Tag Archives: family
Dear Imprudence’s recent reader livechat featured a question that made me go ‘oooh, ouch, been there,’ from a reader writing on behalf of a daughter hounded by family members, specifically her grandmother, about her weight.
Q. Grandmother’s Obsession With Weight: My daughter is a recent grad of a top 3 in the country school. She’s kind, pretty, has friends and is employed, going back to grad school. She’s a former college athlete but since school, has put on a huge amount of weight. While it’s a less than ideal situation, she’s seeking help for it. The issue is Grandmother. She’s old-school, from a certain area of the country that values looks and femininity trumps all, especially weight. She’s not at all slim herself, her kids have had eating disorders and her husband has been grossly obese for as long as I’ve known them. She’s terrible to my daughter and what she doesn’t say outright, she implies. My husband’s attempted many times to talk to her, but to no avail. We try to avoid seeing them, but during the holidays, it’ll be difficult. She always has the last word. Is there a polite way to shut her down? Sincerely, not a Belle.
I note two things about this article:
One, the grandmother is definitely behaving inappropriately and I think it’s good that the letter writer is asking for advice on how to handle the situation. I suspect the letter resonated with a lot of readers because this tends to be a time of year when these kinds of things start coming up a lot and having a little library of sharp reports to draw upon can be useful for navigating unpleasant social situations.
Two, the letter writer has got some fat hatred to deal with. Despite being disparaging about how the grandmother views weight, suggesting that grandmother’s ideas aren’t shared, the letter writer makes sure to mention that grandfather is ‘grossly obese,’ and that gaining weight after stopping high energy college athletics is ‘a less than ideal situation1.’ The letter writer notes that the grandmother is ‘not at all slim,’ evidence that she, of course, would have no room to talk, and the letter leads right there with that damning one-two punch that gets thrown at fat people: well, you’re fat, but at least you’re ‘pretty’ and ‘kind.’ And ‘have friends’ despite the fact that you’re fat! Gosh, it’s almost like fat people are human beings.
Here’s what Prudence said in response:
A: Your daughter is an adult so she’s the one who needs to handle this situation. You can have a talk with your daughter and say that you dread hearing her grandmother’s nasty remarks and you want her to be ready to parry them. “Thank you” is an all-purpose non sequitur. Your daughter can also be more direct: “It’s good to see you Grandma. You’ve expressed your feelings about my weight many times, so I know how you feel. I’d like to enjoy the holiday, so I’d appreciate it if we don’t discuss this anymore.” If grandmother won’t stop, your daughter just needs to say, “Good to talk to you. Excuse me, I’m going to see Uncle Ed.”
Prudence covered the first topic with some pretty solid advice. But she didn’t touch the second. Was it a good move?
I think there’s a solid argument to be made for covering the question ostensibly being asked in the letter and focusing on the issue of making the daughter feel more comfortable at family gatherings while choosing to elide the letter writer’s own embedded bigotry, with the goal of not alienating the letter writer and making sure the advice gets where it needs to go. On the other hand, though, what is the daughter internalising at home around the letter writer, and how are comments made by the letter writer contributing to the distress she experiences as a result of family pressure about her weight?
But I’m not sure the logic here is that complex; I honestly suspect those snide comments slid right past Prudence when she was drafting her response, because they’re a reflection of attitudes that are so common, so widespread, so ubiquitous, that they don’t even attract attention unless you’re specifically looking for them. They just pop right past.
Yes, that’s me, looking for something to get offended about. No, really, I think that these kind of dogwhistles and codewords are evidence of the uphill struggle we have when it comes to fighting social attitudes. This is a situation where the letter writer could have used some advice too, and didn’t get it.
- Newsflash: What happens when you stop engaging in athletics? You tend to put on some weight as your body adjusts. ↩
A whole lot of people are celebrating holidays right now, and it seems like the holiday season is a source of stress for many of those people, particularly people with disabilities. Stress about attending family events and dealing with judginess or inaccessible houses. Stress about being required to go to holiday parties for work. Stress about being forced to observe religious traditions you don’t follow in the interests of not causing ‘a scene.’ Stress about hosting events and cooking and making sure everyone’s happy. Stress about buying presents. I see the stress everywhere; everyone I talk to is unhappy, everything in my RSS is exploding with holiday-related stress, and it seems more like the season of misery than cheer for a lot of people.
Maybe that’s not the case for you! Which is awesome. If you love the holidays and look forward to every single aspect and are just bursting with excitement, well, you might not like this next part very much: I don’t celebrate the holidays. I don’t buy presents, I don’t send cards, I don’t put up ornaments, I don’t attend parties, I don’t cook mammoth amounts of food, I don’t travel to be with family. This is in part because I’m not religious; we celebrated Christmas when I was a kid but it was purely secular and as soon as I grew old enough not to resent the fact that everyone around me was getting presents, we stopped. The last holiday event I attended was a Passover Seder a bunch of friends hold every year.
But it’s also because I hate social gatherings, I hate the fraught social minefield of handling cards and presents and things, I can’t deal with large crowds of people and Smells and all of the things that are usually present. So I pretty much check out during the month of December, when the United States is caught in a flurry of Christmas, 100%, all the time. People seem shocked and horrified that I don’t celebrate even a little.
And, you know, a lot of people seem to view me with pity when they find out I don’t have plans for Christmas dinner or what have you. They seem to think that I must be really sad about this, about ‘not having anyone to celebrate with,’ and I’m usually deluged in invites to attend events, which I politely turn down. It was only very recently that I realised very few people are willing to come out and say something I think is pretty important:
It’s okay not to holiday.
If you don’t want to celebrate at all, for whatever reason, that is okay. It’s also perfectly okay to decide that you want to limit what you do during the holidays, again, for whatever reason. Maybe you have limited energy and you want to budget it to do something you care about, like lighting the Yule Log, and you’d like to politely turn down things that will be drains on your energy. Maybe you just plain don’t want to go to the holiday party where everyone will stand around drunk and talk in increasingly loud voices about nothing in particular. Maybe the thought of dealing with family makes your hair change texture and you really just want to spend a few quiet days at home, perhaps alone, maybe with partners or friends. Whatever. It’s okay.
You don’t need my permission for any of those things, of course. But I know that sometimes I find it helpful to be reminded that it is actually okay to take care of myself. I can request or refuse things and not explain them. I can make choices designed to protect myself, whether it’s from really indifferently cooked turkey or from relatives I can’t stand being around. And you can do that too; you don’t owe anyone your time, or your energy, or anything else.
Writing in November, I talked about the pressures many people experience around food and the holidays:
It’s hard, I know. There is no one easy solution; not all of us have the choice to opt out of obligations, not all of us can speak up at the table, not all of us have a choice about where we eat and when and how and what is in front of us. There may only be small, small things you can do to assert your space and your right to exist, and I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. I’m not going to say ‘just don’t go to holiday dinner if you don’t want to’ because I know it’s not that easy, and I know you’re a grownup, and you can make that choice if you want to. But I am here to tell you that I support you in whatever choice you make, in any choice you can make that will increase your happiness levels at a time of year when things are often grim.
You are allowed to do whatever small things you need to do to make the holidays, whether you celebrate or not, easier for you. That might be politely suggesting that you cannot host the family holiday party this year even though you really want to because it eats a lot of energy. It might be offering an alternative to something you cannot or do not want to do; ‘gosh, I would love to attend dinner at your house but I think it will be a little overwhelming, why don’t just you and I go out for lunch the day before to catch up?’ It might be asking your family to please respect the fact that your identity is not up for debate or discussion. Whatever small or large action you decide to take, remember that you, too, are a human being with boundaries and limits and that you deserve to be treated with respect.
I read a post at Crazy Mermaid’s Blog recently that neatly summarized some things that I have been struggling with lately.
Friends and loved ones of those with a mental illness have a hard time understanding noncompliance with medication. Why, they reason, if the drug helps control the symptoms of the mental illness, doesn’t the mentally ill person take the medication?
One of the biggest reasons for noncompliance is the side effects of the drugs. Especially for those with more severe cases, the side effects of strong doses of medication can cause horrific side effects. So horrific, in fact, that the patient makes the conscious decision to stop taking the medication to avoid those side effects. Living with the mental illness becomes more appealing than living without it.
I linked it in my most recent RR, but it hit home so well that I really had to bring it back around here for some tossing around. I have been rolling some things around in my brain on my own like a toy surprise… the kind that can eat you up… and while the particular sitch that Crazy Mermaid describes doesn’t apply specifically to me, it is relevant.
We all have, I think, things in our lives that we face that create little fissures that attempt to pull us apart from any amount of happiness we might grasp onto in our lives. Those of us in the disabled community know that this kind of stress can be especially taxing on our resources as the two sides rub together, causing the tiny quakes and aftershocks of the impending snaps of what we can handle. Sometimes the aftermath of having to live on the fault line long enough results is losses we, as people, can’t quite handle with smiles on our faces, if at all.
These things might not all be catastrophic life situations, but sometimes they are. Perhaps it is, on one side of the fault, the choice to not medicate and along with it the constant shame and scrutiny from doctors, family, friends, and basically everyone you might know (or the lack of understanding of your continued symptoms from those “anti Big Pharma” friends who think you really can have it both ways). On the other, living daily with side effects that leave you with little to no quality of life. Crazy Mermaid listed a few fairly severe ones. I know some of my medications for other-than-mental illness conditions come with their own host of side effects that I had to consider, including vomiting, vertigo, extreme fatigue, and that is just to name some pleasant ones. They can sap your will to get out of bed. You have to weigh these options carefully as the ground trembles beneath you. Often, you don’t have anything or anyone to cling to as you weigh your bleak options. What choice is it, really, sometimes?
Perhaps your choice is whether to accept a job across the country (or the world, in another country you have never even seen before) because it will provide for your immediate family. The other side of that precipice is the close-knit extended family you leave behind: grandparents and aunts and uncles who all had a hand in raising you, some of whom now could use your help as they get older. Their lives continue and you miss the daily events that used to be part of your daily life. The little things that mattered are missing from your life now as your support system is thousands of miles behind you. Their cycles of life don’t stand still because you have moved away. How do you make that choice, and what if you are a partner of someone who takes that job? Do you choose your partner or your family (and how do you choose)? Some of these answers might seems snap-crackle easy… but if you really break it down, they are many faces of the rock to look at. Do you choose financial or emotional security?
How do you make those choices? How do you survive the tremors of straddling the fissure while you weigh your options? When do the rock and hard place stop grinding against you to let you breathe for a moment so you can rest?
Today on Dear Abby, a reader wrote in with a problem that some of us have been on the other side of:
Dear Abby: My oldest granddaughter, “Allie,” is a psychiatrist. I have always loved her, been proud of her accomplishments and have had a warm relationship with her.
Her mother—my daughter—got drunk and made several angry, harsh phone calls to Allie. Since then, Allie has refused contact with everyone in the family. I have written to her numerous times and so has my daughter, begging for forgiveness. My daughter has quit drinking, thanks to the patience and loving support of my family. She has also come out of an abusive marriage.
Allie gave birth to a baby girl last year. I have never seen my great-grandchild and it breaks my heart. Abby, what can I do to restore a good relationship with my granddaughter? I love her and pray for her every day.
I must say, I dreaded Abby’s response to this letter, given that it painted a tragic tale of family torn asunder, a mother trying to reform herself, and saddened grandmas. I’ve had to cut off family members for my own health and protection, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that some FWD readers have had to do the same, for a wide variety of reasons. So I was expecting a lecture about how Allie ‘owes’ her family something and the grandmother should continue trying to pressure her into repairing the family’s relationship.
Here’s what Abby said:
Dear Grieving Grandma: As your letter proves, being a mental health professional does not exempt someone from having family problems. Depending upon what your daughter said to Allie, it is understandable that she might want to protect herself—and her baby—from her verbally abusive, alcoholic parent. While it may be harsh for Allie to have cut off contact with all of her maternal relatives, including you, she may have done so to prevent you from trying to pressure her to “forgive” her mother for what has been an ongoing pattern of behavior.
Write Allie one more letter advising her that her mother is no longer drinking and has left her abusive marriage. Continue loving and praying for her. But until your granddaughter decides on her own to relent, there is nothing you can do to “fix” this. I’m sorry.
Abby, I want to hug you and hand you a cupcake. This advice is right on. She reiterates that Allie may have been entirely justified in making her decision. Reading between the lines, Abby seems to be gently suggesting that Grandma should not have ‘written her numerous times’ and should have instead given her some space. The letter concludes by giving her permission to try one more time, something I personally feel iffy about, but, in the end, it reiterates that this is up to Allie, not the family, and that Grandma is just going to have to accept that.
Yes, Abby, yes. People who choose to cut off their family members do not do so on a whim. They do so to protect themselves. The last thing that people who make that choice want is badgering from other people in the family, or from family friends. They want to be left alone, and they want their choices respected.
Unfortunately, when these situations happen, many people often take it upon themselves to ‘fix’ them. As a result, people are forced not only to cut off the offending individuals, but the entire family, because they fear exactly this situation, people demanding to play a role in ‘reconciliation.’ In these situations, the offender is often painted as the injured party, and no one talks about the isolation experienced by the person who has to cut people off. If these decisions could be made and respected, people like Allie wouldn’t have to cut off contact with family members they may love very much.
You are allowed to protect yourself by choosing the people you associate with, including your family members, and you are allowed to not have this turned into a big drama with people insisting on getting involved left and right. You have the right to autonomy over your body and in your relationships, and it’s nice to see Abby stating that, albeit in somewhat less aggressive terms than I would have!
Oh, Ask Amy. You’re still on my shit list for your rape apologism, and yet, I keep reading your column. I admit it, I mainly do it so that I can find particularly awful pieces of advice to feature here.
Dear Amy: I’m a high school student and feel like I am being verbally abused by my brother, who constantly tells me that I don’t do things right.
For example, he criticizes me for not putting dishes away after I am done with them.
Whenever he criticizes me, he says things like, “You’re lazy.” Or he’ll say, “If you continue to make these choices then you probably won’t have the greatest path you can have in life.”
Whenever we get into an argument, he says he’s smarter than I am because I have a GPA of 3.85 and his is 4.3 (he’s taken AP classes).
His words hurt me and my self-esteem suffers, even if I know he doesn’t really mean it. I do believe he loves me for who I am, but this bothers me.
I don’t know how to handle this problem.
— Hurt Sister
Let’s be clear here. Hurt Sister is saying that what her brother is doing is actively hurting her. She cites that it’s a blow to her self esteem, and it makes her feel bad. She’s writing to ask for help. It’s worth noting that all over the world, every single day, people experiencing verbal abuse cry out for help, and they often get responses exactly like Amy’s:
Dear Hurt: A big brother riding you about not cleaning up the kitchen, or saying he’s smarter than you, is not verbal abuse.
People have different qualities, strengths and weaknesses. Your brother might have a better GPA, but you might be a compassionate friend (he sounds lacking in the compassion department). He might be good at chemistry but you might be good at languages, art or geometry. Your GPA would put you at the tippy top in my household (and most households).
Words do hurt. But they hurt less if you make a healthy choice to let the stuff roll off you that you know isn’t true. Your parents should nip this in the bud, but you shouldn’t leave your brother in charge of your self-esteem.
Evidently you never learned the comeback to petty sibling badmouthing. The next time he calls you lazy or dumb, you say, “I know you are, but what am I?”
All together now: Wrong! You know what is verbal abuse? Something that someone identifies as abuse because that person is experiencing it. There are definitely degrees of verbal abuse, but they are all abusive. This is a short letter. We don’t know all the details. But it seems to me, reading between the lines, that her brother is constantly hounding her, is constantly making her feel small and worthless, is constantly saying that he is better than her, is constantly reminding her that she is ‘not doing things right’ and, you know what? That can become highly abusive when you are hearing it over and over.
Especially if you are aware of how it is impacting the way you feel about yourself. Hurt Sister is not writing in to say ‘this is annoying and it bugs me,’ she is writing to say this hurts me and I want it to stop.
Amy’s response is the equivalent of the old ‘sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ adage, with a side of ‘you shouldn’t let the things that other people say about you affect you.’ Well, guess what. Words hurt people. The things that people say about (and to) you affect you, whether you like it or not. It’s not always possible to make a ‘healthy choice’ to ignore verbal abuse, especially when you are a high school student, in your own home, a place that should be safe, and your family member is subjecting you to it.
Contrast this letter with this week’s Dear Prudence, where a reader writes in about being increasingly afraid of her husband because of verbal abuse and acts of violence. Here’s what Prudie said:
There is no excuse for the kind of assault he is inflicting on you…He sounds potentially dangerous, and just an arm adjustment away from punching your jaw instead of the wall. Stop apologizing and start packing. You may even need someone to accompany you when you get your things and tell him you will no longer live in fear in your own home…Nice line he spewed about not faulting him for your faults. Now he can contemplate how it’s his fault that your marriage is about to come apart.
Verbal abuse is abuse. It’s abusive and it’s hurtful and, as Prudence points out, it can escalate to physical violence. I’m not saying that Hurt Sister is in physical danger from her brother, but I am saying that her feeling, that this is abuse, is valid, because she is experiencing it, and Amy should have recognised that and provided her with some assistance on addressing it, instead of telling her, basically, to toughen up.
There’s a prevailing and extremely dangerous attitude that verbal abuse isn’t ‘real’ abuse, despite ample evidence to the contrary. That attitude manifests in the way that people at all levels deal with abuse, from teachers handling bullying to human resource directors in offices with hostile work environments. If an abuser uses words alone to harm people, that abuser is far more likely to get away with it, and the responsibility for dealing with it will be placed solely on the victim. It’s the victim’s fault for being ‘too sensitive’ and not ‘toughening up.’
I’d hazard that a fair number of FWD readers have probably experienced verbal abuse at some point in their lives, and may even be experiencing it now. How many people are told ‘just toughen up’ or ‘just ignore it’?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Suggestions for Dear Imprudence features are always welcome in my inbox! (meloukhia at gmail dot com)
Reflecting on the extremely thought provoking post by abbyjean earlier, I was walking to breakfast with The Guy (caution, try not to walk while lost in thought, OYD) on a day when I was low on sleep, high on pain, and therefore using my cane. (edit: I just saw my typo! I had a funny visual of me trying to balance on a can! HA!)
Conflicting accommodations do not always mean that the conflict will occur between separate PWDs. For example, on a high pain day, I am in desperate need on my cane due to the intense pain in my hip and legs in general (though, which leg I want to use if for is debatable, even though I favor one hip). When I am that fatigued, however, using the cane is an intense use of my spoons, to the point where if I have too much to do I can’t even bother because it just winds up with me on a chair or bench in tears. Or the cane causes additional pain in my back or shoulders.
There are others that come to mind. My medication provides me with more pain free days, which is a good thing. This is an active choice I made with the advice of my doctor whom I was lucky enough to find at this duty station. The flip of that coin is that I have side effects which means that I can not always drive places, or have the energy (HA!) that I want to do things with my family, to name a few. This might not sound like a huge accommodation, but it makes a great impact on my family life, people who play a huge role in my care.
I know that some people use caffeine to both relieve some pain and migraine effects (I sometimes do) but that this has the crash effect at the end of the day (for me it means my spoons run out faster).
So, gentle readers, what accommodations do you have/use that conflict…uhh…internally? What individual needs to you have that you have to weigh daily?