relationship advice

[Two Pronged] My diet, my in-laws, and my kids

Margarita Holmes, Jeremy Baer

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[Two Pronged] My diet, my in-laws, and my kids
'I feel my in-laws are trying to kill me,' writes this diabetic letter-sender who is noticing more desserts at family Sunday lunch

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer:

I feel my in-laws are trying to kill me. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. I didn’t use to think this way so I am not paranoid. I did NOT immediately think they were out to “get me.” We were friendly, but distant, but things were okay until I had my children. 

Then issues about diet and nutrition became sore points. 

I am diabetic and very careful about what I eat. My husband (their son) does not follow any of my dietary restrictions which doesn’t bother me.

But my children are a different story. I do not want them to be addicted to sugar. My in-laws laugh at me when I ask them to limit the candy, etc., they give our two children. Lately, I noticed that whenever we go there for lunch – every Sunday – all their food is rich in sauces, many of them with a sweetish flavor. And now, they serve three different desserts instead of only one.

My husband thinks I am paranoid, but I know I am not. Please help.


Dear R,

Thank you for your email.

It is difficult to impose any regimen on children successfully when there is not wholehearted support from other family members. However, you say your husband does not follow your diet but imply that he does not oppose your sugar restrictions, so for 13 out of 14 main meals your children’s sugar intake is under your control.

It is therefore only Sunday lunch, and candy from grandparents, that pose a problem.

Assistance from your husband in this regard is prima facie out of the question if he labels your concern “paranoid.” I presume you have already tried to make the case to him that diabetes can be inherited and that diabetes and sugar are closely related. Is his failure to register the dangers inherent in this situation a result of medical skepticism (can he put forward a reasoned argument for his point of view?), solidarity with his parents (the eternal struggle between “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife” and “Honor your father and your mother”) or some other cause? Is he open to persuasion since they are after all his children as well as yours?

As for your your in-laws, you would do well to remember that they are from a different generation and as such likely to have radically different views from you, and indeed from their own parents, on a whole raft of subjects concerning children, such as medicine, discipline, education, etc.

Older generations had fewer choices and yet survived, and so are inclined to think that their way works! In addition, they have seen many fads come and go, especially in the field of diet, and are naturally reluctant to embrace what they may see as just another craze, soon to be debunked like so many others before them.

If you genuinely think that one meal a week is putting your children’s health at long term risk, then try to sit down with your in-laws and husband. Talk through the subject, taking particular care to listen first to their objections to your dietary restrictions. Show them medical literature which backs up your position so that it is manifestly a case of medical opinion supporting your efforts to secure a healthy future for their grandchildren.

If this does not work and you want to stick to your principles, then you may have to have a difficult conversation with your husband – and starting cooking Sunday lunches at home.

Best of luck,

JAF Baer

Dear R:

Thank you very much for your letter.  I am thankful that Mr. Baer explored the many ways you could deal with your problem, because it gives me the space to discuss the more clinical aspects of your case.

First, about the DSM series in general and Paranoia in particular.  DSM is the acronym for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (series), which is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in both the Philippines and the United States. Its latest iteration, DSM 5, lists two major disorders that use the description paranoid: schizophrenic paranoid disorder and paranoid personality disorder.

You obviously don’t suffer from either.

I imagine, therefore, that your and your husband’s use of the word paranoid is more layman-ish, though with psychology as its basis. Some of paranoia’s more common   descriptions include: not confiding in others (especially newspaper columnists they don’t know personally) believing their confidences will be betrayed, highly critical of others, ready to retaliate towards people they believe damage their reputation/character. Not you at all.

Anything that remotely suggests you are paranoid is your belief others are lying to or harming you, without apparent evidence and interpreting ambiguous actions as hurtful to you and/or your children (such as serving three desserts instead of one like they used to). Upon finding research-based evidence proving they are out to kill, or at least harm, you, I am hopeful your husband will  apologize and support you fully.  However, if evidence clearly shows they aren’t, perhaps a more measured response such as Mr. Baer has suggested might be more in order?  

It is not easy getting along with in-laws – kudos to you for not merely going with your feelings – but actually trying to find out what is true or not.

All  the best,

MG Holmes

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