I am a human first, a parent second.
What I mean by this is that my children aren’t the only ones growing up. I’m still growing and learning all the time, and making plenty of mistakes along the way.
But if I want to be a good example to my kids, there are some things I definitely need to work on. From what I say when I look in a mirror to how much attention I pay to family members when they talk to me, here are 5 ways I can improve my actions to better match my words.
What are you working on?
1. Positive Body Image
It goes without saying that we all want our children to love their bodies. Piles of data show that children who have poor body image can go on to develop eating disorders and suffer from mental health problems.
But teaching our children to love themselves begins with what they see at home. In fact, it’s been shown that a mother’s concerns about her own weight could be a leading cause of body image issues in teens.
Our kids are learning how to see themselves through how we see ourselves.
What kind of message am I sending my children when it comes to my own body image? What is my relationship like with food and exercise, and how am I modelling it?
As I wrote in this post about being plus size and healthy, I’m actively doing my best to create a body-positive home in a body-negative world. This safe space is vital, because the older my children get, the less control I have over other influences in their lives that can affect body image, such as media and peer pressure.
Shameful confession: I used to be a pretty judgmental person. (There’s an entire article to be written about how it was directly related to my deep-seated confidence issues, but I’ll save that for another day.)
I was particularly judgmental when it came to other people’s parenting choices. Not doing things the same way I do them? I’m sorry, but you’re obviously wrong.
Worse still, I would sometimes let my children see my intolerance of people who do things differently. This is one of my great regrets. I would complain about someone else’s feeding choices to my spouse at the dinner table, or gossip with a friend during a play date about how someone we know really needs to read a parenting book.
Did I mention I’m a work in progress? While I’ve done a lot of self-reflection since then and have become far more accepting, I’m not proud of what my children must have overheard and absorbed.
The thing is, I want my kids to celebrate differences in others, not condemn them. It will make their lives easier, their hearts kinder, and their communities bigger. This is why it’s so important for me to embrace those differences, especially when little eyes and ears are nearby. Lesson learned.
3. Screen Time
“(Watch this!) Mom?”
“I just started a small house fire.”
“Hang on a sec. I just have to finish reading this and I’ll be right there.”
“(See? She’s not even listening!)”
OK, it’s not that bad, but I really need to put my phone down more often and pay attention. With three kids, I sometimes feel like the internet is my only window to a world I don’t get a chance to experience in person quite as much as I’d like to.
And that Netflix binge at the end of a long day is, well, priceless.
But if I want my children to pay attention to me when I’m speaking, I need to pay attention to them—fully, without distractions—when they’re talking to me. And since actions speak louder than words, putting my phone down or turning off the TV to spend time with them is a way I can demonstrate how important they are to me.
I’m not perfect at putting the screens away, but I’m getting better at it.
“Mom, did you just tell your friend you can’t go out because you’re not feeling well? I thought you just didn’t feel like going. Why did you lie to her?”
Because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Because I have a hard time saying “no.” Because I’m an anxious person and a little white lie seemed easier than telling the truth and worrying all night about her possibly being upset with me.
Honesty is a tricky thing. There are some instances when it might be better to tell a little white lie, but the difference between that and a big ol’ ugly lie is a hard thing to explain to a young child.
If I preach honesty, I need to practice it, along with some assertiveness skills. And if I can’t for whatever reason, I need to make sure my kids don’t catch me mid-falsehood.
5. Making Mistakes
I wrote another article a while back on how to gently help your child through making mistakes.
The key word is “gently,” and it’s something I need to practice more of when it comes to my own mistakes.
It’s not unusual to hold ourselves up to high expectations. But we’re human, and humans are built to make errors. Despite knowing this, I can be pretty hard on myself when I mess up.
“I can’t believe I did that. I’m so stupid!” is not an uncommon reaction when I realize I’ve made a mistake. But what is the message I’m sending to my children? How can I tell them to be gentle on themselves when they mess up, but not model gentleness for me when I do?
Thankfully, reacting to my mistakes this way is a great way to show my kids how to bounce back. If they happen to see me upset, I make sure they see my recovery, too. That’s some real world modelling!
I will never be a perfect human being or parent. But I’m grateful my children have forced me to take a good look at myself and strive to be my best. Like I said, I’m still growing, too. How about you?
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