Unhappy Birthday

Are you ready for the latest installment of the "You-Suck-as-a-Mother Chronicles," currently being written by almost every single member of my family?

(As a refresher, you might want to quickly scan my most recent post on this topic, in which I blew up at my aunt for three+ years of undermining me and my parenting decisions.)

My mother's 60th birthday party was on Saturday. The party was held at my grandma's. When my mom comes into town, she stays with Undermining Aunt, because I don't yet have a pull-out sofa for her to sleep on.

On Saturday morning she arrived early, so I could go for a run before we picked up my sister at the airport. When I got back home, I gave the kids baths. My mom was downstairs getting the twins ready. I was bathing Isabella, when we had the following conversation.

"Grammie gave me a really yummy treat while you were gone."

"That's nice, honey. What was it?"

"It was these little balls. They were all different colors-red, green, blue. They tasted like chocolate. I think it was cereal."


I was livid. Because despite the fact that my family has known for the past 3.5 years about the food choices I make for Isabella (and now for the twins), they continue to give me a great, big, giant F-You at every opportunity, by giving Isabella and sometimes L&N things behind my back of which I do not approve.

As many of you who read here regularly know, I feed my kids mainly organic foods. We don't do dessert except for special occasions. We limit food dyes as much as possible, we choose real over processed. We do very little traditionally defined "kids food." They drink milk and water as beverages 99% of the time. None of this is ambiguous. None of this is a secret.

My family knows this and they don't care, choosing instead to sneak Isabella sweets and other crap food behind my back because they feel I am "denying my children their childhoods" by trying to do something crazy like keep their bodies healthy and their teeth from falling out.

I went downstairs and began to prepare a snack for the babies. I calmly asked my mom if she had given Isabella a snack while I was running. She said no. I then said, "Really?" and she said, "Oh, I gave her a rice cake." I said, "Is that all?" She said yes.

Then I told her about the mysterious and colorful "cereal" that Isabella had mentioned in the bathtub.

"Oh, that was from (Undermining Aunt). It's organic! And gluten-free! (She clearly thought using these buzz words would garner my approval). I don't know what it is, but it was a free sample she got in the mail."

And I asked her why she had lied and said she didn't give her anything, and why she then gave her this Fruity Pebbles-sounding snack that apparently even she couldn't identify without telling me, and then lying to cover it up.

Big exasperated and angry sigh from mamacita. "Because I knew you wouldn't approve."

Then why the HELL would you do it?

I didn't say this to her, however. Instead, I very calmly and firmly told her to please stop giving Isabella foods of which she knows I will not approve. To please stop sneaking her "forbidden" foods behind my back. To stop undermining my role as a mother.

She got angry. Told me that we needed to have this conversation later. Said that is was over and done and that she wouldn't do it again. She did not want to talk about it. But she was clearly pissed at me for catching her in a lie, and for denying her what she believes is her god-given right to do with her grandchildren as she sees fit without regard for the way their parents are choosing to raise them.

Two hours later, I was putting the kids down for their naps. My mom put Luci in for her nap. I put Nico down for his. I went into Isabella's room and tucked her in and came downstairs. I heard my mom go into Isabella's room after closing Luci's door. Several minutes later, after my mom had come back downstairs, Isabella was calling me, something she does often during "naptime" to request water, a bathroom trip, or to get out of her room. I went up, opened her door, and saw her sitting up in bed eating something. I asked what she had, and she said that my mom had brought her crackers to eat, again, brought over from Undermining Aunt's house.

It had happened again, not two hours later, after she had told me she would stop sneaking Isabella food.

And this time, I was done. I had had it.

I went downstairs and we had it out. I asked her why she chose to again slip Isabella food behind my back (she had no real answer). I told her that she was sending horribly damaging messages to Isabella that it's okay to hide things from her parents and that she doesn't need to follow her parents' rules. That it's okay to disrespect her parents' authority because another adult, and one that she loves very much, says it's okay. That she was undermining everything about the way I'm raising Isabella to try and make good nutritional choices. This wasn't about the crackers. This was about her flagrantly lying to me not even two hours after she told me she wouldn't do it again.

She told me I was "damaging my kids" by restricting their foods. That "she is their grandmother" and has rights too. And that I should just send her an email instead of discussing this with her in person. She was pissed at me for having been caught again. I told her that trying to hide things from me was pointless, because Isabella always tells me everything anyway.

I finished by telling her the same things I've been telling her for almost four years now. She doesn't have to like my decisions. Doesn't even have to respect them. But she does have to abide by them and not undermine them.

And then she left. And when the kids woke up, I packed them up and went to my grandma's house for my mom's party.

Um, happy birthday?

There is a small part of me that just wants to give this up when my kids are around their relatives. To just let my family do whatever they want with my kids, feed them piles of crap food, sneak them treats every time they visit. My family has done a lot for me and for the kids, and they absolutely adore them (perhaps a little too much).

And yet I can't, because acquiescing is not in my blood. It's not how I'm wired. I don't compromise my beliefs. I hold these beliefs, after all, for a very good reason. And what good is having standards and principles if you compromise them when challenged?

But I am at a complete loss here. Nothing I seem to say or do to hammer home the point that the undermining must end seems to work. My grandma, Undermining Aunt, and my mom have this incredible sense of entitlement where my children are concerned. In their eyes, I am doing a horrible job raising them (this, mind you, they infer in practically the same breath with which they tell what a special, well-mannered, sensitive, and intelligent daughter I have..,which clearly has nothing at all to do with me) and believe it is up to them to "save" my children from a life of deprivation.

Any and all suggestions are appreciated because seriously, I am up against it here, and much as I love them for the close relationship we all have, I am about one more incident away from packing up my kids and the hubs and moving out of driving distance.

Of course, the weekend's happenings were not without humor. Undermining Aunt has been chomping at the bit to have me drop off Isabella at her house for the day. (As if.) This topic comes up time and time again, and now my mom is even in on the crusade, bringing it up this weekend, and then asking me, "Do you have any concerns about this?" (quite obviously in response to the fact that I haven't taken Isabella over to Undermining Aunt's house yet). Not wanting to get into it, I said no.

But of course, it will be a cold day in hell before this happens.

Because in addition to being a complainer, I am also a giver, I will leave you with this recommendation for a blog you should be reading.

Check out Spoonfed, which is written by my new friend, Chris. If you're at all interested in helping your kids to make smart choices about food, damaging them beyond measure, or denying them their childhoods by reserving sweets for special occasions (as I am), I think you'll like it.

16 Responses to “Unhappy Birthday”

  1. # Blogger Jesser

    I *really* feel for you. I can't imagine how hard this must be. We aren't super strict with the food the kids eat, but we just try to be very sensible with how much of the junk they consume. Juice just 1x/day (usually at her sitter's because it's easier). Dessert only on occasion. Etc. But we do have more lax rules when it comes to spending time with the grandparents. It's easier that way and Tabby knows darn good and well that the rules are SLIGHTLY different while at Grammy's. But my parents defer to me automatically on all big issues and certainly while at my house. It sounds like your family is a bit more ... difficult. I really don't know what to advise. I'm very torn between pick your battles and stand up for your rights as a parent. I think I opt for the latter ... it's more than just rules. It's undermining your authority and it's wrong and disrespectful. Will they just let her go out with any guy you disapprove of and they approve of behind your back when she gets older? Buy her alcohol because you're being "lame" and they can't refuse her batting her eyelashes? You might have to make some very serious threats and follow through on them until they get the picture. It would be easier if they didn't give you your much needed breaks. :( I'm so sorry. This is not much help!  

  2. # Blogger Mom24

    Okay, my 2 cents. This isn't about the food. This is about control and you MUST win.

    For me, I think I would say you can't see my kids until you can obey/respect my rules. That may not work for you. In that case, I think you have to let it go. They're not going to do what you want without very strong convincing. Maybe it's just truly not worth it. I would never allow things to continue the way it is. Your mom is right around the corner from having secrets from Mommy, and that's absolutely not acceptable.

    Good luck.

    I would never put Jason & Lori in this position, I would never allow my parents to put me in it. I'm sorry your family is so immature.  

  3. # Blogger Melissa

    Oh.My.Goodness. This just blows my mind. I totally agree with Mom24 in that I would say, "You can't be see or be near my kids until you respect my rules." You're absolutely right - this has nothing to do with food; it is about control and your mother's and aunt's need to have control over YOU. Don't give in!  

  4. # Blogger Rachel

    I cannot believe that your mom lied to you and then did it again! I also agree that you need to draw a line in the sand here, and you need to make it clear that she will not be allowed to see the kids unsupervised if she does not respect your choices as a parent.

    That said, I also think it is important to give a bit on the food. We also have big food issues, not only over junk food but also because I keep kosher as a religious obligation and my MIL believes that pork is the cure for all of the worlds evil. My compromise (which is keeping me happy thus far) is that she is allowed to feed the baby whatever she wants out of my line of sight, but NOT when I am at the table/in the kitchen/at the restaurant. Would it be possible to make it clear to your mother/aunt that this is NOT about food but about your trust in them by making it clear that if they take the kids for an afternoon they may certainly give them a 'treat' of their choice. You could say as much in front of the kids so that they understand that whatever sugar they are given is an approved of treat because of ... (hanging out with Grandma/Saturday/trip to the park/whatever explanation fits the moment). I think you need to work hard to make sure that Isabella is not caught in the middle of this, and maybe telling your mother there are specific moments when treats are ok will help. You could even suggest a trip to buy ice cream as a special treat for them to do together. Make it clear that it's not about the sugar, but about your choices and authority as a parent.

    You should also make it clear to your mother that she should NEVER put you in a position where you have to warn/prepare your child before her visit because that will fundamentally undermine their relationship. That's basically why I caved on the pork with my MIL, I really didn't want to make my daughter feel caught in the middle but I also wanted to draw clear boundaries (i.e. we will have no pork in my apartment. Ever. Leftovers from eating out are thrown away in the lobby of the building).  

  5. # Blogger Pregnantly Plump

    It's incredibly odd that your mother would pull that. We haven't had issues like that, and I don't really have any advice. We aren't as strict with Little Elvis. We have to go to great lengths to get peas and corn and carrots into that little body, and I am so happy that he at least likes fruit. But he is incredibly spoiled by my parents -- the same people who wouldn't let me eat sweetened cereal. I got Rice Krispies and Cheerios and didn't even know you could put sugar on them until I was in college. I used to let them because they so rarely got to see him. Now, he gets to see them more often, but a tradition was started. They have to keep the snacks at a minimum. And they respect me, though they do say, "YOUR mother won't let you. Go ask Mommy. She's the one saying you can't." I just sigh and chalk it up to being grandparents.
    Do you think it's some issue other than food with your mom? Sounds to me like an odd thing to have such a battle over? I mean sweetened cereal and crackers?  

  6. # Anonymous Ness at Drovers Run

    OH this is hard. I'm off the range of folks that would instantly lose my rag completely and deny any and all access to my kids until they toed the line. But I'm guessing that wouldn't go down well in a big happy italian/irish/american family. What I am finding hard to understand is how your mom, UA and others don't SEE the damage they're doing to your relationship, they honestly think they're doing the right thing by Isabella, and stuff you in the process. There is NOTHING worse than being undermined in my view, really, we have to fight hard enough as women for our opinions and it bloody well doesn't help if our nearest family are making it the hardest.

    I liked the suggestion that they are allowed to give the kids a treat when they are with them, but limited to ONE. The only problem that I forsee here, is that they've already proved time and time again that they can't be trusted to follow through on your wishes.

    Moving out of driving distance might be the only option here...heh...  

  7. # Anonymous Christina @ Spoonfed

    Wow. I really feel for you. I agree with the others who've said this is a control issue. When your mom said she "has rights, too," I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Yes, she has rights. To love her grandchildren, to spend time with them, to teach them, even to spoil them. But not if what she's doing undermines your parenting, contradicts your values, encourages secrecy, establishes unhealthy dynamics around food, and creates tension between you and your kids. And she is, in fact, doing all those things, which means she has seriously crossed the line. And I think you need to make that clear in any way necessary.

    The question, of course, is how? It's especially difficult because you rely on your family to help with the kids, but it seems to me they're taking advantage of that situation, so I think you need a little tough love here. Have you ever told your mother that you'll restrict access to the kids if she doesn't stop this? I mean, out and out told her? Laid that down as law? Because maybe she needs a jolt like that. And, frankly, that's exactly what I would do.

    If so (and it hasn't worked), or if you want to try another tactic, how about writing her an e-mail detailing exactly why she needs to stop this? Tell her everything you've told us, emphasizing the fact that if anyone is "damaging" the kids and setting them up for a lifetime of food issues, it's her and your aunt, not you. Even if you've told her all this before, it might actually sink in once she sees the words. Plus you'll be able to say exactly what you want in the tone you want without getting caught up in the emotion of an argument. And she can absorb the message in privacy without feeling cornered.

    I also like Rachel's suggestion that you let her give the kids a special treat once in awhile, like ice cream out with grandma or something. The key being, however, that she does this with your full knowledge and consent. That way she gets to indulge her grandkids, but it's not secretive, which is just so dangerous and wrong when it comes to food. And maybe if she gets that little concession, she won't be so control-freaky otherwise.

    I think I'd talk to her or write that note first, laying out the situation and getting her buy-in on the fact that you are the parent and you get to make the rules. I wouldn't mention the special-treat outing as part of that. Save that for after, when she's (hopefully) conceded, and you can then say, look, mom, how about we do this...?

    One other thing: While her throwing out that "organic" buzzword would have infuriated me, too, it also tells me she understands in some way what you're trying to do with the kids, but perhaps feels ignorant and insecure about it. So maybe part of the problem is that she needs a little education in the details: why organic and whole foods are better, but how even organic junk is still junk, etc. A little empowerment could go a long way toward making her feel less ignorant, insecure, threatened, whatever -- all those powerful emotions that make people lash out. Just another thought.

    Hope this helps in some way. And good luck...


    (And thank you, BTW, for mentioning my blog!)  

  8. # Anonymous Kell

    Oh Kris I feel for you! I think Christina's comments are good ones. Especially because as Isabella gets older she will no longer volunteer information like that and your mother and UA are breeding a culture of secrets. This is every parent's nightmare when the communication shuts down things can be ugly.

    I have to say on the food front I am far more relaxed, I think this has to do with the fact that we often have dinner at friend's houses. And my friends just don't care that much so they feed their kids, nuggets and uncrustables for dinner, and while we are there my kids eat what their kids eat. That way they get a little taste of things and are learning that food has no good or bad 'value'. Food is just food, and they need to make choices. I have had an unhealthy guilt ridden relationship with food, and I refuse to put my children in that place. It wasn't until I joined weight watchers is 2002 that I figured out how to relate to food.
    My mother feeds my kids all manner of crap, but she generously gives of her time to be with my kids and to help me out. There is a trade-off here, and while I do my best to rein her in, I recognize as do they that some people make different choices, and it is our job to evaluate them and to eat unhealthy things in moderation if at all.

    Michael Pollan has these great 'rules' about eating like "if it came from a plant eat it, it is was made in a plant, don't." and "Eat all the junk food you want, as long as you make it yourself" and something like "if your grandmother wouldn't recognize it, don't eat it" the last one is "break all these rules some of the time" So maybe you and your mother and UA can come to an understanding, together, as people who love your children about the kinds of choices to make most of the time and the kinds to make some of the time. Maybe making some rules of your own will be helpful. I do think until then, you should explain that they will not be spending time with the kiddos until Maybe this is the time to get an alternate sitter (while costly) to show that you 'mean business' I just had this fight with my mother, and she came to understand that her behavior makes it difficult to want to spend time with her. She also said I was 'blackmailing' her. I said "good maybe it will get you to follow some of my rules." My mother provides some free childcare for us, but I was completely prepared to shell uot a boatload of cash to show her that this time I am the mommmy, and therefore I get to make the rules. Good Luck. And I am sorry that this has become such an issue.  

  9. # Blogger Marie

    Oh Kristi... I would be livid too. And it is about control. So today it's about food -- who knows what it will be in the years to come.

    Is there any way you can get them to agree to ask you (privately) if the kids can have something from them? I've noticed that both my Mom & MIL do this. I've taken it for granted, but now I see that I need to appreciate it.

    And maybe they can come armed with non-edible goodies -- a small trinket or book... anything?  

  10. # Blogger Christine

    Ugh, I think you've gotten a lot of good advice, but man is it hard.

    I know I won't be as strict with my kids, but hey, that it is your perogative. Bah, I hate the control issue/secrecy thing. It's one thing if she would ask, but I guess the flip to that is to make it worth asking, you would need to concede a little bit too. The secrecy thing though gets right under my skin.

    So sorry you're dealing with this.  

  11. # Blogger Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog

    I only read a few of the comments. But here is my advice:

    1. I would never say "cut them off". Not over this.

    2. BUT (and it's a big butt) I wouldn't let them be alone with the kids until they are responsible and able to follow a simple rule. Seriously. And TELL them. As in, not outside of your sight.

    3. Provide them with goodies that you semi-approve of so that they can spoil their grandkids. Find the sugar-free or not-quite-so-horrible treats and give them to the grandparents. Allow them to do what they're going to do, anyway, but with your permission. After they see that their grandkids like the healthy choices just as much as the processed ones, maybe they'll change their tunes a little bit?

    4. This really isn't about the food, is it? It's about power. And I agree that you MUST win this battle. Pick what you feel are good guns to stick with and STICK to them. I cannot imagine having my authority questioned so blatantly and so often. I wonder if I would have lasted as long as you have with the politeness...

    I love you, Kristi. You are a great mom and you can make this work!  

  12. # Blogger Stephanie

    I have no advice but I'm so sorry to hear about the situation!! You're the mama and you get to make the rules!  

  13. # Anonymous Lisanne

    Oh my goodness. :(

    So how was your mom's party? hehe :)

    What a hard situation. We aren't really that strict with what our kids eat ... they have fruit snacks, ice cream, etc. ~ but only after they've eaten a healthy meal. If I told my parents that we prefer for our kids to eat all organic, healthy foods, they would most certainly respect that!!! I can't believe that your family isn't backing you up on this! I am so sorry!  

  14. # Blogger Kristi

    Thanks, everyone, for your support and suggestions. This issue is not about the crackers or the mysterious organic! gluten-free! treat. It is about control and respect.

    To clear up a few points, I do allow my relatives to give my kids treats. When my grandma visits, she often brings Isabella 3-4 chocolate-covered animal crackers, which she used to sneak to her (and which I always knew about), but just recently decided to give her out in the open, which I am happy about. When my mom is in town, she often brings Isabella a box of organic granola bars, and she almost always takes us all out for ice cream. I have no problem whatsoever with this.

    Basically, it boils down to this: I want to be asked. "Hey, is it okay if Isabella has this cookie/popsicle/brownie, etc.?" If I say no, I don't want to be contradicted. I don't want the treat handed over behind my back. I don't want to be painted with the "mean mommy" brush. I want my authority as the parent respected, and that's it. I really don't think that's a lot to ask, but apparently in my family, it is.

    I am considering writing my mom the email that Chris suggested. Having it in black-and-white right in front of her might allow my words to sink in a bit better than my yelling them at her in the middle of an argument. :)  

  15. # Blogger Holly at Tropic of Mom

    This kind of stuff would drive me crazy. I don't get the idea that your mom thinks she has "grandma's rights" to undermine you and do things behind your back. That is *not* a right of grandparents. One time my MIL gave my baby regular milk when I had to be gone one time, and that alone was enough to make me think twice about having her back again. (Like why didn't she make formula if she thought he was thirsty? I thought everyone knew babies aren't supposed to drink milk.) I just don't get it.

    My boys and I are now on an elimination diet of sorts and we are avoiding food dyes, preservatives and anything artificial because they have been linked to hyperactivity and learning problems. So if someone knowingly gave them something they knew I thought was bad for them, that would be war!  

  16. # Blogger Suzanne

    Wow. Just wow. My mom doesn't sneak, she just comes right out and hands anything and everything to my kids with a "well, of course he can eat it!" thrown in for good measure. She's told me and my siblings so many times "it's a miracle you kids didn't die since I'm such a horrible mother and gave you scrambled eggs when you were a baby and fed you hamburger helper when you were growing up!" Like I'm disrespecting her by doing differently by my children. Luckily, she lives 45 minutes up the road so contact is usually limited (because although I want my kids to love their grandmother, I want them to love her for who she is, not for the part she's playing. She's said many times that she wants to be the FUN grandma, the grandma that lets the kids eat whipped cream out of their hands...)

    I just read an article on picky eaters. I read the daily diet of one little girl and almost fell off the barstool. Chicken nuggets every day! Lollipops and M&Ms for snacks and something sweet for dessert every day! My kids are happy if they get a fruit snack as a reward for good behavior; candy and dessert are never even an option!

    My MIL is the complete opposite but almost as bad. She brings us loads and loads of organic fresh fruit and vegetables (so much that they usually spoil before I can get it all into the kids even though Nick could eat his weight in pineapple and strawberries). She brings us so much frozen fish and meat that our freezer usually can't hold it all. I try to be appreciative, and I know she's doing it because she wants the kids to be healthy, but she doesn't do it out of helpfulness. There is a very clear "I am the mother, you are the child" vibe, like I am completely immature and incapable of providing a healthy meal for my kids so she HAS to step in and take over "for the sake of the grandchildren." We've recently had an email war where she proudly proclaimed she is the best micro-manager ever (?) and then accused me of being a control freak (but that's another story.) It's like they can't see us as anything but children and how can children raise children?

    I'm working backwards here so I can't remember what happens after this, but I hope they ease up. If your grandma has started being open with you, maybe it'll just take some more age on your mom and aunt to get them to ease up too?  

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