Dear Ann Cannon • I was recently diagnosed with cancer and have been going through chemotherapy. I called my good friend from college, who lives in another state, and told her from the very beginning. We usually talk every two or three months.
However, she started calling me every other day to see how I’m doing and to offer advice. She begins every conversation with, “Here’s what you need to do” or “What are you eating?” She is on a very special diet and thinks I should be on her diet, too. I’ve been losing weight and don’t have much of an appetite but was proud of the fact the other morning that I fixed myself a Swedish pancake and told her I was eating healthy. She said, “Honey, a Swedish pancake isn’t healthy!” Honestly, I felt bullied by her, so I told her she should back off and that I could make my own decisions.
I’m not sure what to do now. I don’t want to lose my old friend, but I also don’t want her telling me what to do.
— Sick and Tired
Dear Sick and Tired • First, let me say how sorry I am that you’re dealing with cancer. You’re in a hard, hard place. I’m sure you have many family and friends who are pulling for you — please include me on that list.
And speaking of friends, let’s talk about the woman you’ve known since college. People give other people advice for all kinds of reasons (including the fact they were hired by the Trib to do exactly that). Missionary zeal is one of those reasons. Clearly your friend is one of those people who believe diet can cure everything. Food choices give these individuals a heightened sense of control in our messy world, right? And they’re more than happy to evangelize when it comes to their beliefs. That could be a part of what’s happening here. But I suspect most of your friend’s advice comes from a place of genuine love for you. Which is nice.
Still, your first priority right now is to take care of yourself — physically and emotionally. It’s clear that your friend’s concern feels stifling to you, and you were well within your rights to ask her to “back off.” If you feel like you need to revisit this territory with her, either because her feelings were hurt or because she’s still offering unwanted advice, talk to her again. Explain that while you truly value her friendship, the most helpful thing she can do right now is to support the decisions you’re making for your own care. If this puts her nose temporarily out of joint, so be it. My guess is that she’ll get over it — sooner rather than later.
Dear Ann Cannon • Recently my husband and I were at a family gathering when my aunt, whom I love, came over to my husband, who was holding our 18-month-old daughter, and said, “Here, I brought a yummy cookie for that cute girl. Let me give it to her before her mom comes back.” She proceeded to hand our daughter a cookie.
My husband was taken aback. He wanted to tell her that we’re trying to delay the introduction of sugar into our daughter’s diet as long as possible. However, he didn’t want to be rude or seem extreme, so he didn’t say anything.
I think it’s wrong for others to offer food to children without checking with parents, but how can I politely handle this type of situation? We know our child will have sugar, but we would like to control her diet at least in her first few years of life.
— Conflicted Sugar Mama
Dear Sugar Mama • Hmmmmm. It seems to me you have two choices here. You can kindly but directly tell your aunt that you don’t want your child to have sugar and let the (chocolate?) (sorry!) chips fall where they may. Or you can decide that the occasional illicit sweet won’t ruin your child’s life.
I do agree that people should ask parents before giving children something to eat. But I also think that unless an allergy is involved, parents can opt for some flexibility on the food front. Flexibility is always an excellent tool to include in a Family Relations Toolbox.