Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week… How do you handle it when your mother-in-law constantly criticizes and questions what you feed your kids? Have your own questions? Email [email protected]
Dear Scary Mommy,
My mother-in-law lives nearby, and she’s recently retired, so we see her a few times a week. My husband and I are currently working from home, so she comes over to “help” with the kids, who are 7 and 5. She’s always been overbearing but I’ve grown used to it and don’t take it personally. But that’s kinda starting to change, because now that we’re seeing more of her, she’s seeing more of our meal routines–which includes hurried meals, lots of snacks that come from boxes, quick AF lunches, juice boxes, etc. We cook balanced meals, too, but we’re also working full time and dealing with homeschooling; we don’t have time to play Ina Garten every day. She throws a fit over our lack of fresh produce, scolds me for not buying organic vegetables from Whole Foods, gives me side-eye over Capri Suns, and basically won’t shut up about it. Worth noting that she’s always “watching” what she eats and talks about that endlessly. What do I say? How can I get her to stop doing this? It’s annoying mostly, but I also don’t want my kids to have a weird complex about the food they eat.
She’s projecting her own food issues onto your family whether she realizes it or not. What does she “watch” her food do? Not go into her mouth? Grow cold while she agonizes about eating it? If so, that’s disordered eating and that’s her struggle, not yours. And it doesn’t need to be your kids’ struggle, either. People with disordered eating habits who, like most of us, have fallen victim to diet culture deserve empathy and grace. People who project those issues onto others via criticism, judgment disguised as “concern,” and bullying deserve to be put in their place about it.
The next time she side-eyes your Pacific Cooler-loving kids, you can say something as simple as “Helen, this is what they drink at lunch. They’re not bonging it, they’re enjoying a delicious drink with their meal. They drink plenty of water, but it’s not my job to justify that to you. You can let us all eat the way we eat or you can stay home during meal and snack times.”
I’m glad it seems like you don’t feel the need to police what your kids eat. Organic produce is expensive AF, and people who can afford to shop at places like Whole Foods regularly for an entire family are not getting into heaven any faster than those of us who do a half-assed Walmart pickup. There are no prizes for pesticide-free carrot-eating versus Juicy Juice and Teddy Grahams.
If she continues to be critical about food, especially in front of the kids, you and your husband need to figure out what an appropriate boundary looks like for your family and Grandma. You can’t allow her issues with food morality to get absorbed by your kids. You cannot control diet culture or how they’ll be exposed to it elsewhere in society, but you can control this.