“Mom, are you going to go on a diet anytime soon?”
Yesterday I was standing in the kitchen with my two daughters, making a snack, when my 7-year-old uttered these words. I immediately looked down at my thighs. Does she know something I don’t? Is she trying to break the news to me, not so gently? Plenty of answers, from smart retorts to preachy tirades on self-image came to mind, but I decided instead to just ask a question.
I fought back a cascade of emotional self-doubt and condemnation, and asked in as neutral a tone as I could muster, “Why, honey?”
(Because we all know that when you ask a 7-year-old their opinion, like it or not, you’re going to get an honest answer.)
“I don’t know. I just want to go on a diet,” she replied, with an open and unashamed face.
At this point, I was flooded with a mix of thoughts. As soon as I felt relief from my own thigh crisis, I felt horror at the thought of my second grader feeling the urge to go on a diet. Where did this come from? Peer pressure? Health class? TV? That’s it. We’re quitting everything.
Calming myself down yet again (can you tell I have diet issues?) I asked, “But why? What do think going on a diet will do for you?”
“I just want to eat healthy,” she answered.
I could tell from her manner that she was telling the truth. She must have heard something about “a healthy diet” and decided that sounds like a good thing. (She’s my curious one. She learns by doing. She can’t just be told what something means, she has to try it for herself to find out. This can be both a good trait, and a terrifying one.)
Realizing that she needed a straight answer, I told her, “A diet is just a word that describes the food you eat on a daily basis. You can have a healthy diet, or an unhealthy diet. We don’t ‘go on a diet’, we just choose to eat a healthy diet every day. There are always ways to eat healthier, but you don’t need to worry too much about it because that’s mommy’s job – to feed you a healthy diet every day.”
That seemed to satisfy her curiosity and besides, the snack was ready so she scampered off. But I continued to think about our conversation.
There are moments in parenting when you realize you stand on a precipice. Depending on what you say or do, your children’s ideas will be formed a certain way. (There are also lots of times you don’t realize this, but it’s still happening.) This was surely one of those times, but would our one-minute conversation be enough to safeguard her from worrying about her weight, focusing on food, and doubting herself into dieting when she gets older? Probably not.
It’s easy for me to see that my girls are beautiful, but how long will they believe that about themselves if I don’t believe it about myself too? Being a mom is scary because your kids learn so much from you. I want them to learn from me that there are more important things in life than the number on their waistband. Kids are smart. They know a hypocrite when they see one. So the only hope I have is to be transparent and open and truthful. I think if I am gentle with myself, they will learn to be gentle with themselves too.
That’s why I’m renewing my commitment to live my life in a way that backs up what I said to her. I guarantee you that if I go on a “diet”, my kids will know about it. They’ll know because the first thing to go will be my coffee with french vanilla creamer, and I will become a cranky monster. No one will be able to escape the wrath. So instead, no dieting for me. I’m publishing my resolution here so I will be accountable. Here it is:
- I will choose to eat healthy foods (to offset the unhealthy ones that I don’t intend to give up).
- I will look in the mirror in the morning and thank God for making me strong and, dare I say it?, beautiful.
- I will hold my head high and my back straight, and not just because good posture makes me look taller.
- I will either believe that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, or I will betray my Creator, and my two beautiful little girls in the process.
- No magazine or TV ad will inform me of how I should look. Instead I will take joy in my husband’s smile and when my kids squeeze me around my non-washboard middle.
I’ve often thought that I could either be skinny, or a good mom, but probably not both at the same time. Maybe that’s not actually true, but it sure feels that way when I’m dieting. I love my kids more when I’m not so busy envying their food, or their metabolism, or their adorable skinny legs.
Most days I manage to find a healthy balance, but on the days when I waiver, may I remember that this body bore those beautiful children, and therefore is to be respected and applauded. And maybe even rewarded. With a donut.
Have you ever thought about how your view of yourself affects your children’s view of themselves? Tell me how you deal with it…