Dear Bintel Brief,
My single, adult daughter is about 40 pounds overweight. I really want her to lose weight — primarily for health reasons, but also for more superficial reasons. I raised her and her siblings to believe that it’s what’s on the inside that matters, and I really do believe that. However, I also believe that losing weight would boost my daughter’s self-esteem, and make her more inclined to socialize and, yes, to date. (I’m a Jewish mother, after all!) Whenever I’ve brought up subject of losing weight, however gently (in the past, I’ve offered to pay for a nutritionist or a trainer or a therapist), she’s accused me of being ashamed of her. I’m not ashamed of her, at all; in fact, I’m very proud of her academic accomplishments and altruistic nature. So how should I go about encouraging healthy behaviors, without offending her or damaging our relationship? Thank you.
WALKING ON EGGSHELLS
The love of a mother (and particularly a Jewish mother!) is so strong that when her daughter eats too many potato chips, it is her own stomach that hurts. Indeed, you feel her suffering, so when her weight affects other aspects of her life — like her ability to attract a significant other — you suffer with her. But before you make another offer that she will reject, as she has rejected all of your other past offers, think of this from her perspective.
No one is more aware of her weight issues than she; it is she who walks around in her body all day. She sees models on TV; she sees her slender friends going on dates. The fact that she is overweight is not lost on her. So pointing it out AGAIN to her does not help her come to a moment of clarity, it hurts her feelings to know that despite her accomplishments, her mother still sees her for the plus 40 pounds she is.
You say you are proud of her altruistic nature and her academic achievements. But if you tell her “I am proud of your qualities but I want you to lose weight so you’ll be happy and healthy,” all she will hear “but I want you to lose weight.” You say that you have brought up the subject “gently” in the past.
Think of being overweight like being sunburned. It’s a problem of which the sufferer is well aware. If you pat someone with a sunburn on her sunburned back, she will jump no matter how “gentle” the pat is. At this point, you daughter is very sensitive to your judgment that she is overweight and has told you in no uncertain terms that even the most gentle of prodding is not welcome. If you want to offer help without damaging your relationship, lay off the weight talk until SHE brings it up, then offer to pay for the nutritionist, trainer or therapist. In the meantime, remind her of how wonderful she is, stifling the urge to add the “but I want you to lose weight.” She will eventually understand that you mean nothing but the best for her.
All the best,
Amy and Robin
Amy Feldman and Robin Epstein are the authors of the new book “So Sue Me Jackass! Avoiding Legal Pitfalls That Can Come Back to Bite You at Work, at Home, and at Play” (Plume).
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