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I understand that what children are supposed to eat is a bone of contention between parents and grandparents in many families. However this is not the main point of my question. I would like to describe a bizarre stalemate situation remotely related to the "proper food" question:

Due to a medical condition my son had (sort of an eccema on a finger) that did not improve my wife suggested to try a cow milk-free diet, or at least keeping cow milk to a minimum. We went ahead with this and things seemed to improve, but then it was Christmas eve and big showers of milk chocolate were to be expected from all sides. So my wife called my parents in advance and kindly asked them not to send milk chocolate this time. My parents seemed to be a bit puzzled by that request, but did not object. Yet.

It was not until a week later that my father called my wife. That's where things are getting complicated. The content of said phone call is being recalled fundamentally differently by both parties. My dad says he just stated his concerns about the measure we took. My wife says, the call was one long stream of accusations, culminating in the claim that not allowing milk was "neurotic". My dad denies to have said that, saying that he stated that the measure "would make our son neurotic".

I talked to my dad, but we could not find a consensus on this issue. He asked me if I had a suggestion on how to proceed. After quite some thinking I suggested to him to call my wife - telling him that I only had second-hand information and apparently could not contribute anything meaningful to this conflict. I asked him twice, but to no avail. He claims not to have done anything wrong.

My wife is not really motivated to approach my dad herself, since I asked her to do this in previous conflicts already, where my dad's response was something along the lines of "gee, what conflict? do we have a conflict here?"

Has anyone had similar experiences where family communication got totally stuck? I'd be happy to learn what your solution was, if any.

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    Can you clarify: Are you asking how to get your parents to accept your food choices for you kid, or are asking how to handle the relationship between your father and your wife? (the last part of your post seem to point to the latter, but you tagged it food) – Ida Sep 16 '14 at 22:21
  • The food issue just happens to be the thing that started this conflict, but I assumed that others may have run into serious relationship issues too because of arguments about proper nutrition (this seems to be a common theme between parents and grandparents, though I have no idea if it escalates so gravely in other cases). – Bob Sep 22 '14 at 20:16
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Let me parse this out a bit.

You and your wife (or, at least, your wife with your support) decided to cut milk out of your son's diet. It seems to have helped him.

Your father felt free to criticize her decision, instead of asking you about it. He told your wife, the mother of your son, that her (and your, by the way) actions will make your son neurotic. He thinks he did nothing wrong and is not interested in repairing the relationship between himself and the person the closest to you in the world. This might well affect him, you, your wife, your mother (?), and your child.

Yet you asked your wife to approach the person who accused her of potentially making your son neurotic, even though you are aware it will likely do no good, am I correct? What do you expect this call to achieve besides possibly feelings of humiliation for your wife?

This is a no-brainer to me. Your father needs to stay out of your marriage when it comes to money, childrearing, the number of children you have, which sides of the bed you sleep on and other personal matters.

If he has questions, he should ask you about them, not her.

This is your job. He's your father. She's your wife. She did nothing wrong, if the story is correct. She made a simple request.

This is what I would do. Meet with your father, and gently tell him he hurt your wife's feelings. She is only doing what you both think best for the child you all love. Ask him what neurosis he thinks your son might develop if he doesn't drink milk or eat milk products. (Maybe he will see that he overreacted.) He can argue that he didn't do anything, but he can't argue that she doesn't feel hurt, because she does. Don't let him blame it on her for being too sensitive or misunderstanding. Let him know you agree with your wife, that it was wrong of him to tell her this, and that you object to the way he disrespected her and your decision. What he does with this information will tell you how much he respects the feelings of the two of you. Then you can take it from there.

If he chooses to do nothing, tell him he is not to call your wife with any questions about parenting or other personal matters. Then tell your wife you did everything you could, and have a talk about how you might protect her in the future from your father (or if she wants you to.) At least she will know you are supporting her.

People have problems like this all the time. Sometimes they're worse.

People have a hard time setting healthy boundaries with their parents, especially if raised in a culture that places a lot of emphasis on honoring one's parents. But I think part of loving one's child is by loving the person they choose to marry. I have four married children, so I do have some experience in this. I also have a husband who is very close to his very large family, and who had a hard time saying "no" to his mother when she would tell him I was doing something wrong with our children. I'm glad he's close to his family, and I wouldn't want anything to come between him and them. You can’t set good boundaries if you’re unsure of where you stand. Consequently we had a lot of discussions about what was right for us, and how to set appropriate boundaries.

Below are some articles on setting boundaries. It's daunting but important and straightforward. I hope it helps all of you.

10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries
Boundaries
Setting Boundaries With Parents After You Get Married

  • Thanks! Just a quick note: My above description is a bit ambiguous in one aspect: I did not ask my wife to talk to my dad, I did so in the past about another conflict that I witnessed first-hand. I did talk to her about the whole situation, but we could not come up with any useful ideas. – Bob Sep 22 '14 at 20:23
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So what's your actual question? How to make peace between your father and your wife? Or how to proceed with your son's diet?

That phone conversation in itself doesn't sound too mysterious - it's very well possible that he honestly thought that he was just stating his concerns, but that he did so in a tone that sounded very accusing to your wife. It doesn't matter whether or not one of them is 'right' or 'wrong' about what was said; it does matter that your wife feels hurt. So get him to apologize to her; surely he must understand that he hurt her feelings even if he didn't intend to do so? Do not ask her to approach your father - if my husband asked me to do that, I'd feel he chose his father's side, not mine. Your father has been told that he was misunderstood, so it's for him to take action.

Regarding your son's diet: it's your son, so you and your wife get to decide, especially since this is a medical issue. Your parents don't have a say in this matter.

By the way (can't believe I didn't notice this earlier): do you mean Christmas Eve 2013? Has this really gone on for nearly a year!?

  • Yep, that's Christmas of 2013. It is not that we did not talk since, but it was only bilateral talks between my father and me, and my wife and me. – Bob Sep 22 '14 at 20:27
  • We have a family consensus that we (my wife and I) decide on food issues, and even my father agreed to that. Yet he says he has a right to be consulted since he's the "expert". Granted, he's an MD, yet his biochemical background is somewhat dated and not his main focus area. And since he's sending me badly-researched, polemic and insulting newspaper articles about allergy-related diets I get the feeling that he does not care too much about the scientific side of things (as an aside, it's not that I generally agree with all of these alternative medicine and food movements). – Bob Sep 22 '14 at 20:46
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    It doesn't matter if he thinks that he has a right to be consulted (which btw means he believes to have the right to give an opinion, which is exactly the root of your problem. In addition, he prob. expects that opinion to be followed, otherwise he wouldn't give it). You are the parents, this is your business and no-one elses. My own FIL is a doctor, too, and while I often ask his advice (and it's never given without me asking!!), it's my own decision what I do with that. In your shoes, if you father ever touched any medical topic re: your son again, I'd shut down the conversation immediately. – Little Ms Whoops Sep 23 '14 at 19:37
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Don't push your wife to call your dad. Apologize to your wife for not doing it earlier, and do it now.

When you speak to your father, don't hash over the past, but tell him in a way that does not invite discussion why you have decided to do what you've done, how it's helped, and that you will be following this plan in the future. Then switch to conversation to something else.

Your father isn't entitled to this explanation, but you can use it as a way to close out this dispute with a firmness that will avoid future problems of this kind.

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