Dear Carolyn: My mother-in-law pats my daughter's belly after dinner and says, "That's disgusting! Look at that round belly! How horrible!" She's kind of joking, but I don't like it. My daughter is 1, but I still don't like it. And other female relatives have said Mother-in-Law's comments had a big effect on them. She's in her late 70s -- I don't think she's going to change much. So how do I counter the comments, brush them off, drown her out?


Carolyn says: How awful, how ingrained, how destructive. Wow.

Your job, as you know, is twofold: to protect your baby from the awful, ingrained and destructive, and to teach her eventually to protect herself from it. The teaching may feel a long way off, but you can plant the seeds now.

While your daughter is still oblivious, set the boundary with Grandma, and reinforce it through smiling but unyielding repetition: "I think it's a beautiful belly," while taking your daughter out of Grandma's arms. That tells her (1) I won't embarrass you or overreact; but (2) I also won't let you say that to my kid.

If Grandma doesn't get the message as your daughter approaches a more comprehending age, then state your limits more clearly, again while removing your child from Grandma's arms or even from the room: "She's perfect the way she is. Besides, society is tough enough on us; we don't need harsh words from family." That tells your mother-in-law (1) I see you as a victim, too, of such cruelty; and (2) it stops here. And it says to your daughter: This is how to show loved ones they can't step on you.

If the comments are unrelenting, then invalidate your mother-in-law openly -- "Grandma has strange ideas" -- and tell her clearly, away from your daughter, "I would appreciate only positive words about her appearance." All visits at this point must also be tightly supervised.

And if Grandma tries to argue, "I'm just telling her what she needs to hear," or similar, then drastic action is warranted; body hang-ups are easy to acquire, nearly impossible to shed, and the gateway to some serious health problems. Her son (ideally) tells her: The negative body comments stop, or the visits do.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at,