Holding nothing back…

Request for help.

Posted on: November 3, 2008

I’ve tried and tried and tried to think of a way to put all of this delicately, and I can’t. I’m so upset about it that I’m not even sure I can put it together intelligently even. So I’m just throwing it out there and asking for you to understand that there will be a LOT of frustration talking in this post and that this is bringing up some of my own issues that I am still dealing with. Please bear with me.

TRIGGER WARNING: Talk of childhood obesity, possible emergent eating disorders, and forced calorie/food restrictions follow.  Please be sure you have your Sanity Watchers points saved up, and proceed with caution.

Ok. So. I have this friend with a 9-year-old daughter who doesn’t meet the societal standards of thin. Said child gets teased at school and at home because of her weight. And in the interest of full disclosure, the child *is* technically considered “obese” by all measures of childhood obesity. HOWEVER, I’ve seen the baby pictures, and the toddler pictures, and the preschool pictures, and so on. The child is just BUILT this way! She has been since birth. 

The thing that is driving me absolutely batshit crazy is that the child’s mother, my friend, is constantly riding the child’s butt about her weight! The child’s clothes are all too small, emphasizing that Mom refuses to accept the child’s body as it is, where it is, and dress her accordingly and appropriately. This shouldn’t surprise me too much, considering that Mom does the same to herself.

I understand that MUCH of this is societal conditioning. That the mom is brainwashed into thinking that smaller is better, even if the smaller clothing size comes at the expense of comfort AND appearance; and in the case of this mom and child, is enough too small that it makes them both look much bigger than they are, which in turn makes them both feel worse on multiple levels.

There *is* a family history of Type 2 diabetes, so I actually DO get some of the mom’s worry about the child’s weight since there is so much hype about the correllations between obesity and type 2 diabetes (and I cannot get it through this woman’s head that correllation does NOT equal causation). It also doesn’t help that their pediatrician feeds her a bunch of mumbo jumbo about childhood obesity, AND that the child’s school gives her crap about the child’s weight. I GET these things. 

However, I absolutely, positively do NOT get the way this woman is going about trying to get her daughter’s weight “under control.” The tactics she is using are pretty much *guaranteed* to give the child a complex. I can actually SEE the eating disorders forming! I mean LITERALLY see the emergent signs of eating disorders. Sometimes I want to bop this woman on the head with a 2×4 for what she is doing to her daughter’s mental health! Seriously, it is that bad. The tactics include:

  • Drastically limiting the child’s caloric intake.
  • Severely restricting the types of food the child is allowed to eat.
  • Forcing the child to participate in exercise activities, whether the child wants to or not (including, but not limited to joining sports teams)
  • Not allowing the child to eat or drink anything after a certain time of evening, with the only exception being if they are eating dinner late for one reason or another.
  • Absolutely, positively, under-no-circumstances allowing the child to get seconds at any meal, ever.

I have actually SEEN the child sneaking food because she knew her mother would not allow her to have more, and get punished for it when she got caught. I have actually SEEN the child eat herself sick (literally eat until she vomited) when her mother wasn’t around. I have actually SEEN the child get into trouble for accepting one piece of candy that was offered to her (by my daughter) because she had “already had her candy for the day” and she “knew better.”

Since Halloween, the mother took the child’s candy and hid it in Mom’s bedroom because the child, according to Mom, “would eat it all in one sitting” if Mom didn’t.  She doles it out one piece a day, and the child doesn’t even get to pick the piece she gets!  If the child protests AT ALL (“can I have the cherry tootsie-pop instead of the miniature Hershey’s??”) she doesn’t GET her piece of candy that day.

How do I approach Mom about this? How do I tell her that she is destroying her daughter’s self-esteem, and setting her up for a lifetime of disordered eating? How do I point out to her that her daughter is ALREADY, at 9-years-old, showing the emergent signs of eating disorders? How do I gently, and lovingly, and without losing an otherwise valued friend, tell her that she needs to BACK THE F OFF about her daughter’s weight?

I do not feel that I can, with a clear conscience, tell her that I refuse to discuss her daughter’s “weight problem” with her because I feel that what she is doing to her child amounts to physical and psychological abuse. I want to HELP her help her daughter, not tear the family apart, so any comments about reporting them WILL be deleted.

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5 Responses to "Request for help."

When I was 2, my great Aunt told me: Us Fat girls have to stick together. So yep, I’m “just built that way”.. all my life. However, my parents said not one word to me about it unless I brought it up.

I had horrible self-esteem simply from knowing I wasnt like the other kids.. on top of them reminding me daily. I’m damn lucky my parents did all they could to build positive self-esteem. All I’m saying is I’ve got the childhood through adult experience of “being a fatty”

Honestly, I’m not sure it’s wrong of a parent to dictate what ,when and how much a child eats. I also think it’s ok to put them in sports/exercise. (how many of us suffered through dreaded lessons of one type or another).

I think the big thing you are implying is the rules this parent is putting down Isn’t the norm for the whole family?? Or is delivered in such a way that this child KNOWS it’s a “punishment”. This is a real toughy.. How do you bring this up? Maybe ask the Mom… “are these rules for everyone in the family…?” “Wouldn’t it be healthier if EVERYONE had to abide by these good eating habits?”

Last but not least, there is a “kids” diet called “Red-Yellow-Green Diet” it’s all about eating right.. not dieting. (i’m having a hard time finding the link–anyone help me here??) Maybe suggest that to your friend so she feels she has more options with her child???

Good Luck.. Uhg.. what a mess

I have found people remarkably resistant to hearing this kind of thing, no matter how tactful or heartfelt the words. You don’t say anything about your childhood, but if you experienced anything similar, that might be a way in. The best success I’ve had is in describing the similar ways my parents treated me and the effects of that treatment.

The fact that I am very fat, I think, works almost better than anything else. The emotional scars I describe (which are great) serve as a warning for those friends, but my body is the solid proof that, however damaging, their methods are also ineffectual.

Aaaaarg. This is a very difficult situation. On one hand, a lot of parents get very offended if they feel someone is trying to tell them how to raise their children. On the other hand, you have seen with your own eyes that the mom’s way of going about the issue is actively making the situation worse.

It’s hard for me to speak objectively on this. My mom did all of the same things to me when i was growing up. Did it make me fat when i otherwise would have been thinner? I’ve no way of knowing – most of the women on that line of the family tree were fat, but as far as i’m aware, they all handled this situation the same way.

I know that when i was at my dad’s mom’s house, she always had a bowl of candy out. I was welcome to have some as long as i asked first. If i asked for more, instead of telling me no, my grandma would sit down with an apple or an orange and say that she’d like to share it with me, because if i wanted more candy then that must mean i was hungry. I always wanted to share with her, because we were very close, so the fruit always won out. As a result, i learned that an open bowl of candy at her house did not mean i had to eat it all right then and there.

If the subject of her daughter’s weight happens to come up when you two are alone together, you might want to consider asking her how she feels about how her daughter is doing with her (the mom’s) strategy. Does she feel it’s working? How does she feel about the whole thing? Has she considered any alternatives? I’ve found that in those situations, it’s best to try to ask questions that are as neutral as possible. You want to ask things without implying that there is a right or wrong answer. (Good example: “Do you think there might be another way to go about this?” Bad example: “Do you think you’re being a bitch?”)

If you make statements, try to avoid “you statements”, because they can often be interpreted as being judgmental. Instead, try to use “i statements” – “I wonder if there might be another strategy you could try.” or “I think that if i were her, i might be tempted to sneak food when i’m hungry.”

Yes, this is a situation that needs to be handled with utmost delicacy. I don’t envy your position at all. Best of luck to you.

Josie, I agree that parents should have some control over what, when, and how much their kids eat. My problems are that the child KNOWS she is being punished and that the way this mom is going about controlling what, when, and how much her daughter eats is SO controlling. There is NO room for deviation from Mom’s rules about what, when, and how much to eat even for special occassions like Halloween or Thanksgiving. The incident where the child got into trouble for eating a piece of candy that was offered to her by my daughter… My daughter (age 16) was babysitting the child and just before we left, Mom made a point of telling her child that my daughter was IN CHARGE. Then the child gets into trouble for eating a piece of candy that the person IN CHARGE (according to her mom even) told her it was OK to eat! So there are also conflicting messages. You are also right that the rules are somewhat different for the younger two (thin) children. Not a WHOLE lot different, but enough that it’s noticeable. More that the rules CHANGED for everyone because of the oldest childs weight, and the two younger kids feel like THEY are being punished also even though the rules are relaxed somewhat for them.

As far as the forced exercise goes, it’s not that they put the child in sports activities, it’s that they give the child NO choice AT ALL about what sports, when, how many, whether or not to stick with sports she doesn’t like, etc. Maybe she would prefer dance or gymnastics or Karate to soccer or softball or basketball, but Mom doesn’t even bother to ask. Add into that the fact that the younger two kids aren’t forced to participate in any sports (the younger daughter isn’t in ANY and the son is only in football because he BEGGED to be), and there is definite inequity.

I also get that once you’ve committed to a team, you are in for the season. If you don’t like the sport, we just won’t do it again next year. There *are* lessons to learn in sticking out a committment even though you don’t want to, and by not dropping out at the first whim, you sometimes fall in love with the sport once you’ve gotten in enough practice to have a clue what you are doing. *grin* When my kids wanted to do Karate, one of the rules I placed was that they had to stick with it until they got their orange belts. The reason for this rule was that it was sufficient time for them to truly decide whether or not they really liked it AND because the orange belt is when they start sparring in the style of Karate my kids were taking, and that’s when you start to see the results of all that practice you’ve been doing. At yellow belt, they were seriously considering dropping out once they reached orange. At orange, they fell in love all over again.

And believe me, I understand the basic thought of “I have made a FINANCIAL investment in this and you are going to see it through!” because we don’t have money to throw away any more than the majority of people out there do.

Really, my issues here are that the LEVEL of control is excessive, with no room for deviation and the inequity in how that control is applied to this child v the other two children. Remember the story about Mom doling out candy one piece a day and the child isn’t even allowed to choose WHAT her one piece of candy for today will be? That’s excessive control. I could get (not GET, but at least get) “You get once piece of candy today, make your choice,” but “You can hae THIS piece of candy that *I* chose for you, or NO candy at all.” Why can’t the child choose whether she wants a cherry jolly rancher or a snack size Hershey’s? If I’m only getting ONCE piece of candy today, I would sure as HECK want it to be a piece *I* chose, not what someone else chose for me. Maybe I’m in the mood for chocolate, but you’re trying to give me taffy. Or maybe I’m in the mood for a hard, fruity-flavored candy, but you’re trying to give me chocolate.

The ISSUE (what it all boils down to for me) is that this child is given absolutely NO control over her own body. She doesn’t get to decide whether or not she is still hungry. She doesn’t get to choose WHAT her one treat for the day will be. She doesn’t get to choose what, if any, exercise activities she will participate in. Nothing, zip, nada. Not even a “this” or “that” choice! And I am seeing her begin to take control where she can by subterfuge and lying. I mean, when a child is SNEAKING FOOD and HIDING IT, and LYING ABOUT IT, that tells me something. She didn’t do these things before her mother started the strict eating and exercise rules. THAT tells me something. I am seeing the beginning signs of an eating disorder, as well as outright rebellion against the level of control her mother exerts over her, and I want to save them BOTH pain and heartache if I can.

I’m not sure I have any useful suggestions as to what would help. I’m a pretty blunt individual, so I would probably tell the woman everything you wrote. But I can empathize with you; it’s not the same situation (yet, and god willing), but I have a size 14 friend with a 3 year old, and my friend is always going on about how she needs to lose weight because she doesn’t want her daughter growing up “thinking it’s okay to be fat”. My size 22 self took umbrage at that. 🙂

Maybe if you can find some websites and statistics about eating disorders incidence and correlations to show your friend, she might start to realize what she’s doing?

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