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Mom Asks if She’s in the Wrong for Protecting Daughter from In-Laws’ Food-Shaming

For all the talk about how much media images and messages pressure women to be skinny, they often don’t hold a candle to the potential harm family members can do to those with eating disorders, particularly during the holidays. So we have to applaud one mom’s efforts to protect her 13-year-old daughter from toxic food and diet talk this Thanksgiving, even if her husband isn’t happy about it.

“[My husband’s grandmother] is obsessed with what my [mother-in-law] eats,” Front_Topic2207 wrote on the AITA subreddit. “MIL is a completely normal weight, but grandMIL screams at her every time she eats, tries to snatch food from her, makes comments about that she is going to get fat and her one job is to look good for her son.”

These exchanges lead to a lot of yelling, in which the father-in-law calls his mother a “vile bitch.”

“I don’t want my 13-year-old daughter to be exposed to all of that toxicity around food,” Front_Topic2207 wrote. When she said she’d like to skip Thanksgiving at the in-laws for this reason, he complained, as did his mother, the target of these attacks.

“[N]ow she is being snide about American parenting and how I’m raising my daughter to be weak, by always worrying about these things, because body shaming was normal how she grew up and she never had an eating disorder,” she said.

Uh, nope. This isn’t weakness; it is strength. Experts on eating disorders often emphasize how important it is for parents to model a good relationship to food and their bodies. The National Eating Disorders Association has encouraged more research to be done on prevention programs, as they seem to work and we’d all rather have eating disorders never start than to have to see our children struggle through recovery.

The number of Redditors who wrote in with their own stories of disordered eating connected to their families’ attitudes around food is disheartening, to say the least.

“Disordered eating includes using food as a weapon to piss off a family member like MIL is doing, and it includes heavily watching what you and others are eating like grandMIL is doing,” risasmiles18 said. “Definitely keep the daughter away from these people and [you’re not the asshole]. As someone with an ED borne of loss of control and intense fears of gaining weight due to a myriad of other issues, do what you can to make sure your daughter doesn’t end up with that too. It’s miserable.”

Some readers also had some advice for the mom on how to handle the relationship with her husband and in-laws going forward.

“Your husband and his parents don’t seem to be able to voice their concerns productively or appropriately,” ScottIesprie wrote. “Maybe you could let him know that you guys can visit his parents at another time with your daughter. This may help them past it.”

“You are never [the asshole] for sheltering your child from verbal abuse, and that sounds like verbal abuse on all fronts,” aSeaPersonByNight observed. “If your husband doesn’t like your family holidays and you (rightfully) won’t attend with his family, it sounds like time to start your own family traditions with your immediate family.”

Others echoed this sentiment with one more very good reason for skipping extended-family Thanksgivings this year.

“In a global pandemic with rapidly rising infection rates, you should not be celebrating holidays in person with anyone you don’t live with,” BlondeOnBicycle wrote. Good point!

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