Family Relations/parenting differences


OK, I better open with some background to this question first. You seem open to lots of questions and I admit I couldn't find a category for this one, but it's close to family relations. My problem isn't about a fmaily member but a friend who is like family to us.  Does that count for this category?

Our neighbors are out best friends. We spend summer nights with them while our children play before and after dinner. We hang out with them on weekends and attend community events together.  We're very close.  Both of our families have different, but great well, behaved kids. The wife has my parenting style, but she's at war with her husband over his style, which is the Military-father style: my way or the highway, don't cry, no sympathy.  I could care less about their issues or their approach (or whether or not his methods backfire in the end, which I suspect they will)but the closer we get to them the more his "war" with her is turning into our war, too. He feels the need to criticize my parenting style and get snippy about it the same way he does with his wife - except I'm not his wife and it's not his place to get upset with our decisions. I don't even mind people telling me they disagree, but he gets quite angry with us sometimes.  The issue in specific that brings about this question is as follows:

FOOD WARS.  My approach to feeding my kids is based on many different factors, including what my doctor recommended, what Child Wellness center recommended, what I read in books, my own childhood experience 9which was that my father force fed me until I puked) and my own gut instinct.  We were told by the professionals to let my kids choose what off of their plate, and how much they ate at each meal - they told me there is no reason to force a child to eat. Well, I took their advice until my first born was anemic and highly malnutritioned and way underweight - she was one of those kids who hates food.  The doctor told me we'd put her on iron and lots of supplements but I thought to myself "this is stupid. I don't want to teach my kid that you don't ned to eat, you just take pills". But at the same time the warnings rang in my head about how if you force feed kids or make them clean their plate entirely they'll have an unhealthy relationship with food. Which I believe: my own experience has led me to this day to not be able to eat vegetables without gagging, and I can see why they say being forced to clean ones whole plate leads to over-eating - you should eat until you're full, not until it's gone.  So that's where my own instinct kicked in: the doctors were way off base saying there was no need to teach my kids that eating was expected of them -their veiws were fanatic in my opinion. But to force them to eat when they really hated the food was also against my better instinct knowing that the point the doctor's and specialists were trying to make had some merit.  So I did it my way - the kids were expected to eat, not all of it, but some. if they ate well enough they could get down, but if they didn't eat, or only ate one food group I'd hand select how much they needed to eat before leaving the table. I don't force feed. I don't make them clean their plate (meaning finish all of it) and if they truly have a HATE going for a food I don't make them eat it at all. if they start gagging, legitimately, I don't expect them to eat. I also factor in how they're feeling that day as to whether I expect them to eat a lot of if they seem picky whether of not it makes sense that they're just under the weather and not hungry (in which case I won't make them eat).  My older daughter, now that we were stepping on her to eat, started eating willingly, even trying new things, and got herself healthy again  over the next year and half. She isn't a great eater, she goes up and down, but she's healthy now and does what she's told and that's what matters.  The younger one is a good eater all around, but at 2 years old now is very head-strong and finicky about meals, which is annoying, but the overall result is that she's a pretty well-rounded eater, despite her recent fits and refusals to even try stuff at the dinner table - she's being TWO. That's also Ok by us. I don't expect everyone to agree, but we're doing what works for us and what makes sense for us - we have put A LOT of thought into this method, (as I hope I have demonstrated).

My neighbor's method is the WE SERVE YOU, YOU SIT THERE UNTIL THE PLATE IS EMPTY, EVEN IF YOU SIT THERE UNTIL 3 A.M. method. And they really did it over and over until their crying kids finally just gave in and eat without fuss (not to mention he also has another rule: eat as fast as you can and go play - he literally will yell "hurry! hurry! eat up, faster!" at them in the middle of dinner).  So to him, he sees us and our struggles, and thinks we're morons. He's forever telling us we're idiots and he has a fool=proof way of getting all the food eaten, blah blah", but after a while he started getting upset with us for not following his advice.  If I post something on FB asking for kid friendly recipes or ways to hide vegetables in food he practically goes off the deep end with me in his FB response, and will corner me outside if he sees me (or the est time we come over) raising his voice about how I need to just get over my "fear" of telling my kids what to do (which I don't have). But what's worse is that when we go for dinner over there, which we do quite often, he imposes his house rules on my girls. In our house we encourage them to eat SLOWLY (to help stop over eating and to make sure they don't choke)and they also insist they plate the food but give both my kids like 3 times more than they EVER eat, then intimidatingly and forcefully tell my kids they have to eat it and can't get down from the table until it's all gone. One time we were there for an afternoon and by dinnertime my two year old looked off and was acting weird and when the food was served she started crying and didn't want to sit with us at the table. That wasn't like her and I suspected maybe she was coming down with an illness but they insisted it was the rules and followed the poor thing around with the plate and fork fulls of the food coaxing her to eat it. She's little and polite for her age and was intimidated and reluctantly ate the food, but sure enough she ended up with a high fever that night and threw it all back up about an our after getting back home.  I felt like such a terrible parent for not standing up to them - yet they were so proud, like, "we showed you how to get a kid to eat" sort of attitude.  I don't give two hoots about what they do but I wish they'd back off about this food issue - he brings it up quite often, but at the same time won't hear me out if I try to explain to him why we do what we do. I don't want this issue to come between us (his wife is really nice) and I don't like confrontation (plus we're living beside them and if we get into a fight over this it'll be super awkward) but I'm so past the oint of feeling like I can tolerate his anger towards our method. Like I say it's not just that he believe he has a better way and wants to share his feelings, it's gone as far as him making it clear he's angry we haven't listened to his advice and that he thinks we're idiots for it.  There's a lot of tension there and I frankly don't even know why he cares that much - out kids are kind, healthy, happy and polite, why should he care if they eat perfectly or not?  I'm worried one day I ight snap at him and I don't want that.  What I really want to say is, "both your kids are overweight - have you read any parenting books at all? They say that forcing them to clear the plate entirely doesn't teach them to eat until they're full it teachers them to over-eat. You THINK just maybe your stupid method has some downfalls? Not to mention eating fast leads to over-eating as well. You aren't teaching your kids anything of value, you're only teaching them that they need to obey and that lesson sure won't help them when they're adults in the real world, not to mention experts recommend meal time is a great time to connect with family and you're missing that entirely! Back off of us already, our troubles may be more obvious but in the end you have as many downfalls to your method as we do, genius!"   - As you can see this is very cold and angry of me and I don't want to come out and say it, but when I get backed into a corner I have a history of snapping.  The only way I see of avoiding this is for us to just stop going over there, but that sucks, because other than this issue we really are good friends and enjoy their company.  Do you have any suggestions how I might get him to back off the lecturing me, and back off forcing my kids to follow their rules during dinners at their house. There is no reason they need to eat fast and no reason that they should eat all their food - if my neighbors are worried about waste I can finish their plates for them. (One time I tried that, my daughter hates the Ham, so I took hers off her plate and began to eat it myself and my neighbor made me put it back onto my daughter's plate. Like WHY?)

I am frustrated.

Hi, Teg, thanks for your question.

First, let me admit that I didn't read the whole thing - this is a volunteer shtick, and I've got lots of other stuff to do!

You asked,
"Do you have any suggestions how I might get him to back off the lecturing me, and back off forcing my kids to follow their rules during dinners at their house."

What I think about relationships (any relationship, really) is this:
- you cannot force the other person to change, and they cannot force you to change.
- if one party makes a request (such as, "in my house, you are going to eat the way that I want you to eat"), you can either accept, decline, or offer an alternative
- if you accept, even though you don't like it, the problem is solved. You have accepted, so you have to such it up
- if you offer an alternative, then the other party can accept, decline, or offer an alternative. If they offer an alternative, then it comes back to you, and the negotiation continues until one party accepts or declines.
- when one party declines, then the other party can either accept or decline the declination.

An ultimatum occurs when one party says 'either accept my offer or I'm out of here (not going to negotiate any further)". If that occurs, then your choices are accept or decline. If you decline, then the negotiation is over, and you go home.

The problems with most people is that:
- they don't see that this is (or can be) a negotiation.
- they think the other person is only offering an ultimatum, without checking to see if that's really true.
- sometimes people offer an ultimatum, without really thinking things thru.
- most times, people are much more open to negotiation than we realize
- many people don't understand their own reasons for making requests, as you have indicated about
- very few people ask the other person WHY the other person is making the request / offer / ultimatum.
- it can be very difficult to negotiate if no one understands why people are saying the things they are saying
- many times, people are left with only bad choices, or choices that they dont like, and wish it were better. But sometimes thats life

So, in your specific situation, you can ask them what's behind these demands. What goal are they trying to acheive? You may know, that most people simply reenact the things their parents did, and they don't even know why they are doing it. So, if he refuses to treat your family differently in this area (ultimatum), then you can either accept or decline. It's possible that you can eat somewhere else, or you might find some other workaround, to avoid that particular situation  

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Bruce Borkosky, Psy.D.


questions framed similarly to 'what are some ways to respond when someone does/says X' are best. Questions posed in the form of 'why does my father do/say Y', or 'how would you diagnose my mother when she does/says Z' are difficult, if not impossible, to answer. I will probably reframe your question to fit the first question (what do I do). Nay question regarding any family member is fair game. Some of the most difficult are in the area of step-parenting and divorcing families.


I've been a licensed psychologist in Florida since 1994. I've evaluated and/or treated thousands of patients.

American Psychological Association Florida Psychological association National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology


Psy.D., Miami Institute of Psychology, 1993 M.CS., U. of Dayton, 1984 B.A., Ohio Wesleyan U., 1978

Awards and Honors
Award for Years of Dedicated Service, Palm Beach County Legal Aid Society, 1999

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