There's been a little bit of a kerfuffle over one of NSIL's tweets that I wrote about in this post, and I'm thinking I need to start back at square one and better explain my feelings on that particular subject. On October 8, 2012, NSIL tweeted this: Mama made spaghetti and meatballs and apple pie...i am loved. Taken out of context, viewed at face value, or examined as coming from someone who's mother doesn't have a history of emotionally abusing her children, it could very well have been relatively meaningless. But I read that tweet and immediately recalled the time that NMIL came to see us in the hospital after DS was born and practically tripped over herself in order to deliver a jab at DH's weight from her seemingly endless supply of subtle insults. I read that tweet and immediately thought of all the times she called DH or his sister "big boned" or commented on how much they liked to eat. I read that tweet and recalled that both DH and his sister had been overfed as children which resulted in lifelong weight issues and obvious complexes about their size. I read that tweet and immediately thought of the instance when she blamed her eighty-pound pregnancy weight gain on DH, and then used the whole thing, to my complete astonishment, as yet another way to make fun of DH's weight, rather than take responsibility for the simple fact that she overate while pregnant with him. She said, "I gained 80 pounds! I was huge! I ate everything I wanted. In fact, I ate DH-sized sandwiches. I ate as much as DH! Isn't that so funny?" Then she proceeded to list off all the things she would eat for breakfast everyday that amounted to that weight gain, all the while slipping in those subtle jabs about DH's weight.
NSIL is a girl who rarely gets attention from her mother, and when she does, it usually takes the form of subtle criticism and manipulations. NSIL only gets attention when her mother wants something, and, just like I'm sure she did with her apple pie, she binges on it until it makes her sick. It makes her so sick that I'm betting the very next day she was puking up that lovely apple pie in the toilet because her NMommy has always taught her that it's bad, oh-so-bad, to be fat. And, given what she's learned, NSIL knows that there is no in between for her, that it's never been an option to just be healthy. She either gets to be the fat, ugly girl, or the beautiful, skinny girl (who always gets reminded of how fat she is, thereby never achieving the perfection her NM expects).
I married DH, who is also the child of the Mama that makes spaghetti and meatballs to show her love and I have NO doubts whatsoever that the bitch used food as a way to emotionally abuse him and to control him while he was growing up. It probably started from infancy and here's what that would have looked like: That baby is crying, I'd better give him a bottle, that'll make him shut up. Because in NMIL's world, there has probably never been any room for compassion and empathy, both of which are required to parent well. She didn't have the knowledge or desire to listen to that crying baby to try and make sense of what he really needed. A baby isn't hungry every time he cries, though he will learn pretty quickly to shush up if someone keeps putting food in his mouth. And so, from the get go, he was overfed. His NM didn't bother to think about it any deeper than that. DH was a fat baby. He was overweight. Not chubby, healthy-chubby, like all newborns. He was rotund. I recall seeing one picture of him where he looked like the stay-puffed marshmallow man. I know a lot about infant nutrition and I've been around enough little ones to know that for them to be overweight is not healthy. And as he continued to get older, she continued to overfeed him.
It's my belief that children don't make themselves fat. Their parents do. By offering too much food, and the wrong kinds of food, and not setting limits, and not encouraging exercise or healthy eating habits, and not modeling good eating habits themselves. But children, even the ones who are naturally heavier, don't just get fat on their own. They have so much growing to do, and are so active by their very nature, that no child becomes obese unless they have a very serious medical condition or someone overfeeds them. And I see the latter as a kind of abuse, in and of itself.
Now, take a girl who has an obvious eating disorder; who is already pressured by the unnatural standards of the society around her, who frequently expresses the desire to be skinny. Then, offer that same girl attention in only one regard: through food. And what you'll get at the end of the day is a girl who's just as emotionally starving as she was before you stuffed your delicious and fattening apple pie into her mouth. I'm betting that she couldn't possibly have refused the meal because she would have been treated to a terrible guilt trip and she doesn't have the skills to handle it. I'm also betting that immediately after the meal was over, or shortly after that, her NM made sure to throw one of her famous jibes out at her daughter's weight. One of those underhanded numbers that you don't quite figure out until later, when the moment has passed and it seems like far too petty a thing to go back and comment on: "You always DID have quite the appetite" or "Gee, you ate like you haven't eaten in MONTHS" or "If [DH's childhood nickname] were here, you'd have given him a run for his money! He's probably the only person who could have out-eaten you!"
For the record, she didn't say those last three comments. At least not in front of me. But I wouldn't have put it past her because she did make similar ones to DH in front of me that were so subtle, they even went over my head, so that I didn't fully understand what she had been implying until seconds too late.
NMIL is someone who does not give unless there is something in it for her. And that includes the giving of food. I've always said to DH that the ONLY thing, literally the ONLY thing that could ever even remotely be construed as good about that woman, in my opinion, is that she is a good cook. But really, in the scheme of things, her skills as a parent don't hinge on her ability to cook meatloaf. Feeding our children is, indeed, a need we must meet, but there are many others that NMIL has never met. And the fact that she "fed" her children does not, nor will it ever, make her a good mom. I stand by my opinion that anyone who ties being fed with feeling loved has some very serious emotional issues.
I've got to quote both Upsi and Pronoia Agape here as well, for making some fantastic points concerning their observations about was so very wrong with this particular tweet from NSIL.
Upsi wrote, "...when a parent lacks empathy for
their child and is unable to emotionally tune in, feeding them a meal
like that is no substitute for the love they require. The meal itself
is not the issue - the issue is food being a charged subject for people
who grew up needing love and empathy and maybe only getting fattening
food and then remarks about how chubby they are getting."
PA wrote, "That's what their "love" is and does. An unhealthy, calorie-packed meal
as proof of love for a girl who seems so eager to lose weight and might
be starving herself much of the time. There's a metaphor in there...this whole situation is just so descriptive of the messed-up dynamic
that it would be impossible to imagine, wouldn't it, for the girl to
declare she was loved after her mother prepared chicken breast or fish
in a veggie sauce with a nice salad. Because the mother wouldn't show
her love that way. Perhaps because she knows her daughter has body image
issues. Perhaps because she's the one carefully nurturing those issues."
So the ugly cycle is: NM nurtures the child's poor self-esteem by constantly being critical, while simultaneously creating life-long eating disorders that only contribute to the child's feelings of worthlessness; then, the child binges on the NM's "love," feeling like that is the only way she ever gets attention. Apple pie? I'm thinking more like toxic pie.
**Disclaimer: I have absolutely nothing against spaghetti and meatballs, apple pie, pumpkin pie, various cheeses, pot roast, or any other kind of food you can imagine. No meatballs have been harmed in the writing of this blog post.