Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Mother's Pain.

A friend emailed me recently after reading my post about me putting my social anxiety fears onto my daughter’s shoulders. It was a painful email to read…and I imagine equally as painful for her to write. It was in reference to putting our “fat” fears onto our children. And man…while my head is spinning with myriads of thoughts on this….it’s still not easy to write.

The mother's email to me said this:

I am constantly worried I am putting my hang ups and fears onto my daughter. I know I do it and I try to stop myself, but it's so hard because in my mind I say I'm trying to protect her - but I'm really trying to protect me when I was her age.

I am REALLY struggling with her right now because in the last year she's really chunked up and the little inner fat girl in me would do anything not to have her struggle with weight the way I did my whole life. She is not fat, but she is right on the borderline and at the age where she'll start getting teased if we don't stop it. It's hard to handle and I know I'm failing because I say things I shouldn't. It's like walking a tight rope because I don't want her to go through what I went through, but if I'm super strict about everything the poor girl puts in her mouth I'll end up giving her an eating disorder when she grows up.

If I go back into my own history, as a young child and teen, I wasn’t overweight. I wasn’t thin either. And I swear to you that about 8 out of 10 of my friends were literally either anorexic or bulimic. At lunch – they’d see who could throw up first. Or who could go the longest without eating…until they passed out. It was a fad. One I never dabbled in – um cuz – I was in love with Oreos. I was muscular though and weighed more than anyone ever guessed and my mother never saw me as thin.

To this day when I am thinner now than I was then…she still can’t see it. She sees me as the same size as her….which I am not. I used to be but am no longer. Just the other day I had her take a skirt to get altered. She picked it up for me. I had the lady make it the same size as a skirt I wear regularly – which is a 6. My mother handed me the bag with the finished skirt in it and said, “Well I sure hope it fits you because it doesn’t fit me.”…in a tone that clearly said, “It ain’t gonna fit you sweet thang.” Or at least that’s what I heard.

I was scared to death to try it on.  What if she was right and it didn't fit?

It fits. I wore it Monday out of spite. It took everything in me not to drive over there and walk in wearing it.

So while my mother never said any unkind words to me about my weight…there are little jabs here and there like the above and always comparisons to my size 2 sister.

I kind of had a mother who saw fat on me that wasn’t really there. Which leads me to my next point – the opposite – the mothers who can’t see fat.

I have a cousin and her children – a boy and a girl – are very overweight, as is she. I swear to you on everything that is holy – she doesn’t notice. When we all lined up for a family picture, her own father yelled out loud enough for everyone to hear, “Yup, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Look at my fat daughter up there looking just like me.” He is indeed obese too. He laughed. She laughed. Everyone else cringed and waited for a fight because God knows for most people – them would have been fighting words.

Nope, nothing. Laughter. She never blushed. Never got mad. She laughed. A real laugh.

And on Facebook she constantly talks about her kid’s beauty and constantly talks about making them pies, taking them for ice cream, eating entire pizzas, candy bars by the dozen. In fact, most of her posts are about food. But my God – she seems so happy. For real. Not a fake, empty kind of happy with sadness lurking behind it. Like for real happy and she doesn’t see her kids as anything but gorgeous and healthy.

And I wonder – is that a bad thing? I mean with a mother who clearly is happy and enjoys life overweight – won’t they grow up to be/act the same? Won’t they be fine if they never change and get thinner? Hell – they won’t be emotionally scarred like some thin girls are – because their mother only treated them as if they were perfect.

Which brings me to what we teach our children even when we’re trying not to. When I initially lost all my weight I probably went overboard. I stuck to my calorie range every day and never ever missed a workout. It was my life. It had to be at that point in time. But I realized I don’t want to teach my girls that diet/exercise are the only things in life so I backed off the food and workout dialogue.

I seriously walk around naked quite a bit – not because Rambo likes it – but because I want them to see that I am not ashamed of my scars and my body and that I am proud of it…and I will not hide it in shame from people like my husband or children. I do not talk diet in front of them. I do not whine about exercise in front of them. I don’t talk about my weight or pounds.

But yet they know….because just yesterday I ate a Tootsie Roll and my 4 year old Banana simply stated, “Mommy, you cannot eat that. You are on a diet.” I nearly choked on that chocolate turd of heaven. Now I’d bet my left titty – she has no idea what a diet even is….but it shocked me. Apparently I “do” talk food around her – enough that she knows candy is not allowed.  At the age of 4.  *sigh*

And the family went on a walk the other night – and I left them all – to go ahead so I could run. Watermelon wanted to run with me but couldn’t keep up the entire time. So it was me running alone and the three of them walking. Was that smart? Did I teach her exercise is more important than precious family time and discussion? Why couldn’t I have walked with them? It still would have been exercise. Sometimes I still go overboard it seems. Running burns more calories you know – and last night – that’s all that mattered to me. Regret mattered later.

Back to the friend who emailed me….I don’t know how to help her….so I’m asking you guys for her. I have two very active thin girls and I have never had to watch what they eat. They eat everything from health food to junk food to everything in between in different quantities. Sometimes they eat very little – they say they are full – and I say okay. I never tell them to finish their plate and overeat. I let them listen to their stomachs and of course if they come up hungry again in 5 minutes – they need to eat more of that supper they claimed to be full on. But chips and stuff like candy are allowed because my kids go outside until dark every night and run and walk and ride bikes. They don’t own video games and usually only watch tv after dark. They burn off what they eat so it’s never been a problem. I’ll keep an eye on it but so far we are okay.

Lest you are mistaken - let me assure you - the fear of them gaining weight is always in the back of my mind.  No mother wants that for her child....when you've been there yourself.

If I had little girls on the verge of being overweight – what would I do? I don’t know. Like my friend said – if you take food away – you give them a complex and possibly an eating disorder. If you let them continue to gain weight – it gets worse and they get picked on and have to go through losing it as an adult. How do you stop it? Is the answer a family diet where everyone is involved? Is the answer a candid conversation with the child? What if the child is too young to understand?

I guess as a mother I wish this wasn’t even a topic to discuss. I wish it was all as easy as my cousin – literally enjoy life, eat what you want, only see beauty no matter what you weigh – period. But we all know it’s not that easy…and that would only happen in CareBear Land.

It’s sort of like me wanting Watermelon so badly to never feel the social anxiety I feel or miss out on life like I did because of it. When we try to prevent our children from becoming overweight we are hoping like hell they never feel fat like we did or have to work their asses off to lose it like we are.

But the subject is intense and controversial and there are so many options on how to handle it. I wish I knew the answer….so I could help this friend. In the meantime, can you guys chime in? I’m curious as to how you handle it if you’re in the situation now or how you would handle it if you were some time in the future.

And I'm curious out of selfishness, in case down the road I have to deal with this regarding my girls. 

And to my friend who emailed me….your daughter is lucky to have you….that’s the one thing I do know. And thank you for sharing your pain with me…..I wish I could make it go away.

I truly do.

32 comments:

Jacquie said...

The only thing I can add to this was a conversation that I recently had with my older daughter. She and I were talking about my niece who is 14 and is very obese. My sister goes from having her head in the sand to practically berating my niece for eating this or that. No consistency at all. I forgive her for this because of the hell she has gone through. However, my daughter gets very upset with my sister, not to her face, but she shared with me "Aunt Sue is not helping Elayna at all. When I was 13 and you saw that I had put on some weight, you would gently remind me of the struggles that you went through, and still go through. I know I didn't seem like I appreciated your concern but I did. Believe me, I may not have acted like that to your face but I did appreciate it....it made me think twice the next time I wanted to eat something unhealthy."

Wow...who knew, right? It made me cry because I have always been very up front with my girls about body image and weight but I tried so hard not to come down on them if I thought they were following in my path. I always tried to steer them, I guess, but not push. Does that make sense?

Amy W. said...

Did I miss what the email was about specifically? I reread the post, and want to make sure I am not answering the wrong question...Okay...I can't answer it all here. I will give my thoughts on me little blog.

L A U R A said...

Wow, I can really relate to that...

Amanda said...

I don't know what to tell you on your kids, because I struggle with the same thing. Last night I had to make the conscious effort not to exercise, because my husband was home in time for dinner for once and we needed the family dinner more than I needed the treadmill.

Your girls are healthy and active. You don't shame them about their food intake. As far as your youngest noting that a Tootsie Roll is candy, well, that's good. Candy is a treat, not a staple (I have to keep reminding myself of that) and that knowledge is good to have. My boys have done similar things to me and I've pointed out that I'm counting my calories and I am paying attention to what I'm eating... it's when I eat six in a row that it becomes a problem.

They seem to get it.

The Elder is going through a slightly heavier stage at the moment where he has a very tiny tummy on himself. He's still within a healthy weight range and his doctor is happy with his height/ weight ratio, and I remind myself of this and try to keep visions of my father's weight battle off the parental radar.

Some days I do better than others.

Angela said...

OH MY GOODNESS!!! I have so much to say on this subject. I think I see myself posting about this today at lunch. I just had this conversation with a co-worker on Monday. My oldest daughter who just turned 3 thinks everything is diet food. I taught her that. :(

Amy W. said...

Thanks! That helped. My blog post got a little long winded and ended with basically no answers. I think we just have to be the women we are for each other these damn blogs ya know? Offer support. Encouragement. A kick in the ass when we ask for it....

its tough.

Xina said...

This is a hard place to be. Ulitmatley though as parents I think our goal is to foster a healthy relationship with food for our children. We hope that they will grow up to be a healthy weight naturally. I think the best thing your friend can do at the moment is to take stock of what foods her daughter is eating. Is there a lot of junk in the house making it too easy to snack mindlessly? Young children are often very active, so they burn off those excess calories rather quickly. But as girls age and stop running aroundon the playground and spend more time talking and texting their friends... well if they don't change their eating habits too they will inevitably put on weight. Not to mention that our biology causes them to put on weight during puberty to sustain all those babies we don't want them to have yet....
Anyway, my somewhat ramblingpoint is that maybe she just needs to "freshen up" the snacks. She can say that the whole family needs to eat healthier foods. Make it about health not weight. And while she's at it, maybe get her involved in something that will help ensure she gets adequate excercise. Maybe take a dancing class with her daughter or make a family bike ride part of their weekend routine. Just keep it fun and happy. My mother has the same issue with my weight. She is always making snide remarks about how fat I am. I hope I never do that to my child. But I also don't want to stand by and watch him become unhealthy because that would be shirking my responsibility as a parent to keep my son safe.
Hmmmm. I should have done as other commenters did and saved this formy own blog. Oh well, don't feel like deleting it now, so sorry for the long post!

Linda said...

Well my friend, thank you for writting the post I couldn't-but I will. I am trying so hard not to make my problems my daughter's, but it's such an internal battle. Thank you for your constant support and love.

LDswims said...

I have a lot to say on this subject, too. But to try and be concise instead of taking over your blog, I'll just say I think the "rule" needs to center on balance. Between exercise vs. family time, portions, healthy food vs. yum-but-bad-for-you food. It's all about balance.

My husband and I have already talked a lot about this, how we hope to stop this trend in it's tracks, not give it to our baby-to-be. Until a certain age it's ok to serve their plates, good to. But we will never tell them "you must finish your plate". We will never say desert is contingent upon "eating all your dinner". We will not reward overeating with a sugary sweet. Babies are born with the innate ability to know when they are full and as parents/humans/adults, we teach that out of them. Our hope is to let them keep that going.

But now what happens if it's already been taught out of them. How do you teach it back? That's what we've all struggled with, I think. And all I can think there is communication, education. Kids are pretty responsive, even if they don't necessarily act like it. It's like saying "just say no to drugs" and keeping that dialog going. Somewhere down the road, it truly sinks in and it's good that the conversation was going for years...

Still oh so many more thoughts...

Jenny said...

This is really not easy for me to talk about, but I didn't want to leave without commenting. I think some things like this are times when we should talk to professionals. Being a mom is so hard. You beat yourself up for things you can't control. I don't think that there is one right answer and because it is so complex your friend (any of us) needs the help of an outside person who is not emotionally attached.

These posts touch me because I have kids and it makes it hard for me to comment so I hope I don't seem dismissive.

Kahla Kiker Building Blocks Bootcamp said...

To your friend. You have to remember that your problems are not your daughter's problems, but with that being written, a mother knows best. We know best because we have the experience to know. We also know that not all experiences are alike, but have the ability to shorten the side effects with our children's. I asked my 11 year old daughter the question above (who IS struggling with her weight) and this is her response: "Mom, does her daughter want to lose weight? Or, does the mom want her to lose weight?" (I preceeded to tell her that I didn't think the daughter wanted to lose weight, but the mom just didn't want her daughter to gain weight)and my genius of a daughter had this to say: "Mom, if the mom is the one with the problem - then tell the mom to take her daughter out and play with her. Every kid wants to go play and playing is exercise." "She doesn't have to tell her daughter that it is for exercise!"

I guess my daughter was really saying that if the daughter doesn't realize that there is a potential problem, then the responsibility is for the mom to take control without creating any un-needed body-image stress on the daughter.

Makes perfect sense to me.

Gina said...

Ohhh. I really liked the above comments daughter's perspective. How neat for her to come up with that. Gotta love it!

MandaPanda said...

Hmmm...I think this is something all of us with a weight problem and children deal with. I am TERRIFIED that my girls will end up being obese. My oldest is thin (we actually had to get her to gain weight as a baby) and is constantly running around. My youngest has more baby fat and isn't quite as high energy. Will I treat them differently? Should I? I'm afraid I have no good answers for your friend because it's a problem I'm not looking forward to facing. I think it's always best to lead by example which is why I wanted to get healthy. The whole "do as I say, not as I do" thing doesn't work well with children. If you eat healthy, they'll eat healthy. If you're active, they'll be active. Maybe that's the best way to fight it??? I'm interested in everyone's thoughts.

Kristin said...

I agree with Jenny about seeking professional help. I think my mom did all the right things with me - never berated me, encouraged any efforts I made, always had healthy food at the ready, set a good example herself by eating realllly healthfully. And I got fat anyway.

When my son started fixating on food and putting on weight, we took him to a child psychologist. Mostly for advice on how to handle it rather than to have him "treated" for anything. Her assessment of why he was doing it was the same as ours, and her tips worked.

So if you find you're really struggling to get a good balance, sometimes the professional will just reinforce that what you're doing is the right thing and if you stay with it you will make an impression on your kids. That was really comforting to me.

amandakiska said...

I am struggling with this too. My oldest is a bit overweight and she already has a lot of pain about her size. I personally believe that diets a huge part of the problem and forcing a child to diet is an awful thing to do. I talk to my daughter about eating moderatley and not engaging in behaviors like food hiding and I encourage her to be active. And I tell her she is beautiful because she is!

Read said...

ok - I just realized that my comment was going to be way too long, so I'm going to put my thoughts on my own blog too. This is a really tough issue!

Something About Kellie said...

I think it all comes down to what the daughter wants. Maybe she is the happy cousin, maybe she doesn't see the fat.

I think as long as she isn't using the extra fat as a defense shield or for deferred fulfillment then I think its ok for the daughter to be as she is. There are kids out there that are chubby naturally and then as they mature they become slim. Sometimes naturally, sometimes with a little work.

I think as long as the daughter is truly happy then there is no need to intervene on a 'diet' level. Doing active things with the daughter would be a great start in getting to know if the daughter is happy as she is. Spending quality time with kids is far better than the kids living soley to meet our expectations.

As mothers it is our responsibility to guide our children through life, not direct them to what we think is right for them...

Hope this is making sense!

Jess said...

When I was growing up, there were 4 fast food restaurants in my town, and only 1 with a drive-thru...now there are more than 20! I don't think there's anything wrong with setting healthy dietary boundaries. We wouldn't think twice about doing it if our children had diabetes or celiac, right?

My kids know that McDonald's fries taste better than mommy's baked zucchini fries. It's not only my responsibility to prevent them from eating McDonald's fries every night, but to teach them WHY it's important for us to choose not to.

Joey said...

Much to think about. I, too, should blog about it. It brings up many memories.

Nikki P said...

My god I love you Draz. You are such great food for thought.
x

Sandy Lee said...

Now I really have to have my 27 yr old daughter write a post to prove I was a great mom. Personally, I worried, but just let her be. She weighs more than me but in Amy's words: "she's an attention whore, talks too much (like me), and does not know when to keep her mouth shut (like me). And she doesn't let ANYONE walk over her. I love her just the same. It's all about letting them just be themselves. And defend them to the death. Because they came from your loins. And they have that lovely X chromosome that makes them girly. Unconditional love is what it is all about. No judgements, no crap. Now go give them girls a hug for me.

Band-Babe said...

First, about your cousin- I just read an article about how obese people underestimate their obesity, and morbidly obese people underestimate their morbid obesity more than obese people. So, the fatter a person is, the more likely they are to underestimate their size. At my fattest, I wouldn't get on a scale, and I had underestimated (hence the freak out that lead to me getting a band). I knew I was fat, but avoided situations (like flying, etc) that would accentuate that fact. Weird how the brain works.

Secondly, about your sweet friend worrying about her daughters eating habits... I have so been there. I was worried sick about what I was teaching my daughter about food. Thankfully, as I began a healthier relationship with food... so did she! It's seriously all about example. And, while they are young, all is not lost... bad habits can be broken and new habits formed. Without even a word being said, or emotional scarring. Seriously, my daughter is not afraid to stop when she is full. She always takes half of her food home from a restaurant. And, most importantly... she's not afraid of treats. I really think overcoming that fear, and learning to truly enjoy food is the key to healthy eating. We do eat healthy food, but have learned how to bring in desserts and goodies without overdoing it. That makes me proud of the both of us.

The end. ;)

Julie, The Accidental Fat Chick said...

Something must be in the air... I've been working on a post all week that touches on this very topic.

I have a cousin that sounds just like yours... and I think like Band-Babe suggests, she doesn't even realize how dire her situation truly is. Its sad.

Tina said...

Like Amy-A comment was just too short. Go to my blog for my LONG WINDED comment to both of your posts.

xxxooo

Scuttleboose said...

This is why I never want to procreate. Well, this, and the idea of trying to write a dissertation with a child hanging from your breast is *way* too scary.

Liz said...

Wow, thats really tough. I feel really bad for my mum now. I am 20, but my mum still takes care of me. I have been overweight since I was 16 so I definitely know the STRUGGLE it is with your mum.

If my mum says "Don't eat that" I get sooo upset because I automatically think that she thinks I am fat. She assures me that its because she knows I want to loose weight. And I know she only looks out for my best interest and she only wants me to be happy. But if someone tells me not to eat something, it really hurts my feelings.

Then if my mum lets me eat whatever I want, I get mad at her. I say "You are my MUM you are supposed to help me and watch out for what I eat and help me loose weight!"

I feel so bad for her now, because I know she can't win. And I honestly can't imagine the pain she went through as she watched me gain forty kilograms.

Drazil, your posts are always so thought provoking and touching.

Carolyn said...

wow...fantastic post! It really speaks to the heart for me. One of the scarest things I feel about being the size I am is the impact I have on my kids. Where oh where is that happy medium? Totally need to process this because I don't want to make food even an issue but like your friend said, "my little inner fat girl" (and outer for me(not banded yet)) and all her sadness is popping through. GREAT and I have my psych eval on Monday. Hope I don't just cry like a baby at the meeting.

Mary H. said...

Although I am not a mother (maybe one day), this has brought up a very good topic. I was a fat kid...I've never known anything but being fat. It really gave me a lot to think about and I wrote a lot about growing up as a fat kid on my blog. It feels good to write about the things you never talked about before.

Dizzy Girl said...

I know I don't have children- so take what I say with a grain of salt...but if I did have daughters- The first thing I would try to do is instill a positive self image in my daughter. Teach her that her worth is more than a # on a scale and an image. She is a person with dreams, hopes, fears. My mother did not really help us to have a positive self image when I was growing up because she didn't have one of herself, and it affected me and my sister eventually. Next, I would try to teach my daughter to respect her body and eat healthy. Eating healthy can be fun! It can taste good! Of course she can have a treat here and there- treats are treats and trying to deny someone something isn't healthy or good for them either- they learn to hoard and see good things as "bad". But they also need to feel how it makes their bodies feel and focus more on being healthy and taking care of our bodies. The size of our bodies, unfortunately, ties to our self image and our perceptions of ourselves...so I guess for me as a mother, I would try to combat these two issues together- because more than anything- I want my daughters to know they are worth so much more than what society tells us they're worth. They are beautiful, small or big. If they are comfortable in their skin and take care of themselves (healthy), then I love them no matter what size they are. But I don't know- it's so hard to say what the best thing to do is...

Dizzy Girl said...

One more thing- I would probably be like you too- and NOT try to say the word diet or let my children see me struggling with my own issues. I want my children more than anything- to have a positive self image. I am finally earning one for myself- so hopefully I can share that with them. It's taken me wayyyyyy too long to get here though. :)

Cindylew said...

I'm not a parent so I have no advice to offer...and I imagine the majority of us who struggle with weight issues are more experts on what NOT to do than we are on how to raise kids to have a healthy relationship with food.
This is truly a complicated subject and one that is clearly in need of further discussion. Sounds like there will be a bunch of posts on this subject very shortly. Thanks for sharing.

Ms. Chunky Chick said...

(((((Draz)))))