We were recently at huge family get-together. Between us all we had at least 27 kids running around playing! I was quietly nursing the baby in the upstairs playroom, and I overheard some of the older girls talking.
They were upstairs, doing what girls do. Probably talking about boys, hairstyles, makeup, and who knows what else. They walked by the bathroom and saw the scale sitting on the floor. Briefly, they glanced at the scale with a worried look.
They nervously took turns stepping on the scale. From what I could tell, two of them compared weights, and the youngest declared she was “tiny!” “Woo hoo, I’m the tiniest!” I couldn’t tell if I should be happy or worried that my daughter wouldn’t even step on the scale.
The girls didn’t dwell on this moment (unlike me) and quickly moved on to the next thing. But my heart sank a little.
I remember the teenage years all too well—anxiety about my body shape, worries about my weight. I went through a brief period of time where I was overly obsessed about exercise and dieting. Thank God I bounced out of that chapter of my life unharmed!
It honestly took years for me to undo all those negative thoughts. I didn’t love my body until I was pregnant with our first child—then I understood how marvelous my body really was.
As I mother my four daughters, it’s my responsibility to be a good role model—my girls will mimic my attitude that I have toward my body! I’m giving it my best shot, and here’s what I have done so far:
1. I truly began loving everything about myself.
I used to hate my nose so much that I wished for a nose job. After becoming a mother, I realized how silly this was! There was a darn good chance some of my children would look like me, so what kind of message would I be sending them if I surgically changed this part of my body? Wouldn’t that tell them that they should hate their nose, too? God gave me the quirky little bump on my nose to make me special and different from everyone else!
Negative thoughts about my body have been pushed aside. My arms were made strong to hug my husband and hold little ones. My tummy is now a little softer for babies to snuggle against. My strong legs push the stroller, bend down to tie shoelaces, and chase kiddos at the park. Varicose veins and a little extra fluff are so unimportant compared to the amazing things God made my body able to do!
Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works…. Psalm 139:13-14
2. I don’t put myself down in front of my kids.
Since I already love myself because my Creator made me, this isn’t as hard as it used to be. 🙂 However, I am human and have moments when those negative thoughts creep into my mind. I do not want to push any of my self-doubt onto my kids. I never, ever talk about feeling fat or ugly in front of my kids. Never.
3. I teach my children that God has a purpose for them.
All that stuff about God fearfully and wonderfully making me? It’s true for my girls, too. They have a special purpose in life—to Catholics this is called a vocation. Their vocation is so much more important than the number that they weigh.
For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope. Jeremiah 29:11-12
I hope to teach my daughters to see themselves as God does:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God…. 1 John 3:1
3. As a family, we eat healthy and stay active.
I never talk about foods as “good” or “bad.” We have our share of sweets and treats, but I never say I was “bad” for eating them. I explain that our bodies, young and old, need good, healthy food to grow and stay healthy. Eating too much junk food makes us feel yucky, so we limit it! I’m not “bad” for having cookies, but I balance it out with healthy food to give my body energy!
When it comes to exercise, I never say I need to exercise because I am fat. We stay active because it makes us feel good, not as a punishment for imperfections. I try my best to get my kids outside riding scooters, playing sports, taking family walks, and jumping on the trampoline to be healthy. Moving our bodies is fun, and the endorphins and laughter from exercise put us in a good mood.
4. We limit our kids’ exposure to bad influences.
Yes, my kids are sheltered. My kids don’t watch R rated movies (unless it has been at someone else’s house). In general, we wait until they are 13 to let them watch PG-13 movies. Even then, we have to approve the movie. My just-turned-13-year-old daughter wanted to see a PG-13 Twilight movie with friends, but I vetoed it. I didn’t want the first time she saw a love scene to be a violent encounter between a werewolf (or was it a vampire?) and a woman!
I don’t have Cosmopolitan, Vogue, or Men’s Health magazines lying around my house. We have MTV and other adult channels blocked, and we do our best to closely monitor internet use. We don’t watch TV shows that aren’t ok for the younger children to watch along with us. If my husband and I choose to watch a grown up movie or TV show, we wait till everyone is asleep! My kids complain about this, but I guarantee I will NEVER look back and think “Gee, I really regret not watching movies with naked women and curse words with my children.”
I also try to teach my daughters respect for their beautiful bodies. They don’t need to have their bottom hanging out of shorts or cleavage exposed to be beautiful. I’m not a prude about it either—I was a ballet dancer back in the day, and I truly appreciate how beautiful the human body is. One of my daughters is a dancer, and we send her to a dance studio that sends the same message. She learns proper dance technique without showing her midriff, dancing to inappropriate music, or learning crude dance moves.
5. My husband and I have a respectful marriage.
We try our best to teach our girls how marriage should be. We aren’t perfect, but we do not manipulate or abuse each other. Neither of us would allow our children to be exposed to an abusive relationship—they would learn that it’s OK to be treated that way! Their daddy is a wonderful, caring husband and father. I pray that if God calls my daughters to marriage that they will find husbands very much like their daddy.
6. I blanket my girls with prayer.
I know I can’t shelter them forever. They will find their way, most likely fumbling through life and learning from mistakes just like I did! I ask Jesus to protect them. I invoke their guardian angels to keep them safe and point them back to God when they mess up. My Christian friends on earth and Saintly friends in heaven—especially Mother Mary—pray with me often for my children’s protection. All the rest is up to God!
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