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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - January 2011

It could be you ....

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor in private practice after 20yrs with Relate, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column. 



Our 4 grandchildren are all overweight

Dear Maggi

We have four grandchildren now, aged 12, 10, 7 and 4, and they’re all overweight, not just chubby cherub either. I’m sad to see how they eat and gobble food with no appreciation of what’s on the plate. They certainly don’t have any idea of when to sit at a table or how to concentrate on the food. As a result their meals are messy, rushed, noisy and never finished. They are always having snacks between their meals.

It upsets us to think of how they are going to be as adults and we aren’t sure if or how to mention this to our son and daughter and their spouses.

We were so excited by becoming grandparents and now neither my husband nor I really look forward to seeing them all. It is always a disappointment as they come to our house and immediately want TV and snacks. They have no interest in talking to us or doing anything with us. I’m not even sure why they bother to come. Their parents seem to think giving in to the children’s demands is how to treat them even though they were never brought up that way themselves.

Is there anything we can do?


Maggi replies:-

There are possibly two issues at play here.

The first is that it is now commonly acknowledged that there is a growing tendency towards obesity in the young and that lifestyle and diet have become much less healthy. What you are seeing in your family is something that is happening to families up and down the UK and across the more affluent areas of the world. Abundance of easy, ready prepared or fast food and snacks is leading us into a situation that is increasingly difficult to change and worryingly dangerous for the general health of the young. The kind of activities children take part in are often more sedentary, indoor and even solitary. The social skills development that takes place during a computer or DX game, watching a dvd or tv programme is negligible and if meals are eaten in front of the tv then conversational skills are never going to be mastered either. So, children eat sitting on a sofa in front of the tv. This means not only are they sitting in a poor position to allow their food to digest properly, leading to storage of fat due to poor absorption and digestion, they are not eating carefully, as they are distracted. They do not learn how to appreciate their food and also miss one of the great opportunities to bond socially and learn how to talk with parents and siblings and listen in a relaxed setting around a table.

The long-term repercussions of the changes to dietary, exercise and eating habits for our grandchildren’s generation are not looking good at present. Being overweight in childhood can lead to obesity in mature adulthood with heart disease and diabetes posing a huge threat to the health, and therefore the finances, of coming generations.

The second issue is more difficult to define. One of the biggest surprises to many people is that their children, when bringing up their own little ones, seem to have no memory of all the things instilled in them as a good way to be, or how to do things. Grandparents often see huge differences in the way their own children were brought up and how their grandchildren are being raised and it is not always a comfortable thing to see. This is not just that all parents have their own ideas on what is best for their child but the social pressures change greatly from generation to generation.

Research is trotted out daily to show that this or that parenting method is harmful, or the gold standard, and parents tailor all the information as best they can. I can’t help feeling that it is harder now than perhaps it was when we were bringing our little ones up. There is so much information where there was so little for us. We either made a conscious choice to do things the way our own parents did, or, if that was not such a happy experience, to oppose their way. Now there is a plethora of ‘good’ parenting advice and all of it different.

I think it is important to bear in mind that our way will not be our children’s way. Having said that there is still room for discussion about any concerns you might have over your grandchildren. As a grandparent you have a duty to see that the little ones are getting all they need to help them grow happy and healthy.

Your worries about their health could be voiced as just that, your own concerns and observations. If any of the children are disabled by their weight, ie getting breathless during normal play activity, or just not having any active play, that does need to be brought to the attention of their parents. Encourage your son and your daughter to treat this as something you can address as a family group, but it is important to talk to them as individual family units – your son and his wife, and your daughter and her husband. It is important too, that this is not seen as a criticism of their parenting, more an acknowledgment of how hard it is to balance everything in these pressured times.

Be constructive. Have a few suggestions of how you might be able to help support them in bringing the children round to a new way of family routine. Perhaps trying a family day each week for a few weeks, when there is no tv, plenty of games or activities, communal meal preparation and table setting – maybe with the children taking turns to decorate the table with a theme of their choice, and a word game or a ‘tell us one thing about your day’ during the meal itself with a prize for the best story. Once it becomes an accepted pattern then the habit can be adapted to happen more regularly with variations on the ‘no tv’ rule or something similar, but meals can then be enjoyed differently, and in a healthy way.

Certainly you can do lots to make visits at your house more enjoyable for the children and therefore for you too. Make sure you have something prepared that will interest them – outdoors if the weather allows. When they arrive take control by plainly and kindly saying there will be no tv until later – you specify the time - as you wish to spend time with them and do things with them. Have food prepared in advance and make sure there are plenty of healthy but tempting snacks but no unhealthy ones. Make mealtimes an ‘all sit down together’ time and have some sort of incentive – maybe a special pudding or a fun thing to do halfway through the meal, or a treat for what is voted the best joke. This way you will be playing your own vital part in reinforcing the family time experience, helping the grandchildren develop conversational and social skills and backing up your children’s efforts to be good parents.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.
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