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.