Hi, Carolyn: My mother-in-law, "Linda," has been calling my daughter "Tootsie" as a nickname since the day she was born. I have no idea where this nickname came from but it drives me crazy. I have asked her to call her by her given name so she is not confused as she grows older and to avoid possible ridicule from classmates down the road. She tried to catch herself at first but now continues to call her Tootsie even with gentle reminders.
We see her about once a week, plenty of chances to correct herself, but she continues with this nickname and sometimes even comes up with other crazy ones that are really bizarre.
How do I get her to stop without causing too much tension?
— Not a Fan of Tootsie
Not a Fan of Tootsie: OMG. Let the woman call her grandchild what she wants.
“[S]o she is not confused as she grows older”? You can’t have typed that with a straight face.
I’m not sure there’s a person in the roiling 7 billion-plus who didn’t get nicknamed as a kid, and I’m reasonably confident all of them know their given names. And if there are some pet-nameless, they probably wished they’d had one because nicknaming is one of the universal currencies of affection.
Unless of course it’s blatant ridicule, which Tootsie is not.
Were it not for your avoid-confusion point, I’d have spent the preceding paragraph on your “avoid possible ridicule by classmates” point, which was only a couple of degrees less acute on the see-my-own-brain scale.
When your daughter is old enough to feel the sting of classmate ridicule — or just to have classmates — she can tell Grandma herself that she dislikes the nickname. If for some reason she feels she can’t take on Grandma on this issue, she can ask you to.
So please let’s just call this what it is: You don’t like Linda.
Yes? Because this is the kind of thing people forgive — or even love — from people they love, and complain about when they’re already annoyed with someone.
If I’m wrong, then consider how your anti-Tootsie “crazy” comes across to Linda. She might think as I do.
Either way: The best approach is not, not, not to impose yourself on her relationship to your daughter or to micromanage a minor nuisance as if it’s a matter of grave consequence. It is to accept that even a grandma who gets under your skin can be a gift to your child.
Let them have their own bond. It’s a crucial step, if not THE step, in accepting that your daughter is a fully realized person, as opposed to a mini-extension of you.
If Linda ever actually, objectively puts your daughter at risk, then you can step in. But the power of the Linda-resentment vibe I’m getting suggests you need an objective third party to help you differentiate real risks to your daughter from perceived threats to you that you spin into justifications to “protect” your daughter. This is where friends who aren’t yes-friends are so valuable. They’re the ones willing to tell you to chill.
Happily, readers were willing to tell us their nicknames. Thank you Booger, WooWoo, Princess Canoodles Fricky, Smidgen, Messy Bessy Knucklehead, Schmopples, Toad and Kevin. More here: bit.ly/BoogerBear.