Adapted from a recent online discussion.
It's tough not to fire back when being fired upon
Washington: I screwed up, big time.
I'm an active fitness competitor. As a result, I eat clean — mainly vegetables, whole grains and lean meats.
This weekend, my husband and I were out with his mother and sister when his mom, who has a habit of commenting on my food choices, looked at my salad and said, "I just don't see how you can do that to yourself."
I looked at her chicken-fried steak and fries and said, "I just don't see how you can do that to yourself." She left the table in tears, everyone's mad at me and I feel terrible. Any ideas on how to make this right?
Carolyn: You screwed up, but I hope at least some of you recognize that it was your mother-in-law who screwed up in a far bigger way. What exactly does she expect to happen when she huffs her way into your business? A "welcome home!" ticker-tape parade?
The appropriate apology from you is for attacking her back, not for sticking up for yourself: "I am sorry for the judgmental comment; I find them reprehensible myself and I'm very upset that I stooped to that level." Your mother-in-law doesn't seem to have a very good working knowledge of boundaries, so she might not get the true meaning of your words, but at least you'll know you apologized for the right offense.
Your husband, on the other hand, owes you a break. If he doesn't show any sympathy for the unwelcome commentary you've been putting up with, then that's a problem, one you need to talk about with him. Don't just grovel and scrape and hope he eventually lets it drop. And, finally, I'd just like to say — bull's-eye. Credit where credit is due.
Anonymous: Re: Food comments: I think food just brings out the worst in many people. I have recently modified my diet due to a medical condition, and people can't stop commenting. I try not to raise it at all, but it is everyone else's favorite topic. I see it as a lot of self-doubt, and I try to be sympathetic rather than annoyed.
I wish people would just respect each other's choices — healthful or unhealthful.
Carolyn: It's such a sore spot in our culture now — people are getting heavier, fingers are pointing all over the place and defenses are high. Your sympathetic take is beautiful for calming this finger-pointing frenzy — or any of the other such frenzies our culture is experiencing, over guns, debt/foreclosures, child-rearing philosophies, you name it. Thanks.
Washington again: Re: Chicken-Fried Screw Up: By "everyone" being mad at me, I meant my other in-laws. My husband didn't think I should apologize at all, but you're right: I was just as wrong as she was.
She left the table in tears because she took my comment to mean I was calling her fat. All I wanted was for her to keep her mouth shut about my food, and in retrospect, that's what I should have said. I'm going to apologize again and try asking for food to become a no-comment zone.
Carolyn: Good luck! A quibble, though, with "just as wrong": She put you in the position of having to defend yourself, giving her the greater responsibility.