In my seventeen plus years of mothering with now, four daughters: seventeen-year-old twins, a twelve-year-old, and a nine-year-old, I have never said, “I need to lose weight” in front of any of my children.
In fact, I have never said any variation of the following in front of my girls:
I wish I looked different.
Aging is awful.
I hate my thighs (or any other body part).
I need to go on a diet.
I shouldn’t have eaten that.
I don’t like the way I look.
I wish I were thinner.
And this doesn’t make me a superhero or a perfect mom.
My decision to not put myself down is rooted in childhood.
When I was around nine years old, I made this decision, a commitment to myself, to always speak kindly about myself in front of my someday children.
Growing up, I heard my mom comment about her weight, what she ate, and expressed dissatisfaction with her appearance. And while it wasn’t all the time, I heard it frequently.
And her negative, hurtful, self-talk, impacted me tremendously.
I would tell her not to say that.
I would tell her she was beautiful.
I would tell her it wasn’t true and I loved her.
I would feel helpless hearing one of the most loving persons in the world to me-my mom-talk about herself this way.
And my reassurances didn’t seem to fill the hole of insecurity that I now know as an adult, my mom needed to fill herself.
Over time, I ignored her negative self-talk and committed to my someday children: I would always talk kindly to myself about my body.
As a child, I felt mostly confused why my mom spoke to herself this way.
To me, she was perfect, loving, caring and she was my mom.
And I loved her immensely, and still, do.
She was my world.
Which made it all the more confusing why she would talk to herself so harshly.
Perhaps that is the innocence of a child, who loves blindly, without criticism. A child’s love is a pure, unconditional love, and it knows no judgment until it’s experienced or taught or messaged.
It is like no other, seeing past all of the imperfections we as mothers, see in ourselves.
Several years ago after the birth of my third daughter, I was in a situation when I had to deal with questions from my daughter about my body three months postpartum. One of the twins, who was five at the time, asked me why my stomach was still ‘puffy.’
The conversation between us went like this:
My daughter asked, “Mom, why do you have a puffy belly?”
I said, “Well, that’s where your sister grew.”
“Why does it still look like you have a baby in your belly?”
“Because it takes some time for a mommy’s belly to heal after a baby is born.”
Then the crucial question I didn’t see coming, “Don’t you want it to go away?”
Pausing for a minute my mind raced, I felt like saying:
“Yes, I want it to go away. I can’t wait to be able to get out of these yoga pants into something other than an elastic waistband.”
Or, “Yes, the three of you have done a number on my body. I want my belly to be flat, but that may never happen.”
And the thought, “My body will never be the same after having children and I am so sad about it.”
And after those options passed, I was leaning to pure honesty saying, “Yes, I’d like my puffy belly to go away.”
Instead, I was brought back to my childhood self and the negative self-talk I heard my mom say growing up.
And at that moment, I said to my daughter, “I love my belly, it reminds me of you and your sisters first home, close to me, where you grew.”
Apparently, my answer satisfied her, because her next words were, “Oh, ok, can I have some strawberries?”
As I prepared her strawberries, I reflected in how I just honored the commitment my childhood self made to my someday children. How I promised to express love and positive messages about myself in front of my children, no matter what.
And it doesn’t mean in my fifteen years of mothering, I haven’t had a negative thought or feeling about my physical appearance, shape, and size.
My body has gone through significant changes over four pregnancies and nursing four children. And while the changes are real, to be honest, I am grateful for those changes; they remind me of the greatest gifts given to me, my children.
On the days when I have negative thoughts about myself, I use the skills I tell clients to use: to challenge the negative self-talk, be compassionate, loving and kind to yourself. And in the rare moments when the frustration and negative self-talk has its hold, I reach out for support, and journal-writing it out is a great way to heal.
And in my family, with my daughters, we don’t label food as ‘bad’ or ‘good.’
Instead, we talk about growing foods and sometimes foods.We talk about taking care of our bodies by getting enough exercise, sleep, and nutrition. We talk about mindful eating: not to eat just for the sake of eating, but for energy and health and to taste what you’re eating and stop eating when you feel full. And we also talk about enjoying the food you’re eating, instead of saying, “I shouldn’t eat this,” because feeling guilty while eating seems counterproductive and destructive.
Raising four daughters, I am sure it’s only a matter of time before they get messages about their bodies and appearance, what they ‘should’ look like and how they compare to beauty standards and ideals.
It is not an ‘if”scenario, it’s a matter of ‘when.’
But one thing I am certain of, they won’t hear it from me.
If you have said any of these phrases or variations of, in front of your children, I do not judge you.
But I do ask you to reflect on the impact the words and phrases you use has not only on your children but yourself.
Be kind to yourself and see yourself through the compassionate lens your children see you.
Accept the body you have and set realistic goals if you want to be the healthiest version of you.
If you’ve spoken negatively about yourself in front of children, forgive yourself, learn from it, the past is just that, in the past.
Move forward and may the words you speak for yourself be loving and kind with inspiration from the unconditional love your child has for you.
© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2018