control of how your child turns out in life? You are a piece of the pie, but only a piece.
I’d consider exploring your own issues with control, with not being seen/heard, and looking at your own needs that may not be getting met right now (of course they’re not getting met – you’re super focused on your parenting!). Working on finding some balance and working on YOURSELF would be a number one recommendation in my book. Even if you do validate, make specific recommendations, and define roles clearly. Because working on yourself never ends, and these issues will continue to resurface in your life until you’ve sorted it out for yourself.
If you’re wanting to dive more into this self-work to learn about letting go, feeling more inner peace and ease, and having less anger, my coaching offerings might be a good fit for you. Feel free to reach out on my contact page to inquire more or schedule a free consultation.