I’m constantly reminding my children to say thank you, to look for people who need a friend, to work their hardest in school, and to have an attitude of gratitude (that’s their favorite- it’s always greeted with an overly dramatic eye roll). Despite correcting their behavior and constantly talking to them about the kind of women I want them to be I am painfully aware that all these lessons and lectures have nominal value and that it will be what they see me DO that will have the most influence over who they will become.
So I try to model the way they should behave, view the world, and view themselves through my actions. When it comes to relationships, I’m OK with letting them see my husband and I have a profanity-laced screaming match because I also make sure they see me sitting on his lap, holding hands at the grocery store, and going out for child-free dinners. I wear sexy lingerie to bed every night because I want them to see that relationships require sustained effort in a variety of ways. I don’t let them watch Disney movies because I don’t want them to believe in fairy-tales. I do want them to see a realistic view of the relationship I have with their father so they won’t have a skewed view of what marriage and love is and maybe, just maybe, they will pick a partner who they can build a life with forever. When it comes to being a mother, I make sure they see me at every game, practice, recital, and lesson because I want them to know that raising their children means being there for the little and the big things. I make sure they see me cooking homemade, nutritious meals and taking care of the house so they can learn how to take care of their own families one day. I make sure when I go to work I’m dressed up (yes even on dress-down Fridays) because I want them to see how seriously I take my job and my role as a teacher. I’m hyper aware of everything they see me doing except when it comes to how I view my body.
Last week, I was trying on a bathing suit that I purchased in front of the floor length mirror in my bedroom while my girls were watching TV on my bed. I was disgustingly pulling at the fat on my sides and complaining loudly about how nursing them killed my boobs. I started to cry looking at a reflection that seemed to show nothing but my short-comings and my youngest child came to comfort me….”Why are you crying Mommy?” she looked up at me quizzically…”Because I’m fat and no matter how much I work out, I’m still fat”… She thought for a minute and then said “You’re not fat, you’re mommy”…She saw me as perfect because I was her mommy, she wasn’t looking at the stretch marks or the rolls when I bent over. I took off the bathing suit and kicked it to the corner and went in to take a shower and try to regain my composure. I came out calmer to find that my 11 year old had put on the bathing suit and was standing in front of the mirror, pulling at her perfect frame and examining herself at every angle with the same look of disgust that I had just modeled moments before and I realized my error immediately. I’m trying so hard to send her the right messages about so many things that I forgot about the most important message, that her beauty comes from within.
On this fitness journey, I’ve had to look at myself very critically and I know that I’ve completely fucked up when it comes to the messages I’m sending my daughters about their bodies. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them that they are beautiful,spectacular creatures if I let them see me hating my own shape. I remember my own mother being very critical about her body and having always been significantly heavier than her, I always thought “Wow, if my mom thinks she’s fat, she must see me as enormous”. I also remember my mom having an entire dresser drawer in her bedroom filled with candy which she would binge on every night when we went to bed. My mother shared everything she had with us but would freak out if she even heard the creak of that drawer opening… We knew that those special treats had a significant value to her and this may have been the strongest message she sent me about food despite making beautiful homemade dinners every night.
Be mindful of what messages you are sending to your children but more importantly look at yourself through their eyes. They don’t see those fine lines by your eyes as ugly- those are where they see all the laughs you’ve shared and the traces of smiles that you’ve lovingly bestowed. They don’t hug you and revile at the squishiness of your back or sides, they push into it because it is a part of who you are, a soft place to land when they need comfort. They don’t see that mommy pouch as something gross but as a gentle reminder of where they first lived inside you before they moved into the world and now only live in your heart. They are watching…intently watching…wide-eyed…make sure that they see you loving your body and accepting yourself because it will be the strongest lesson they learn from you.