My daughter took a bite of her oatmeal and glared at me. “Is that your breakfast?” At four, she had already mastered the art of raising one eyebrow in judgment. At that moment, she looked more like my mother than ever.
I poured my third cup of coffee and thoughtfully considered what to say next. I know, I know. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But I am not a breakfast person. I married one, but his work schedule had made breakfast more a matter of taste than timing. While Daddy was good for an occasional early morning appearance and a bowl of cereal, lately he was more of a brunch or breakfast-for-dinner kind of guy. It was just me, the little nutrition cop, and her two-year-old sister in the kitchen this fine morning.
I grabbed an apple, poured myself some milk, and joined my darling daughters at the table. My modeling career had begun.
Of course, I’d always accepted that one of my biggest responsibilities would be to lead by example. I had never seen myself as a do as I say, not as I do mom. The older and more observant my girls became, the more I appreciated this, but that morning, something had clicked. Eating that apple with a small side of resentment, it occurred to me just how widespread this modeling gig called motherhood was going to be. It was daunting.
Understandably, in this food-centric culture we’ve created and with obesity at an all-time high, the need for modeling good behaviors in our approach to nutrition and wellness has become more important than ever. If you’re the mother of girls, like me, you can factor in a whole host of related issues like eating disorders, body image, obsession with plastic surgery, and the misconceptions of the perfect body.
Not that you’re off the hook with boys. My husband jokes that before we got in a family way, he could do all his grocery shopping at 7-Eleven. Certainly, not a role model for nutrition, but is that the message the 14-year-old gamer in the next room is getting from you? How about from his meal-skipping, Monster®-guzzling dad?
When it comes to modeling diet and eating behaviors for our kids, it is a thin line we walk as parents. First, we need to tell our kids that bodies come in all shapes and sizes—and mean it. Let’s use words like strong, solid, and healthy to describe body types. Then, stop making a big deal about the six pounds you gained over Christmas. Or the extra pounds someone else is carrying around this summer. Or your child’s chubby best friend. It’s time to love the skin we’re in—or at least fake it convincingly for God’s sake.
Where dieting in general is concerned, try not to show or tell your kids that swearing off any one food group for the rest of your life is the answer to your personal weight loss struggle. Do you really think you’re going to forego bread forever? Let’s all stop weighing ourselves every day. Just chuck the scale. (We did.) Pack it up with the skinny jeans you’ve saved for the past ten years and head to Goodwill.
When I first realized the scrutiny under which I would be operating in my daily life as a parent, it genuinely changed the way I moved through the world. I set about modeling behaviors I wanted my daughters to emulate: making dinner for ailing neighbors; picking up litter in parking lots; rescuing stray dogs; holding doors open for people. And two of the most important behaviors on my list? Eating sensibly and getting more active.
Think of it as your chance to be a new kind of super model, and walk the walk. The real trick is to sell it. Then hope and pray your kids will buy in.