Earlier this week, I was engaged in a conversation with a friend that made me cringe and cheer all at the same time. You see, this friend has an 8-year old daughter who is very active and healthy. She’s a great dancer and wicked smart (you might say too smart…). Like a lot of kids, she’s growing like a weed. Her growth lately has been more of the “out” kind than “up.” Hey, it happens. Right now though, all that “out” makes her the biggest girl in her dance class. One night, after her daughter was asleep, my friend and her husband were talking over their concerns in a very non-judgmental way, but saying things that they probably wouldn’t say in front of their daughter. Dad was even trying to empathize by saying that he was “the fat kid when he was little” and kids made fun of him. They were basically talking to each other about how they needed to be mindful of how mean kids can be. The overall gist of it was they needed to be on their A-game to find ways to support their daughter, keep building her self-confidence and maintain her healthy eating habits.
You know where this is going, right? Of course, daughter wasn’t asleep and heard them talking. The next day she let her mom know that she heard them and said that “you think I’m fat.” GULP. My friend was beside herself. She is a great mom. My friend never said she thought her kid was fat. In fact, she always makes sure that whenever she talks about body image, she uses the “right” words, like healthy and strong and active. But in her mind, her daughter heard FAT. My heart ached to hear her tell this story.
Then I read Vivian’s post. I agree with her, that we definitely have to be aware of little ears around us. Our children are beautiful and deserve to hear that and nothing less from us. I’m just saying that most of us, the ones that are doing the best that we can, maybe we need to give ourselves a break.
What if we’re putting too much worth on every word we say? What if what we think is going to be a “big deal defining moment” for our kids is really just another day? What if it’s not that big a deal at all? Our generation of moms–we’re so self-aware; almost to the point of crippling ourselves. We know what damage can be done to a kid just by the words we say, because we heard it growing up ourselves. Because of that, we’re so worried that we will do or say something that will damage our kids forever. If we let our guard down even once, cue the low self-esteem and the eating disorders.
Here’s what I took away from this situation: It can be healthy for our kids to hear us make mistakes and then own up to them. Telling your child that you’re sorry for your actions can be really powerful. It shows that we’re human. It can be a great opportunity to open the doors of communication. We have so many experiences from our childhood that affected us either negatively or positively that it would be a shame not to use them as teaching moments for our kids. Even the painful stuff can be put to good use.
My friend handled her situation with grace and, in my opinion, perfection. She apologized and cleared the air about what she and Dad were talking about and why. She took advantage of this blunder to find out what her daughter was feeling. It was a chance to bring up the sensitive topics like how what’s on the inside is so much more important than what is on the outside. And how sometimes the words we use can hurt others. My friend also learned something about her daughter in all this. Her girl had the courage to speak up about her feelings and not hold it in. My friend also learned that her daughter really likes it when she gets to talk, just her and Mommy.
They are starting a shared journal, just for the two of them. Daughter can write in it anytime she has something on her mind and then slips the journal under Mom’s pillow. Mom can write back. And so it goes, back and forth for as long as it’s needed. I thought that was a pretty cool idea. Opening the door to conversation and taking it to a whole other level. As the mother of a girl myself, I have to say I’m more than a little scared of the tween/teenage years when everyone says your darling little love bug becomes a maniacal stranger. This journal idea gives me hope that the transition won’t be so bad. I’m definitely keeping this one in the mental file drawer for when Zoey’s old enough.
So there you go folks, lemonade from lemons. None of us is perfect. And that’s ok. It’s what you do next that’s important.