I Am Concerned My Daughter-In-Law Is a Hypochondriac Mother

Dear GoodTherapy.org,
I'm concerned that my daughter in law has some of the following symptoms Hypochondriac by proxy & Munchausen syndrome by proxy. I don't think she has ever intentionally made the children sick by giving them any kind of medication or poison or even old food. My concerns are she will & has run all kinds of test on my 5 year old grandson, telling the doctors he wouldn't eat & he had lost weight. He has a very poor diet, because she has told him he does not like a lot of health foods. She said he only will eat 3 different foods, which is not true. It turn out he was constipated from a poor diet. (Which I knew that before all the hospital testing) I tried to get her to tell the doctors about his diet before. She said the doctors said it didn't matter what he had been eating, it would not cause the issues he was having. She has changed schools & doctors so many times even with the other two children I can't count them all. I've heard her say the kids weigh a lot less or wear smaller size cloths than they really do. I've been concern for several years, but since I've been off work I have more time to spend with the family. I've told my son my concerns, since he works all the time & she the one that takes the children to the doctor she is the primary caretaker. He agrees with me & several other family members that have notice different things over the years. My daughter in law is the type of person that knows everything & nothing is ever her fault, she is very controlling & most everything has to be her way. We are very concern for the children & her. What, how should we approach this issue? - Worried Nana
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Dear Worried Nana,

Being worried about your grandchildren is distressing and difficult in that you have limited recourse as to be direct in making a change to their lives. Munchausen syndrome by proxy is typically pattern of behavior in which caregivers deliberately exaggerate, fabricate, and/or induce physical, psychological, behavioral, and/or mental health problems in others. The motivation is to assume the sick role by proxy, and in the sick role to have greater attention given to them. Hypochondria typically persist even after a doctor has evaluated a person and reassured them that their concerns about symptoms do not have an underlying medical basis. Hypochondriac by proxy & Munchausen syndrome by proxy are difficult concerns to address. As a grandparent, you are very limited in what you can do directly. It sounds like confronting your daughter-in-law could lead to estrangement or a fight. You have taken steps to address this issue by talking with your son and other family members. Munchausen syndrome is very difficult to diagnose because it is based on the intent of the mother acting in this way for attention for herself vs. providing care needed for her children. Based on your letter what help does your daughter-in-law need?

Is her potential hypochondrium so great that it is beginning to affect the children? Is your daughter-in-law so worried about her children being sick that she has become overly anxious? Often new and young parents worry constantly about being a good parent or making mistakes. She could be worrying and does not want to show anyone that she is not a good mother, by asking for help or advice. You could try to reassure her that all children get sick from time to time and that you as a mother with a lot of experience would be glad to be a resource for her. Then if she asks for help, you can gently give her advice about what worked for you when you were a mother.

Is she working with a counselor and is there a way it can be gently suggested that she talk to someone about the stress and anxiety of raising children? Often times in my practice I have to remind parents that children do not come with instruction manuals and that by reading, and asking for help, we can learn to be better parents. Keep a journal or a log of the events that are happening with the children so that you have something you can reference as you are dealing with this problem. Lastly, if nothing else seems to be helping the situation you can contact a therapist to discuss these issues in more depth for yourself.

Sincerely,
Jeffrey

Jeffrey Gallup
Jeffrey Gallup, MA, LPC, is a Mansfield, Texas-based psychotherapist specializing in child and adolescent issues.
  • 2 comments
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  • Curt E

    Curt E

    July 11th, 2012 at 6:01 AM

    If your son is unwilling to acknowledge the problem and there is no harm that you have occurring to the children other than their frequency of going to the doctor I don’t think there is much that you can do. I wouldn’t risk estranging your son by pushing the issue any further, if you have a joint Dr. you may want to talk with him or her about the issues.

  • Waldo

    Waldo

    August 18th, 2015 at 11:52 AM

    Nice article !

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