Ask Marge

Help! My Mother-in-Law Is Feeding My Kid Sugar Against My Wishes.

updated May 24, 2019
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Dear Marge,

Help! My mother-in-law is feeding my baby sweets. We don’t give our 2-year-old daughter anything with added sugar, and my mother in law knows it.

One night, after my mother-in-law had watched Becca for us (which she does twice a week while I work), I saw an empty box of animal crackers in the garbage. I didn’t say anything to her, but the following week when she came over, I pointed out the containers in the fridge with my daughter’s lunch, and casually mentioned (again) that we don’t give her any cookies or sweets. My mother-in-law just nodded as though in agreement. When I put Becca in her pajamas that night, I found chocolate stains on her sleeve. Since then, there have been a bunch of other incidents. I am 100% positive she gives her sweets every time she sees her.

I feel like she is just totally ignoring what I want for my own child. No matter how many times I say it, and no matter how nicely, she simply does what she wants. I don’t know how else to tell her. I’m really frustrated and pissed off.


— Sugar Turf War Mom

Dear STWM,

You have every right to be angry and frustrated: You are the parent, and your mother-in-law should respect your wishes.

It sounds like you are trying to keep a good relationship with her, which is obviously really important because she is your husband’s mother, your daughter’s grandmother, and, you lucky dawg, your babysitter. (Can I have a show of hands for everyone who would kill to have a reliable babysitter? I get flashback panic attacks when I think of the year I went through nine babysitters.)

I’m not suggesting that you are so beholden to your mother-in-law for babysitting that she should have free reign to do with your daughter whatever she wants — but you also can’t ignore what a big deal it is. The truth is, your life will be much easier in oh-so-many ways if you get along with this woman who is part of your family for nearly forever.

So first, try to reason with her. I know you’ve said things to her in passing, but maybe she needs to hear it in a way that is very direct and serious. Call and ask her to come a few minutes early next week because you want to talk to her; the pointed nature of your call sends a message that this is important to you. When she arrives, sit down at the table, look her in the eyes, explain how you feel about the baby having sugar and why, and gently ask her to respect your wishes. Try to keep your emotions at bay; the idea is to engage her, not tell her how pissed you are.

There’s another option. Let’s think about what harm is done when she gives your daughter sweets. Maybe the worst part is that she is going directly against your wishes for your child, and that is an affront to your right to parent as you see fit. In that case, the harm is to you; you are understandably insulted or hurt by her actions. But what is the impact on your daughter?

Becca might develop a taste for sweets, which she presumably has not been exposed to elsewhere. But very soon she will be surrounded by gooey treats — it’s the reality of the world we live in. For now, she associates them only with Grandma, and she is inadvertently learning that a sweet is a special treat. Perhaps the occasional indulgence now will keep her from going overboard when she actually does have wider access. (I grew up in a house where there were rarely cookies in the pantry, so when I went to friends’ houses, I scarfed down as many as I could shove in my mouth.) You might not love hearing this, but the twice-a-week treats from your mother-in-law might actually support, rather than diminish, the healthy habits of moderation you want to instill in your daughter.

That still doesn’t make it okay that your MIL blatantly disregarded your wishes. But the reality is that grandmothers have been spoiling children since the Stone Ages, and if you are like most of us, you will need to choose your battles. While I wholeheartedly agree with you that children’s sugar should be limited, you will make yourself, and very possibly your daughter, nuts if you try to truly keep her from any sugar. Because whether it is from your mother-in-law or the neighbor, sugar happens.


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