Dear Carolyn: My mother and I have been having a “weight war” since I was a child and it’s growing old. As a child (older, mind you), I would walk into a room and she would look me up and down then angrily scoff at me, which was usually followed up with her telling me, “Get your act together,” or, “Stop whatever it is you are doing to yourself,” etc. I have dreaded eating in front of her for years, because it frequently earns me “a look” or a lecture.
Now that I’m an adult, she has lost the angry edge and instead goes for a more subtle, but equally tedious approach. She will give me the signature stare, then, without fail, casually bring up dieting, exercising, cleansing, the inspirational weight-loss news article she read, the list goes on. If I say I have a headache, it’s because I need to diet. If I say I’m tired, it’s because I don’t exercise enough. This daily routine is maddening and borderline obsessive.
My vitals are healthy and I’m not even obese. I don’t know what infuriates me more, the endless discussion of weight or the fact that she thinks her subtle hints will become so ingrained into my psyche that I will eventually cure myself of fatness. I am one “I gave up sugar for a week and lost five pounds” comment away from emotionally crushing her for a day. Please tell me how to act like an adult.
Fatty in Cincinnati
Never miss a local story.
OK, but I’d rather give you a hug. Your mother has denied you that simple care and acceptance for your entire life, and no one who does that has any business being a parent.
She doesn’t sound like one to apologize for that, so I will. I’m sorry you drew the maternal short straw. No child – no being – deserves such cruelty.
The adult thing for you to do now is to recognize once and for all that your mother is too … something – cruel, blind, stunted, angry? – to be trusted with your emotional health, and that you have to protect it, nurture it, care for it yourself.
Which, for starters, means you stop serving yourself up for Mama to judge. That’s tough when you apparently see her daily, but you can be: elsewhere; busy; all business; ready to say, “I won’t discuss weight with you” before leaving the room. Every. Time. It comes up.
However you define this step back, just take it – even temporarily while you examine your dynamic and find ways to improve its health.
For that part, please find a good family therapist to talk to, solo. It’s not that you can’t learn assertiveness and self-care without it; in fact, I suggest steps in that direction (try “Lifeskills for Adult Children,” by Janet Woititz and Alan Garner, as your primer), since therapy takes time to arrange.
But you describe a lifetime of “daily routine” exposure to your mother’s hostility and poor boundaries, and comprehensive changes are smoother with skilled professional help.
That and, right now, you’re frustrated by your mom’s tactics – which is about 20 outrage notches below what I’d hope to see: “I need to get (BEG ITAL)away(END ITAL) from this woman.” You do, emotionally if nothing else. As a loving gift to yourself.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.