Have you ever really stopped to think about what you are saying to your kids and what they really hear?
You might be surprised if you do.
My daughter recently said something to me that shook me up a little bit and I've been thinking about it ever since.
We were all getting ready to go out and she was watching me as I tried on a new shirt in front of the mirror. I turned from side to side, examining myself and thinking that it looked pretty good. My four year old joined me at the mirror and said, with a tone of authority, "Well, it will look better Mom when you are skinnier."
She's four, for heaven's sake. What does she know about skinny? That's when it hit me. She knows just as much as I've told her.
Of course I've never talked about being fatter or skinnier with her. She is not a party to my diet and exercise plans. As for her own self image, well I've never told her she is anything other than beautiful. But she knows what it means to be "skinnier" all the same.
It doesn't just matter what you say to your kids, it matters what you say around your kids. They pay so much attention to what you say, what you do, and who you are. I know this, but I didn't realize how often I wasn't living this way.
I have been someone who has had to work at building a positive self-image all my life. My mom, who has certainly become some the wiser after years of child rearing, shared her own mothering experience as an accidental role model with me.
Like me, my mother was careful to only say positive things to her kids. She thought we were beautiful and she told us so. But she had her own self-esteem issues to work out, and as kids we were uninvited observers of that too. I heard my mom say she had never been very pretty. I heard my mom say she had weight to lose. I heard my mom laugh when anyone told her she was beautiful. And then I heard people tell me that I looked just like her, that I was certainly my mother's daughter.
It didn't matter so much what she said to me. She said I was beautiful. I heard that I was not.
She knows better now. She can see how insecurities were passed along inadvertently. She can see how we heard what she was saying when she thought no one was listening. Most importantly, she can see how beautiful we all are and always have been.
I see it now too.
I can see that self-worth and appearance are not connected. I can see how important it is to treat myself with the same kindness I extend to my kids. I can see how easily they internalize an offhand remark about the pesky pounds that plague me. I can see how my physical appearance should always be secondary to my children's emotional well-being. And I can see how important it is for them to know that they are beautiful, but also that the true beauty of life goes far beyond what we see in the mirror.
How do we raise our kids with a healthy self-image? How do we help our kids learn that who they are and what they do is far more important than how they look? How do we make sure our kids know that they are loved for who they really are?
We do it for ourselves first. There is no better way.
I vow to pay attention to what I say and to what my kids are really hearing. I committ to speaking kindly about myself and those around me. I promise to be an intentionally healthy role model for all the young people in my life.
What about you?