Too many cooks, too many parents

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I’m actually enjoying my visit with my in-laws this time.  They are wonderful hosts, life is pretty laid back, and there have been some really good times.  It’s so nice to have people around to help keep the kids entertained.  I’m actually reading (gasp, shock) a book!  Oh, it’s a stupid beach book, but still.

Given that preface, I’m a little sore over some of the back-seat parenting that’s been going on.  Par for the course with in-laws, of course, but a little venting never hurt anyone.  Too badly.  

The family my mother-in-law married into (this is her second marriage, so neither Bill nor I knows these people particularly well, and we’re not theirs) has a long tradition of military service.  Perhaps for that reason they have a much different idea of discipline, in general and with children, than I have.  At my best, I try to take the long view, that I’m giving my kids the information and tools they need to get on well in the world.  I am proudest of myself as a parent when I’m not trying to make the kids knuckle under about every little thing but am helping and coaching them to learn appropriate behavior.  I don’t punish my kids, I don’t browbeat them, I don’t use emotional manipulation.  (At least, I don’t do those things when I’m at my best.)

Anyway, my father-in-law’s 92-year-old mother is staying here right now.  She is a lovely woman, and I’m very fond of her.  However, for some reason, she’s been really harping on Akiva about his eating. I don’t even know why this bee is in her bonnet.  He has a healthy diet, for the most part.  He likes a variety of foods, eats with enthusiasm, and takes his plate into the kitchen when he’s done.  However, he doesn’t finish everything on his plate; I don’t believe in forcing children to eat more than they want.  I give him a lot of autonomy, and although he often leaves too much over, it’s more because he serves himself too much and doesn’t gauge well how much he wants than because he’s not eating well.  Meanwhile, Gideon pretty much eats everything we put in front of him, but because he tends to be messy, we only put a small amount in front of him at any given time.  So it looks like he’s a card-carrying member of the clean plate club (albeit with a very dirty face and chest!) when actually it’s because his parents are doing portion control.

Anyway for some reason, Nana thinks that Akiva needs discipline that we’re not providing, as regards food.  She says things to him like, “That’s a mighty fine looking sandwich there,” and “Aren’t you going to eat your dinner?” when he’s not eating (fast) enough for her liking.  Any one of these comments would be easy enough to swallow (ha ha) but a steady diet of them (ha ha ha) is starting to make me sick (ha ha ha ha).  Tonight she laid out a tactic that almost made me speak up in disrespect of my elders.  While I was away from the table working on the dishes, she said to Gideon, “You’re going to grow up to be big and strong because you are such a good eater.”  

Akiva, affronted, said, “I’m a good eater too,” but she just kept on with the “Gideon eats all his dinner and isn’t he so wonderful and remarkable and he’s going to grow up to be an athlete” and on and on and on…

I don’t see what’s to be gained by bullying someone into eating, and I really don’t see what’s to be gained by framing dinner as a competition.  I would prefer to see each kid eat how much his body needs than to see each one eat too much, so as to have eaten more than the other. 

I’m groused by this and at the same time, I feel like I just have to suck it up and deal.  She’s only with us one week a year.  She adores the kids as if they were her own.  She is a kind and interesting and funny and gracious lady.  She’s 92, for pete’s sake!  I think it’s developmental that she’s not going to change her discipline approach no matter what arguments I make.  If I speak up it would have to be with the same graciousness she (usually) demonstrates, and let’s face it, graciousness is not my forte.  The best I can hope to do is to change the topic every time she lays into Akiva.  (Wish me luck.)

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4 thoughts on “Too many cooks, too many parents

  1. well, being 92 is not an excuse for being disrespectful of both parent and child. she should have enough experience under her belt by this point to know better. and honestly, old dogs can learn new tricks. If you can find a respectful way to ask her to stop, I don’t think it’s unreasonable!

  2. My mother is the queen of telling my kids to do things in ways I don’t agree with (and sometimes sadly do myself). I have told my girls that I have asked Nanny not to talk to them that way, but that is how she learned to parent, and that her intentions are not malicious necessarily – she loves them. They have learned to just let it roll off.

  3. Grumpy strikes again. Sorry about that.

    I really like your philosophy about letting the kids figure out their own eating, and when they’ve had enough. I can still hear my dad telling me to clean my plate. Ugh.

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