Well, this feels like a doozy of oozey, dripping shame, because for the last year, I’ve watched as, between COVID and hormones, my 14 year-old daughter gained weight. And recently, I had to acknowledge that I’ve been less than a kind person to her about this. I’ve been cruel. Judgemental. Critical. Dare I say, even unhinged... in my worst moments.
And I’m the founder of a business that trains Certified Parenting Coaches… ah the irony.
I was a dancer growing up, and when I was about 11 it was announced that my dream of a future as a ballerina was over because my hips were growing in the wrong direction. I kept dancing, finding a love for modern dance… but the message was received: if you want to succeed in life, you’d better stay thin.
In college I asked a boy I had a crush on if he would rather have a girlfriend with a pretty face or a great body. “A great body,” he replied, “because it shows she’s committed to herself.” I was 10 pounds over my desired weight at the time. I decided right then and there that he wouldn’t be interested in me.
As an adult I “allow” myself a 5-pound range on the scale. I control this almost 50-year old body with food, exercise and discipline. And I’ll admit it, my ego loves this… Because, still, now, in this world of body positivity, women like me? We are celebrated for being fit… for “still being hot.”
But this ego of mine was doing a number on the person I love the most… my own daughter. A few months into COVID, she came downstairs one morning in a sports bra. It was as if she went upstairs in March with one body, and downstairs in May with another. I remember feeling shocked seeing her tummy and arms and chest. I started to make “helpful” comments about her food choices, shared my “5-pound rule,” and suggested that we watch sugar documentaries together. (I know, awful. AWFUL.)
The more “helpful” I tried to be, the more she withdrew to her room. The more sullen she became. And the more she turned to food for comfort.
I felt righteous in my mothering. But everyone I spoke to: Friends, her dad, even coaches in my field that specialize in nutrition gave me the same advice. Stop. STOP. STOP!!!!
I remember lamenting to a sweet friend, who I trusted wouldn’t judge me for my awfulness, “if she was addicted to heroin, or alcohol, or coke I could do something about it. Why can’t I do something about THIS??!?”
“Because,” she so wisely said, “she isn’t. It’s just food, and it’s what she needs right now to feel better.”
“It’s her body. And even you don’t get to tell her what is right or wrong for her body.”
This hit me on an intellectual level, but deeper, underneath the surface of my own complicated feelings about bodies and food, I was still struggling to not say anything. I was struggling to not judge my own daughter. (Ok, I WAS judging her and doing everything I could to keep a lid on it.)
After a year of shut down my mom, son, daughter and her best friend recently went to Orlando. We walked into the AirBnB we were renting and there was a package of Oreo cookies on the counter as a welcome gift. Before the kids came in and saw them, I quickly stashed them underneath the kitchen sink.
“Want to go to the grocery store and buy some fruit?” I said, smiling to hide my sneakiness.
That evening, I was lying on the couch watching TV with my mom, and my 16-year old son came downstairs, and started rifling through the cabinets. “Whatcha lookin’ for?” I asked him.
“I want some hot tea.” Seeing that he’s getting closer and closer to where I hid the cookies, I felt panic rising in my chest (I told you… unhinged). “There’s definitely no tea.” He gets closer to the kitchen sink.
“There’s no tea.” Closer.
“THERE’S NO TEA.” He opens the cabinet under the sink and I see his eyes light up with delight. “Mom!!! Someone left Oreos!!!”
“Oh,” I say, “well you can have some but don’t let your sister see, the girls don’t need more food tonight.”
His eyes darkened. He gave me a look that I most definitely deserved and also broke my heart. He chucked the cookies back in the cabinet and stormed upstairs.
I followed behind him and sat on his bed. He had his headphones on and ignored me for what felt like a lifetime. I gently placed my hand on his knee… “Talk to me, son. I am here. I am listening.”
“She feels you mom. She feels your silent judgement. She sees the way you look at her and it makes her feel so bad.”
I thank him. Because he’s an amazing brother and an amazing son. I thank him for telling me the truth.
After some processing with my own coach here’s what I found: My entire being was operating from a surface level belief that “Fat is not safe.” But when I really examined this it was complete and utter bullshit. I have so many women friends that live in bigger bodies who are sexy, smart, funny, loving and happy.
So I dug deeper... Because sexy, smart, funny, loving and happy are not possible without safety.
“Ok, Ego, so what then??!?”
“Well, she’s not making good choices. And you are her Mother. If you don't get her to make better choices she isn't..."
"She isn't what?" I ask myself. (I really hope, dear reader, that you are also someone who has conversations with yourself like this, or that unhinged label I was assigning myself is really going to stick.)
"She isn't handling this the way you would handle it."
I feel a drop in my system. The kind of drop I know I experience when I come to a profound truth.
"She is rejecting you."
And there… There we have it: Truth.
All of that grasping, controlling and judgement? It was really me doing everything possible to hold on to this beautiful creature who is, indeed, going to fly away soon and find her own path in life.
She isn’t going to do “it” like me. She. Isn’t. Me.
The next morning she came downstairs and I could see her. I could really, really see her. This blossoming, beautiful, brilliant, soon-to-be woman who’d simply been commanding her independence.
And silently, I gave it to her. The thing that was never, actually, mine to have or hold. And off she went to the pool, giggling with her best friend.