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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mama Loves You

Content Note: discussion of emotional abuse and eating disorders

I take my 4 year old to preschool every day, drop her off, go workout, come home shower, change, and then pick her up from school. All in all a very nice morning out and I have really enjoyed the routine. Yesterday was a small bump in the routine as one of the other Moms asked me for a ride home. She and her daughter walk to school every day and she didn't want to walk back. It was no trouble at all so I agreed to do so but first I need to fill out some paper work for the front office.

As we sat and I filled out some administrative form or another the other Mom was discussing with me how she needed to do aftercare tomorrow for her daughter because of a doctor's appointment. The school secretary reminded her to pack a lunch and a healthy snack for her daughter since she'd be staying late. The Mom said, "Of course. I'll pack her a big lunch, I have to tell her all the time, "STOP eating, that's why you're obese!" She went on in this vein for awhile talking about how her daughter wants to eat all the time and she for sure wasn't going to let her get fat and she's putting a stop to it NOW etc. I jumped in immediately, "Your daughter is not obese. She's fine. She's a healthy little girl. Why would you say something like that?"

The woman answered me, "Well, she's only 4 and she already wears a size 6!" I said, "That's perfectly normal, my daughter wears a size 6 too." And then this very tall, very thin Mom *eye-balled me*, as if to say, "Well, you're fat."

The secretary, fortunately, another thin tall woman jumped in, "Size 6 is fine for a 4 year old! She's a perfectly normal sized kid." Maybe she'd believe it from someone less chub-tastic than me. Other Mom looked confused and went on, "Well, she likes to eat junk food all the time." I said, "I doubt your kid is going to the store herself and buying junk food, if you don't want her to eat junk food then you can just not have any in the house. Kids require a tremendous amount of energy just to grow each day, that's why they want to eat more frequently."

"Well, that's how you get obese;" she continued, eyeballing me again, "by eating all day long. I tell her to just stop it. STOP EATING."

I tried one more time, "I really hope you talk to your pediatrician right now. What you are saying to her is NOT okay. Kids need to eat and kids need to know that their Mama loves them NO MATTER WHAT and what you are saying is hurtful and not even true. She's a lovely little girl and there is nothing wrong with her."

Other Mom stared at me through her sunglasses and said, "I have to criticize her a little bit at home so when kids make fun of her she's like, tough, like 'I don't care!' and besides you are taking this to a whole new level. She knows I'm like playing with her, she knows its just me talking."

I asked her one more time to talk to her pediatrician and then I gave her a ride home.

This woman is young, she had her kid when she was even younger. She is tall and thin and blonde in a world that rewards you just for being those things. She probably does not have a lot of positive reinforcement for anything beside her looks. Her daughter is lovely and may or may not grow up to look like her Mom, but right now she has the compact, sturdy build of a healthy, active preschooler. It is so very easy to judge this Mom, to say, "What an inconsiderate, vain, unthinking jerk. Even if her child were somehow "obese" or "overweight"; what a thoughtless, vile way to speak to her child. Most of us could never accept talking like that to a child we loved.

But how many of us will say, "I'm going to be sooo bad and eat a slice of cheesecake tonight!" or "Oh God, I'm disgusting, I have to lose like 40 pounds!" in front of those same kids. Do we tell them, "It doesn't matter what someone looks like, it matters what is on the inside that counts." and then spend countless hours trying to change those outsides? How many of us frame our own "health" issues in terms of looks or shape? We need to change the conversation with them and with ourselves, "I'm going to be able to lift 100 pounds." "I'm going to run up the stairs at work so that when we go hiking this fall I can go all the way to the bottom of the canyon." "I'm going to learn to do a cartwheel." "I'm going to swim faster than I did last summer." "I'm going to beat Daddy at tennis!" How much more inspiring, how much more FUN than complaining for the millionth time about the size of your thighs!

Doctors are reporting that kids as young as 5 have expressed intense anxiety about their weight and size. Kindergartners. Our babies need to know that Mama always has their backs, no matter what; that we want what is best for them. They need to know that we want to take care of them and take care of ourselves to the best of our abilities, that we want to see them happy, healthy and strong. No matter what Mama loves you.


  1. I have been doing a lot of thinking lately for praise that is earned through NO EFFORT on your part. This mom did not "earn" blond or tall. And eve "thin" is so much genetics. Sunday, I was out for a walk, and a woman passed me with VERY skinny legs....one of the 1% who can wear skinny jeans. I was jealous for a moment, but realized she didn't do anything praise worthy for those skinny legs....it's mostly genetics. Certainly some of mum"fat" is due to diet and lack of exercise, but the size of my hips, the breadth of my shoulders, my breast size.....these are things I inherited....I'll never be blond, nor taller than 5'5', nor be able to wear skinny jeans.....

    1. Right? I look exactly like generations of my ancestors before me, I come from 2 long lines of short, broad-hipped peasant women. My build, my height, my bust size, all comes from them. I am exercising now, not to change this body (which has treated me far better than I have treated it!) but to TAKE CARE of this body. Moving and exercising is a loving action, one that makes me feel good, and not a punishment for something I ate. (Which has been the case for me over the years.)

      Also, I am thinking about getting some skinny jeans from Old Navy? They have them in some fun colors, they might be a good look for me, who knows? But skinny jeans or not I deserve to feel good about myself, as do you my dear friend. I think you are one of the smartest, most compassionate women I have ever met and you have the prettiest skin I have ever seen on a real live human being. (Hope that doesn't sound stalker-y.) :)

  2. My mom was like this mom. I remember her asking me once, "Aren't you embarrassed to leave the house being so fat?" It was horrible and constant. The message I got was "You're not lovable because you're fat." She was very cruel about food, clothes, and my looks in general. I don't think I have fully gotten over it, and I'm middle-aged! Not only that, but my mom has changed a lot and she is much more positive and supportive now. Those early messages are REALLY hard to deprogram.

    I am so glad you stood up to this mom, Suzanne. I think you planted a little seed that will one day bear fruit. Unfortunately it might be too late for her daughter :(

    ~ Mamacita

    1. I think so many of us, myself included, do a version of what she does every day though. Even by running ourselves down in front of them, it plants a seed of self doubt in them. I think putting a moral value on food (beyond the ethics of how that food is obtained) like saying that potato chips, cookies, cake are BAD and that we ourselves are BAD for eating them is also damaging and sets up an issues with food later in life. I am almost to the point of serving dessert WITH the meal so we can avoid it being a "reward" for eating "real food"; because they are all real foods after all.

      Now, do I think people should eat cake all day? No. But I don't think people should eat kale all day either. I think modeling a diet where we eat what we like, what makes us feel good, what supports our health, physically and mentally, I think that is a valuable example for our children and maybe for other adults too.

      I am so sorry your Mom was so abusive when you were young. I do think it is abuse. I hope you have support in processing the lingering after effects of what she said and how she treated you. For what it is worth you are one of the best Moms I know and I am sure your own children feel secure and loved every day of their lives.

  3. Thank you for speaking with this mom - I hope she takes to heart what you said. You are right on all counts. An child with an eating disorder is a very difficult thing. I speak from experience (although our family's situation sounds different than Other Mom's). An eating disorder could come about in just the way you describe, Suzanne.

    Please, Other Mom, realize that criticizing your young child at home will NOT make her tougher out in the world. It will simply make her unable to love herself, and your criticism is much MORE likely to lead to an eating disorder than simply letting your child eat to satisfy her hunger. Please, Other Mom, love your child by setting reasonable limits, such as not having the junk food in the house. Love your child by talking about making healthy food choices, rather than 'bad' or 'good' choices.

  4. I admire you for speaking up and standing up for what you believe in, and admire you even more for still giving her a ride home! hahaha! Seriously though, I wish that mom would wake up and realize the damage she's doing. I grew up hearing subtle but insensitive remarks about my wgt and it STILL affects me and I'm almost 40! These were not my parents, just other relatives or family friends. So imagine the damage if it were your own parent? There are just a bunch of crazy people out there (obviously an understatement).