This year I was confronted with a big fat parenting dilemma. Pardon the pun….
It is a dilemma that I knew I would have to hurdle at some point, but I didn’t think it would be this soon. And it never crossed my mind that it would be with my son. My husband took the kiddos to his parent’s for a big visit–it had been awhile since they’d been up, and it was the first big trip everyone took without me. (but don’t worry about me in this story—I had the house to myself and got so much shit done!!!!) Every night we’d facetime and I’d hear about all the stuff they were doing and how it was a blast. I went to the airport to surprise them, and it worked!! Both kiddos were so thrilled to see me. And the first thing my son says to me is
“We need to throw out all the junk food at home because I’m fat.”
“And because Grandpa said if I can get thinner before school he’s going to pay me X dollars that I can spend any way I want!!!!!”(no, you don’t need to know how much—let’s just say that as a Mom I feel everything over $50 is too much to give my kid, and this is over $50)
My son is NINE.
I’m forty. I don’t hide the fact that I’m forty, I’m actually quite proud of it. But I’m forty and I’ve spent roughly the last 32 years being hungry. Being passive-aggressively shamed by the majority of my family for my weight. I spent years literally not seeing who was really in the mirror, and very badly mistreating myself for all the things that we’re seared to my core growing up–that if I’m not thin I’m not good enough, that if I can’t stop eating and drop 4 sizes I’m a failure, and convinced I was going to spend my whole life hungry….full-on, multiple eating disorder hungry. Not REAL hungry like the kids in Africa or Syria—but mentally pushing myself that whatever I weigh isn’t good enough. For many many years it was my secret shame. After all—how can I claim to be anorexic if I’m a size 12/14? Obviously I must suck at my eating disorder too, yeah? I’m an anxious, depressed Capricorn–I have always been my own biggest critic.
This being said, I knew that when it comes to body image I struggle. A LOT. But so far, I have two kids that have never thought much about body image. I was super proud of that. Yes, my son had put on some weight, but did I mention he’s NINE? So, still growing? His growth patterns have been to get heavy, then one day he wakes up and is suddenly 1.5” taller and looks lean. I mean, whatever. He’s growing.
I sat down with my son a couple days later and we had a really good chat about how we aren’t going to start weighing him because I’m more concerned about all of us making healthy choices. I told him I love him no matter what he looks like, and that he should never let someone else’s opinion make him feel bad about himself. Since then, he HAS started making healthier choices, asking to go for walks, and being more active.
That same day, after talking to my son, I asked my husband to speak with my inlaws on my behalf because I am worried that if it ever comes up that I won’t be able to stop my inner MamaBear and I would hate to tarnish that relationship. Yes, I see the irony of writing about it makes me seem passive-aggressive, but that’s not where I’m writing from. I’m not harboring ill will or anything—I have the best in-laws on the planet, hands down. I’m kinda the only person I know who loves their inlaws so much. But eloquently expressing my concern about this deal? I don’t know if I could have that conversation. Ideally, I would say that while I appreciate the good intentions, I NEVER want anyone to try to bribe my kids to lose weight with money. That kind of bribery just makes great roots for self-hatred to grow. I don’t want my children to think that they should get paid for doing the right thing by getting healthy. I especially don’t want them to have eating disorders, or become self-proclaimed introverts because they have such low self-esteem they assume no one likes them. I don’t want them to turn into ME(that old version of me, that is—-they can be Now-Me—-she’s fucking amazeballs) My job is to make them happy and useful members of society. There is no happiness with body image obsession, just an endless loop of hateful trash spewing from the voice in my head.
And it’s not just the bribing, it’s that I was not consulted about “the deal” before it was made that hurt my feelings. Nor was my husband consulted. He and I have differing opinions about all of this. He doesn’t think it’s a big deal. I think that by trying to offer money as incentive for a child to “get thinner”, you’re telling him he’s not good enough. That’s what I thought when my Mom would make me change because “that outfit makes you look like a heifer.” It took me years to realize exactly how amazing I am…my biggest regret is that I spent so much time worrying about my looks instead of just living. I’m all about the bribery to get the house cleaned, dinner finished, or out the door to make the bus. It’s when you take it up a level that bribing you kids to cut their hair, or wear “nicer” clothes, or hang with a different crowd you are teaching them that they are not enough. Trust me, my kiddos are more than enough.
They are amazing and perfect. As is.