This letter to Dear Abby, which appeared in my paper on October 9, made me angry, sad and heartbroken for the whole family.
DEAR ABBY: My mother watches my two children before and after school and during the breaks. She is a caring person, but she also is very critical of my daughter. (She’s fine with my son.)
Mom constantly tells my daughter she needs to lose weight or exercise more, or her hair looks stringy, or she isn’t dressed properly. My daughter is only 9.
My mother did this to me when I was younger, and it made me feel I could never live up to her standards. How should I approach her about this? I don’t want my daughter to feel inadequate. She’s a beautiful, intelligent little girl. – Frustrated in Missouri
DEAR FRUSTRATED: Deal with this firmly, before your mother erodes your daughter’s self-esteem as she did yours. Tell her how her constant criticism made you feel, that you don’t want the same thing to happen to your little girl, and that anytime she’s tempted to make a negative comment, she should substitute a POSITIVE one instead. Be direct with her, and if she isn’t able to comply, make other arrangements for your daughter.
My granddaughter is 8 and I can’t imagine saying such disparaging things to her. I wish I could help this grandma be more loving and less negative. I find it hard to believe her daughter can call her mother a “caring person.” If she cared about her granddaughter, she wouldn’t erode her granddaughter’s self-esteem. But then that was the way she raised her daughter.
I commend the mom for recognizing her mother’s behavior and trying to stop it before her daughter is damaged. She needs to gather up her courage and stand up to her mother to protect her daughter.
I asked my own daughter, who’s a marriage and family therapist, what she’d say to this mom if she were her client. Without reading Dear Abby’s advice, she offered very similar suggestions.
What the mom should say to the grandma:
“I’ve observed you making hurtful comments to (child) and it makes me feel sad. When you’re critical, you have a negative impact on her and hurt her self-esteem.
If you have concerns, you’re welcome to talk to me but not my daughter. What’s most important is for you to show her love and say positive and encouraging things to her.”
What the mom should say to her 9-year old daughter:
“How does it make you feel when grandma says these things? I can imagine if someone said that to me, it would make me really sad. You’re beautiful, healthy, and smart.
Sometimes people say unkind things when they feel bad about themselves. Grandma doesn’t feel good about herself and says hurtful things but I want you to know they’re not true.
When people say mean things, it’s okay to say: ‘I don’t like it when you say that or please don’t say those things, it makes me feel bad.’ If you want help saying it, I’ll say it for you.”
In defense of the grandma, it’s possible she’s tired and needs a break from watching the children. I also would encourage grandma to provide healthy food and snacks for her grandchildren and do some fun activities that help them bond with each other. For example, look at photo albums and share some family history; cook some healthy snacks together; find a common interest and read about it together. This grandma has a precious opportunity that many grandmas would envy. She should make the most of it while she can.