As a parent there are certain issues I’ve known I would have to address at some point. The same topics I’m sure my mom agonized over when I was young. Those touchy subjects none of us really want to address with our kids. I knew going into parenthood that I’d have to somehow address things like sex, marriage, death, religion and whatnot. I wasn’t deluding myself, these questions would arise and I’d have to have an answer.
In society today our children are exposed to so much. I’m not saying that’s good or bad. I would say that in some cases it’s great, in others… not so much. I love that my daughter has had the opportunity to learn about other cultures and I despise that my daughter has picked up the word “ain’t”. As with anything, today’s media exposure can be both good and bad.
Recently my six-year-old daughter has been falling asleep around six each night. She’s had a busy schedule and she’s growing, this really isn’t that surprising. I would love to fall asleep at that hour if I could. It hasn’t been much of a concern except she tends to miss dinner if we don’t wake her. A few nights we’ve tried to get her up and she’s basically told us she would rather sleep. Again, not a huge problem, she’s always been one to tell us if she’s hungry or not. I have never force-fed my kids. I have never worried about my daughter and food, until recently.
Yesterday we were driving the two hours home from our mini-vacation. My six-year-old loves to talk. She’s a girl and she’s six, of course she loves to talk. In the midst of her latest story she pauses before saying; “So you know why I sometimes to go bed right after daycare? Without eating dinner?” Both my husband and I responded with “because you’ve been tired.” It seemed reasonable. She just shook her head and informed us; “No, because I want to stay skinny. I don’t want to get fat.”
My stomach dropped. As I said before, I knew I’d have to discuss these tough topics with her at some point. I just didn’t expect to be discussing body image issues with my very healthy six-year-old. This is the same girl who prefers cucumbers over cookies, who swims at least once per week and spends most of her afternoons running around on a playground. Weekends are spent at parks or the pool. It is very rare for her to actually sit still.
To say I was upset would be putting it mildly. I was truly horrified and heartbroken at the same time. We asked her why she would think something like that was a good idea. We discussed what happens to your body when you skip meals. We talked about healthy food and habits. She was her usual self and absorbed the information. I hope she did and will be keeping a close eye on her going forward. My last question to her was where she got such a notion. She wouldn’t really give us a straight answer and I understand. She’s never really been one to tattle, she doesn’t enjoy getting others in trouble. What worries me is that there is someone of influence in her life who has given her this crazy idea. Or worse, there is another girl at school who has the same thought. At least now I can monitor her and help reinforce good eating habits, I worry for others who aren’t nearly as open as my daughter.
Last night after my family had gone to bed, I sat thinking about everything. Was it my fault? Have I somehow failed her? What can I do to fix it? I ran from very positive to extremely negative thoughts on my parenting abilities. I did what most parents do and blamed myself for not being a better parent. It was when my thoughts turned worse that my darling daughter woke for a drink and ended up climbing on my lap. We sat in our dark living room just cuddling for several minutes before she asked me to take her back to bed. I wrapped her in her favorite blanket and tucked her back in for the night. When turning to leave she asked me to cuddle her until she fell back asleep. It was just what I needed to calm my busy mind. We cuddled and both drifted off to a deep sleep.
Sitting here thinking about it today, I am much less negative. I realize that no parent is perfect, parenting is an ‘on the job training’ career. We do what we can and strive for the best, but we are all human and certainly make mistakes. I am still very worried about whoever gave her this horrible idea. Could it have come from television? Sure, except we don’t actually watch anything that focuses on that sort of topic. We don’t have cable and the movies she watches are typically cartoons. We don’t even have commercials on anything we do watch. I have run through the majority of the shows she has seen and I can’t think of one that would focus on eating habits or weight. This leaves me to those she interacts with outside of our home.
Did it come from school? Did it come from a friend of the family? I’m not entirely sure on either. It is absolutely possible, but the thought sickens me. Whoever gave her the idea is obviously facing body image issues and I truly hope they find help. This entire situation saddens me. Our society has gotten so focused on body image that it’s causing serious damage to younger generations. Do I agree that we have serious health issues in our country? Definitely. But we need to focus less on the negative and more on positive reinforcement.
Our children should be carefree and happy, not paranoid about what they eat or getting fat. They should be running around playing tag, not skipping meals. They should be showing each other kindness and respect, not insulting one another. It’s an epidemic of negativity and it’s causing more damage than many realize. When I see post after post on Facebook about how fat or ugly people are, it breaks my heart. I don’t want my daughter skipping meals to be skinny enough. I want her to be active and make good food choices. I don’t want my cousin to feel like she needs a breast enhancement to look pretty. I want her to realize that she is a very beautiful girl without changing a thing. Not that I have anything against breast enhancements or plastic surgery, I don’t. My problem lies with young girls who think they have to have it done in order to live up to outside expectations.
It’s a terribly vain society we live in these days. The negativity is like a disease and infects so many. It may start with one person but then spreads. Rather than spreading damaging thoughts, we need to be spreading encouragement. We could all learn a lesson from Thumper – ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t’ say nothing at all.’