Message Sent

I was talking to a friend yesterday. She’s the mother of three very active children… But, as we know, every child is different. Those differences extend to personality traits, clothing styles, and even appearances. Genetics can be funny in that you can have two siblings who look nothing alike…sometimes one takes after the father’s traits while the other mirrors mom. (And sometimes traits skip generations altogether…)

Why this biology lesson? Because she’d voiced her frustration about trying to find ways to reflect being a “fair” parent in the eyes of her children. Here’s where it got tricky. One child is at the perfect weight to match height and age, one is a bit underweight…the third one has tendencies towards being overweight regardless of how active the child is (and the child is active).

As we were talking she explained to me that with the underweight one she was having to find new and different ways to try to help him gain. These things included snack bars high in protein, etc. The problem was that the sibling who is a little over would see this and want one…and, unfortunately, sometimes her answer had to be, “no, baby, I’m sorry. This one just has way too many calories.”

The thing is, she struggles to find that fair line…and keeping her kids healthy and active. She’s a loving, attentive mother. It frustrates her because all she wants to do is keep her kids healthy, teach them proper eating habits and encourage things that she knows will help them with their self image in the future. She’s also been teaching them the importance of moderation…that there is nothing wrong with certain foods, but not to overindulge.

With all her careful coaching (through education on the ‘why’s’ behind the decisions she makes…in a positive, wholesome manner…which isn’t easy to do), she was quite taken aback to overhear a conversation between another mother and daughter the other day.

As she explained to me, the daughter was slender (maybe even a bit underweight) and an adorable pre-teen. She’d asked her mother if she could have something… I think maybe it was a kid’s cereal. The mother snapped at her daughter…”Do you want to be a fat cow?”

Now please don’t misunderstand… I’m okay with electing to have or not have certain types of food in the house. In fact, we don’t have soda in mine. I also grew up a vegetarian till I was about ten years old….and never felt like I was missing anything. What concerned me was the positioning of why the food wouldn’t be acceptable in the home. To me, it felt like she was sending the message to her daughter that she was either heading towards being overweight or was already there. Again, that’s just me.

It’s amazing how important a parent’s role and actions can be in a child’s body image perceptions. Am I a parent? No. But I do have a story to share… Shocker, right? 😉

I used to work with this woman. She was beautiful… Tall, willowy, blond…great shape (and boob job…that she was hugely proud of). She had a body builder boyfriend, so she made sure that she was in the kind of shape she deemed someone in his “fitness style” would have. How did she do this? She worked out like a crazy person…and she popped diet pills like they were candy. In fact, I later found out that she carried an extra pair of slacks in her car in case of an emergency. I asked the question some of you may be asking…what do you mean, in case of emergency? Well, apparently, one of the things these diet pills did was “cleanse your system”. That meant that sometimes she’d have “accidents”….that required her to change her pants!

No thank you! I don’t ever want to be that much a slave to “beauty”.

Here’s where the problem happened. She sat down across from me one day and began to vent.

Her: (big sigh) I just don’t know what I’m going to do!
Me: About what?
Her: My 12 year old is driving me crazy?
Me: Oh, being a pre-teen, huh? Those little rebellions or boy crazy?
Her: I wish! She’s doing well. She looks great. She made cheerleading this year.
Me: So what’s the problem?
Her: She’s been asking me if she can have some of my diet pills. I keep telling her she doesn’t need them! She looks great just the way she is!
Me: (tongue in cheek) Hmmm. Tell me something, Mom…. Where do you think she got the idea that she has to do all this stuff?
Her: What do you mean?
Me: Come on, Sweetie. Think about it… You look incredible…but what are you always doing? You don’t think she sees that? What message do you think you send to her every time you pop one of those pills?
Her: Well she doesn’t need them.
Me: And neither do you…but that doesn’t stop you. She looks up to you. She’s picked up on the message you send. She may be talented, smart and beautiful…just like her mom. But all she sees is all the things you do to your body.
Her: Hmmm.
Me: Just think about it….

The thing is, here in the States….we’ve got two extremes, and not enough in the middle. My buddy The Modern Philosopher tackled the issue of kids who aren’t active enough…and the opposite end of the spectrum (from a very unique point of view, I might add).

I guess my thoughts are…those of you who are parents…you have so much more influence on your children than you think, just not always the way you think. You can talk until the cows come home…but it’s what you do that people notice (and emulate).

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts. What things do you think are some tough issues that parents have to tackle? Have you seen/heard anything that’s made you kind of cringe inside? What kinds of examples have really wowed you?

For all you parents out there…you have a tough job. No one is ever perfect, but I sure do respect what you do.

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20 thoughts on “Message Sent

  1. My Ox is a Moron says:

    I had a nephew who had textile issues. He couldn’t handle the feel of most things against his skin. This little boy (age 3) was encouraged to play in his food, use his fingers, etc. My son, the same age, was not allowed to play in his food. My son didn’t understand and got frustrated. It was difficult since they ate lunch together everyday. We would reward my nephew for playing in his food and my son for not playing in his food. They had a favorite snack that they shared after.

    It is hard when children have different needs. I think that equal is irrelevant because it will never happen. Fair is when needs are met and rewards are equal to the activity.

  2. viveka says:

    Totally agree with you … we send the wrong messages to your kids at times. You were so right to tell you friend as you did … and she understood – hopefully she think over what she does to her body. I take my hat of for you .. doing that.

  3. filbio says:

    Problem is that the parent you speak of here has major body image and insecurity issues based on her looks and how her boyfriend probably wanted her to look. I used to be a trainer and saw this all the time. She thinks she needs the pills to stay fit but that is not the case. Children pick up on these things and want to emulate the parents thinking that is the right way. Our mass media does not help things either with how they portray women.

    Personally, I like my women a bit more curvy, healthy, with some meat on them. 🙂

    Phil
    http://www.blog.theregularguynyc.com

  4. ramblingsfromamum says:

    Thankfully I didn’t have too many hassles with my two, one was prone to being heavier the other was a little rake when they were little. Then as they grew into adults they reversed. Now because the little rake – who then packed it on – from eating mainly ‘crap’ (her call she was an adult and I couldn’t stop her, enrolled in the Navy she didn’t continue unfortunately for many reasons (one of those being sexually assaulted by her peer) but in the 7 weeks she was there she trimmed and toned down. It has been two years and she has maintained a healthy weight. I popped diet pills when I was 18 only because I went overseas and came back 2 stone heavier… drastic action was required!. Regards to the conversation with your friend – yes of course her child will want to be just like mummy and copy – that’s what they do, she needs to look at what she does (particularly in front of her).

  5. Jane Sadek says:

    And then you can go in the other direction. My mom was so FAIR it drove me nuts and it’s still going on. I don’t remember either me or my sister asking who she loved more, because she gave us daily speeches about how she loved us exactly the same. She’s still yammering on about it, in fact. She was neurotic about giving us the same number of Christmas presents and spending the same amount of money, all the while explaining how much trouble she was going through to accomplish this. It was an obsession with her.

    The problem is that fairness isn’t measured by equality. I was an active overachiever, making A’s in most of my classes, busy at church and extra-curricular activities and very social. My sister was what they called a slow learner in those days. Now they’d say she was attention deficit without the high activity that usually accompanies it. That meant she sort of floated through life and really didn’t care about much.

    When my sister hit fourth grade I might as well have fallen off the face of the earth as far as mom & dad were concerned. My parents spent their evenings trying to get through her homework and their mornings telling her how wonderful she was and how she could do anything she set her mind to. I’d still get the same number of Christmas presents and the speech about how they loved us the same, but kids know.

    Fast forward to today. My sister is still the same, with one exception, she’s been falsely built up for so long that she actually believes the propaganda. She’s still floating through life, caring about little and doing less, but the bad part is that she thinks that’s OK, even admirable. Now Mom is a frail widow and I spend a good portion of my life seeing to her needs, trying to keep up her spirit and handling all of her business. And what does sis do? ZIP!!

    Since I’m the one who takes care of Mom’s business, takes her to doctor’s appointments and spends at least one day a week with her, I’m the daughter that everyone knows. When they comment to her about how lucky she is to have me, Mom informs them that she has two daughters and she loves them both the same. Couldn’t she just for once simply say, “Yes, I know”?

    Kids don’t expect to be treated the same. It’s a false demand parents force upon themselves. Do’t waste your time telling kids that you love them the same and wear yourself out treating them equally. Celebrate the unique person that each one is. Explain that you love them differently, because they are different. That one needs the love in the form of a power bar, but the other one gets a belly rub or a kiss or something that is their very own. The kid doesn’t want the power bar, they want affirmation.

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      That’s tough…it’s different to love your children equally, but differently (going by each of their needs) v. paying lip service to it…and/or making it the reason not to have to push your child to be better and stronger. I’m sorry.

    • CJ says:

      Have you ever read “The 5 Languages of Love”? http://www.5lovelanguages.com/
      Because you’re describing what happens when people don’t recognize that we all need to be loved in different ways because we are all different. I’m sorry you haven’t been acknowledged and loved for what you are and what you do…your acts of service.

      • Jane Sadek says:

        I have read it and it’s a great book. I read back over what I said and it may sound like I’m a bitter person, angry at life. I’ve actually got a great marriage, a ton of friends and a very fulfilling life. I just remember the frustration of being told so often how equal we were and wish, just once, Mom would say, WOW. It would go a long way.

        • CJ says:

          I don’t think you sound bitter at all. It would be nice for everyone to be acknowledged in ways that are meaningful to them. Unfortunately, most in our society can’t comprehend the complexity of human relationship and what hinders and what builds. I’m glad you have other people in your life that give you joy and build you up!

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