My mother is 75 years old. She honestly has the best intentions and the worst delivery. I know she worries about my health, but instead of softening the blow, she will just say “You are fat.” My entire family has this problem of being brutally honest with an emphasis on brutal, and I am admittedly overly sensitive to any criticism and my relationships with all of them suffer greatly from it.
This summer, I was thrilled that my daughter was going to have bonding time with my mom over summer break while I was working. Grandmothers are soft and gentle, and I never expected her to treat an 11-year old roughly. A few weeks went buy and things were okay…then she called my 11-year old fat and started withholding seconds of food, which led to an argument because she was body shaming both of us.
The final straw was a week ago—I received a call at work from my daughter’s phone. All I could hear was her sobbing for a few minutes before my mom started yelling “Stop being a baby. Just like your mother. Your mother raised you to be a brat.” I immediately jumped in my car, flew to pick up my child, who was in the car when an argument ensued inside the house and I was asked to leave and not return.
I’ve done so much introspection that I couldn’t even begin to describe, but at what point do you draw the line? I’d never allow a stranger to treat me this way. And since my mother is aging, will I regret not letting her beat up on me because my time with her is limited?
First and foremost, I’m so sorry to hear that you and your daughter are experiencing this. It’s very painful stuff. It is not okay for your mother to speak to you, your child, or anyone, in this way. Period, end of story.
I’m also sorry to hear an argument ensued. I know that sometimes these things are hard to avoid, especially if the other party is insistent on escalating the situation. Whenever possible, breathe and walk away. It is a supremely difficult choice, but when you can, choose to deescalate and/or to leave. It is kind and loving to yourself and the other party, ultimately.
For the record, having to deal with brutal honesty from those with whom you also expect unconditional love is challenging for anyone. There is a place for being direct, especially with those for whom you care, but one can always be kind. You may be overly sensitive; on the other hand, you may be having a completely rational reaction to what you describe as a form of “brutality.” Cut yourself some slack, and don’t diminish your feelings simply because others may deem them over-the-top. Once you accept how you really feel, you will be much more able to moderate your emotional response, and potentially make yourself less sensitive, should you benefit from that shift.
Switching gears, I can relate to your daughter’s experience. One of my grandmothers, hardened by a difficult childhood and the Great Depression, felt the most loving thing she could do was to point out her grandchildren’s flaws. Scratch that: she chose to point out what she believed to be our flaws—the jury is still out as to whether or not wearing a baseball cap backwards or being in too many extracurricular activities were actually flaws, but she was sure eager to change our ways.
For me, who began gaining weight around sixth grade, the focus was always on my appearance. During my most angst-ridden teenage years, my grandmother often told me that if I kept gaining weight, I’d never find a husband (sheesh). She would make her delicious baked goods, then slap my hand or shame me when I went to have some (but would let my skinny brother eat as many as he’d like, and praise him for complimenting her baking skills.) She also never lost an opportunity to tell me I needed to think about hair removal, or to give me Crisco (yes, Crisco) to rub on my scaly elbows, even in public, even in front of my family and friends.
You state that grandmothers are soft and gentle. Yes, they can be. Even my grandmother, when she wasn’t pointing out my egregious beauty failings, would give big hugs and say kind things. Because of her, I learned to knit. I took cool vacations. I heard wonderful stories about her mom coming to America from Sweden. That said, grandmothers are human beings, with their own personalities and problems. They are who they are, and you know from your own experience (as her daughter) the character and behavior choices of this particular grandmother. The only way for either of you to find the good aspects of your relationship with your mom is to deal with your present reality, and what she has shown you to be true.
The hero of my story is my mom, who (like you) had been on the receiving end of these sorts of criticisms for years, and wanted to stand in the gap. Mom jumped in countless times to shield me, my siblings, and my cousins from her mother’s commentary. She told her mother to stop, even when my grandmother didn’t listen. Simply knowing that someone who loves you sees that you are being hurt makes a huge difference, but when they stand up for you, it means the world. More than anything, my mom worked to remind us—over, and over, and over—that what my grandmother said was not okay, not true, unkind, etc.
You can be that hero.
I can’t tell you how much or how little time your kids should spend with your mom. I can’t tell you how she will respond to any feedback you give her. I can’t tell you what the fall-out will be from making changes in your relationship (although given your recent argument, take some time to learn some meditation and breathing techniques, so you can steal yourself if shouting comes your way.) I can tell you that when you show your kids that they are valuable, and that their feelings matter—like you did when you rushed to pick up your daughter—you will forge powerful bonds with each other. While they won’t make the mean comments go away, they can provide a counterpoint that your children can cling to when the bad thoughts bubble up. They might just do the same for you, too.
One of the great gifts my grandmother gave me was our family’s cinnamon roll recipe. Originating with my Swedish great-grandmother, this recipe has been passed down through at least five generations now, and likely more before us. While I do have memories of my grandmother telling me I couldn’t afford to eat another one (sigh), I have even more memories of laughing and having fun making these rolls as a family, covered in flour, licking butter and cinnamon sugar off our fingers.
Set aside a weekend day, and give these rolls a try. Make some fun memories with your kids, devoid of criticism. When you are done, you’ll have enough to freeze them, or to share them with friends. Drop off a pan at your mom’s house, if the spirit moves you.
If you are struggling with your weight, remember that a decadent treat like this is something you can still have occasionally. We typically made them for holiday mornings, when guests came to visit, or to give away to others who were grieving or needing some extra love. The act of making them is so therapeutic, I think the net benefit to the body is positive.
My grandmother glazed her cinnamon rolls sparsely, as is the Swedish tradition. I glaze them liberally, because they taste wonderful that way. In cinnamon rolls and in life, we can appreciate where we came from, and still choose to do things differently to make our world sweeter.
- 1 quart water (see instant potatoes for note)
- 1 cup lard (1/2 of 1 pound package)
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 large can (12 oz) evaporated milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup instant potatoes (You can substitute potato water—the water left after boiling potatoes—for the original quart of water, then omit the instant potatoes here)
- 2 pkgs dry yeast
- 2 eggs
- 9-10 cups all-purpose flour
- 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon (or more to taste)
- 8 oz (2 sticks) butter, plus 1-2 tablespoons
- 2 cups (roughly) powdered sugar
- ½-1 cup milk
- Combine 1 quart water, 1 cup lard** (1/2 of 1 pound package). Heat to boiling point and then add 1 cup sugar (reserve the other cup for making cinnamon sugar), 1 large can (12 oz) evaporated milk, 1 tsp salt, and 1 cup instant potatoes. (You can substitute potato water for the original quart of water, then omit the instant potatoes, but adding instant works as well.)
- Cool all to warm temperature. Once cool, add two packages dry yeast, 2 eggs, and 9-10 cups of all-purpose flour. Stir dough with heavy spoon until flour is combined; dough will be somewhat sticky, but not overly wet. Do not overwork. Cover with a wet tea towel and let rise 1 hour. Dough should triple or quadruple in size.
- Roll out dough with ample flour on board and rolling pin; dough will be too sticky without additional flour. Roll out to no more than ⅛ inch thick. Mix 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon to 1 cup sugar (rough estimate, combine to your taste), shake in a jar to thoroughly combine. Melt two sticks of butter (or oleo, if you are my Grammy.) Lightly spread some of the butter evenly on the rolled out dough, then sprinkle with some cinnamon sugar. Roll up into a long log, then cut into 1 inch pieces and set in greased and floured pans. Allow a little room between rolls. Repeat until all dough, butter, and cinnamon sugar is used. Set pans aside, covered with dry tea towels, and allow the rolls to rise until puffy.
- Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until brownness desired. Lightly glaze warm rolls with powdered sugar, milk, and butter combined over low —mix proportions as necessary for the glaze consistency you prefer.