Your Body Image Will Affect Her Body Image

Thursday, March 23, 2017

I'd like to start by saying that I may be the least qualified person to write an article on healthy body image. And yet as unqualified as I feel, I know I must write about it. Maybe in a strange way, I'm more qualified than I think because it's something I've struggled with. It isn't easy for me to write about; In fact, I've been working on this for a week and deleted hours of work, only to start over. I'm sorting it out in my brain as I go, and if I sound preachy at any point, please know, I'm preaching at myself! So with that disclaimer in place, here we go. Body image. Drumroll please...

I've often wondered, what in the world ever made me think so much about my appearance? It doesn't take much thinking to figure it out. We live in a culture obsessed with outward appearance. Starting in middle school--if not grade school--it seems like the most popular girls are always the prettiest, most well dressed. In college there's pressure not to gain the dreaded "freshman 15" (I gained 30, thank you very much), and if you do gain weight, there's temptation to experiment with diet pills, crash diets, and even eating disorders in order to stay thin. Everywhere we look, there are billboards, commercials and magazine covers with seemingly perfect women: perfect hair, skin, teeth, clothes, and of course, body. We rarely stop to remember what we've probably been told somewhere along the way, that these women are airbrushed to perfection. Pounds shaved off, cellulite smoothed, skin magically cleared, breasts 'enhanced', teeth whitened. It's fake, but it still makes us women somehow feel less-than. While we should all strive to be healthy, striving for an unattainable, unrealistic pants size is...well, it's tempting. I know, I've been there. It's tempting, it's vain, and it can become all consuming. When we allow ourselves to gaze jealously at the women on the cover of magazines, we are setting ourselves up for discontentment with the amazing, beautiful, unique person that God lovingly, painstakingly created us to be; to look like. And we forget that we were created for the sole purpose of glorifying God by loving him and loving others. (I've found that the busier I am loving others, the less I think of myself and my appearance; and also, the more focused I am on myself and my appearance, the less I find myself looking for ways to love others. Funny how that works...)

Can I be honest? The women I often find myself envying are not those who are dressed to the nines. I don't envy other women's shoe collections, perfect hair, or seemingly perfect lives. I envy the woman who is absolutely, unabashedly unashamed of her body. Whether she is overweight or underweight, short or tall, flat chested or ample. Whether she has visible stretch marks or a less-than-flat tummy, tangible evidence that she birthed one or more babies from her body. These are the women I envy. You know the ones? They walk confidently, head held high. They dress nicely, wearing clothes that they actually like, not clothes made to hide every imperfection. And they rarely, if ever, make comments about what they'd like to fix about themselves.

Oh that we could all be like this! That we could all find our worth in who we are in Christ, and that that would be enough! I'm not saying that if a woman is overweight and desires to get healthy, she shouldn't bother. In fact, health is what we should all strive for--regardless of our weight, but we so often confuse being healthy with being skinny. You may be healthiest at size six, whereas I'm most healthy at size eight. Women struggling with certain medical issues may not budge below size ten or twelve. God made each of us so uniquely different, health can look a hundred different ways, but the absolute truth is that we need to think less about what size jeans we wear and more about what size heart we have! Consider the following:

"Rather, it [beauty] should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." 1 Peter 3:4

"Charm is deceptive and beauty fades, but a women who fears the Lord is to be praised." Proverbs 31:30

"The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7

If we want our daughters to have beautiful hearts, it starts with us putting our hearts before our appearances. Our daughters pick up on everything, and you better believe that they hear you when you complain to your husband about your tummy pooch or your jiggly arms. Conversely, they hear you when you talk about matters of the heart. Not only do they pick up on our words, they see every little action. Our daughters see us spend time in front of the mirror and they see us spending time in the Word, in prayer, in serving others. Which one do they see more of? Stop and really think about that (I am too).

Please do not misunderstand. Exercising is good. Eating healthy is wonderful! In fact, I teach boot camp and fitness classes, and am a former personal trainer. I read about nutrition for fun. I am definitely a huge proponent of eating well and exercising. Letting your daughters see you exercise and take care of your physical body is fine! In fact, when my girls ask, "Mommy, why do you exercise?", I tell them that it's because it helps keep me strong so that I can take care of them and have more fun with them. That's the truth and it completely satisfies their need for an answer every single time, plus it's giving them the right mindset about exercise from a very young age: exercise is (or at least, it should be) about keeping a person physically and mentally healthy. Period. Please, don't ever answer your daughter's question with, "I'm exercising to lose weight" or "To get rid of these gross love handles." Instead, tell her the benefits of exercise; how it gives you more energy, makes you strong, and helps you be mentally healthy (a proven benefit of exercise). We should never teach our daughters that exercise is about achieving a six-pack, fitting into those size 4 jeans we've had tucked away, or having killer thighs.

When our daughters start to realize that we find ourselves flawed physically, they immediately wonder about their own physical flaws. Just hearing us say something negative about our appearance makes them suddenly very aware of their own appearance, and makes them wonder what they need to change or improve about themselves. It sets them up for a lifetime of striving for physical improvement, which so easily spirals into the unattainable and incredibly vain desire to look perfect. Again, let's look at the opposite side of the coin: If our daughters see us spending more time on things of lasting value, then they will naturally grow up believing that those are the things that matter. Let's spend a moment in honest reflection together. Does your daughter see you reading your Bible? Does she see you praying? Visiting someone in need and maybe making a meal for them? Using your gifts to help others and to glorify God? Does she have the privilege of having you read Bible stories to her? Praying with her throughout the day? Playing with her? OR, does she see you spend an hour in front of the mirror getting ready, checking out your butt in the mirror with a sour expression on your face, changing cloths a million times as you complain how nothing fits and how you wish you were skinnier? Does she watch you do a hundred squats and sit ups when really, she's dying to go outside and play hopscotch with you? Does she see you put in more hours at the gym each week than you do quality time with your husband? Honestly, she should see both. Both are good. We just need to make sure the scale isn't tipped the wrong way, where we're spending more time on ourselves than on others and with the Lord.

My daughter's are two, four, and five (close to six). I've been very aware lately that they see me spend more time getting ready than they see me reading my Bible. Part of this is because I try to read early before they get up. Having my girls know what my priorities are in life is such an important issue to me that I've started--if only a couple of days a week--writing while they're asleep and opening up my Bible later in the day when they're awake, because I need them to know that mommy doesn't just talk about how important the Bible is, but they actually see me reading it. And as much as I love a good hard workout, I'm learning that taking them for a walk in the field and skipping with them, jumping over giant gopher holes, and giving them piggy back rides, can suffice for a decent days exercise. Again, there's not a thing wrong with them seeing me do sprints in the driveway or lunges in the living room on a rainy day, but I want to continually check my heart. What my family sees is a reflection of my heart. Is my heart leaning toward God or toward self? I think it's a question we should continually ask ourselves and answer honestly, making sure the tipping point stays toward God.

I know this isn't fun to read. I assure you, it wasn't fun for me to write. I had to take a hard look at my habits, my thought patterns, and my own actions. I realized that this is a struggle that comes in seasons for me. I'll have a season where I'm content and think very little about my appearance; when I do think about it (like when I'm getting ready in the morning), I'm just fine with who God made me. I'm not obsessed with the saggy skin on my stomach, proof of carrying and birthing three babes. I'm not squeezing my way into jeans that I only wished fit, and complaining to my husband about my butt. There's such freedom in living like that. Getting up and getting dressed and ready and then just living life without thinking about what you look like all day long. It's wonderful and it frees your mind up to be focused on all the important things around you. But then, I have seasons where I'm entirely too focused on external aspects of myself. Where I see every stretch mark, every miniscule wrinkle, the slightly crooked teeth and the mousy colored hair. It takes me forever to get dressed and I feel self conscious when I'm out. Most, if not all of us have been there at some time or another (postpartum anyone?). So what do we do when we find ourselves struggling with our body image? Here are just a few ways:

  1. Pray. Confess your struggle to the Lord and just talk to him! I feel so much lighter after just telling him why I'm struggling with something--even though I know he already knows! Ask him to help your focus return to him instead of self. Believe that he will help you overcome this frustrating struggle.
  2. As Ellie Holcomb sings in her latest album, use your "fighting words"! She's referring to fighting our inner battles with scripture. Use the scriptures I referenced above, or find some that ring true to you.
  3. Focus on the things you do like about yourself. It's easy to get so caught up in our imperfections that we forget about our assets. My husband never notices when I have a pimple (at least he claims he doesn't...), but when I have one, that's literally all I can see. Same with weight. No one else notices when my weight fluctuates five or ten pounds, but I obsess over it. I forget all about what I like about my appearance--and it's okay to like things about yourself! It doesn't make you vain or prideful:)
  4. Go out of your way to do something kind for someone else. Something out of the ordinary and unexpected. It will remind you that you are really, truly the most beautiful when you're heart is beautiful.
  5. Remember that your body is amazing: Truly, incredibly, unbelievably amazing! It carried life and delivered a tiny human into the world. It fed that tiny human for months, and now it keeps that human alive every single day! Your body bends and twists and works hard every day as you pick up and carry little ones, pick up messes, clean up spills, and give out countless hugs. Your body is capable of all that and it is amazing! Believe it!
Mama, your daughter adores you (even if she's a teenager and pretends not to!) She picks up your habits and idiosyncrasies and attitudes. You know the expression, "Like mother, like daughter"? It's true. Your daughter will become like you more than you know! I don't know about you, but I want my daughters to grow up being strong and healthy, living an active lifestyle and eating nutritious food that they enjoy! Not growing up trying to fit in a certain pants size, dieting, weighing themselves everyday and thinking about their bodies all the time. Scary as it seems sometimes, I have got to take responsibility for my actions and recognize the role that I play in their current and future thoughts and beliefs on this matter. Will they be more concerned with cultivating a beautiful heart or trying to cultivate what the world says is a beautiful body? I hope and pray that I lead them in the right direction, that I can be confident in my physical appearance in a healthy way that says, "Yes, I'm just fine with my body, but I'm also just not that concerned with it!"

I desperately want myself and my daughters to be women who fear the Lord, who are wise and strong and gentle-spirited and loving and full of faith and mercy and grace. With a tall order like that...who has time for obsessing over the imperfections?


Dads: Date Your Daughter!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Today I have the privilege of introducing you to my best friend, Brad. Oh and he also happens to be my husband, and dad to our three little girls! I told him when I started this blog a couple of months ago that I'd be recruiting him to write some posts just for dads, man to man, dad to dad. And so, today he is talking about how he "dates" our daughters. It's pretty amazingly cool (as is he;) ) here we go!

Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Cor 16:13-14

I once heard a wise man from our church talk about dating his daughter. He had got the idea from a website called All Pro Dad.  Another man I know and respect, a youth pastor and father of eight children, takes each one on a date every month. He goes on their birthday date each month and just spends an hour or so of uninterrupted dad time. His kids love it! Recently, our pastor challenged us with our goals as the new year started, and I thought, I need to take my daughters on dates. A wonderful movie entitled Courageous (my personal favorite--I watch it every Father's Day!) also encourages dads to date their daughters so that daughters can see what it’s like to be respected, honored and cherished; to encourage her to prayerfully wait for a man who is a servant loving leader; A man she can trust and respect because of the Christ-like example he is to her through his actions and words.  

I’ve got to be honest: It’s taken me two years to actually put this idea into practice. I roll ideas around in my head but really struggle with actually completing them; I often make excuses and rarely find the time to start. Why do I need to? Ephesians 1:1-2 says:

"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
We are a direct representation of God himself to our children and others.

1 Timothy 3:1-5 says:

"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?"
And Deuteronomy 6:5-9 says:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Here's my story:
I screwed up big time on my middle daughters last birthday. I committed to something at school (I'm a teacher) that I couldn't get out of--on the night of her 4th birthday. A friend recently told me that he saw his dad pour into ministry but not pour into his kids. God forbid that our first priority and responsibility of raising our children as they should go so they won’t depart from it takes the back burner. I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want God to judge me because I neglected my family--the family that he gave me to love and to lead.
So I took a half day off from work to try to fix things and I took my daughter out for burritos for lunch and then to the carousel. It saved the day--and made her birthday so special, more than I even thought it would. She still talks about it as if it was yesterday. She loved and hung on to every second.
I’ll admit that going in, I didn't have a clue what to talk about for two hours with my four-year-old daughter, but it was fine. Fellas, we just have to start somewhere. Start small. I opened doors for her and told her how beautiful she was, and then listened as I asked her questions about what she likes about life, what her day was like, what does she enjoy most, her favorite food, or whatever… I listened and she talked. She just enjoyed having one-on-one daddy time.
Maybe you're already doing this, but if not, I want to share some encouragement and tips for you to be successful:

1.      GET STARTED AND DO WHAT THEY LIKE. I made a list for each of my three daughters of what interests them and what I knew they would they enjoy. For example, my oldest is super active and loves parks, so we went to a park in the dead of winter with snow blowing in our faces. She loved every minute. My middle daughter loves the carousel, so we went around multiple times. It’s her favorite and she still talks about going back. My youngest (who just turned 2), well, I took her to get a cookie and a snack and she must have spent 30 minutes eating and I just enjoyed her smile with a mouthful.
2.       KEEP IT SMALL. It doesn’t have to be extravagant--be creative to keep the budget lower. I took both daughters to a local candy store on different days after school and we sat at the soda fountain counter and shared a milkshake and candy as we talked about all the decorations around the room. One time we sat next to a dad and his older daughter and I realized other guys are doing this to. It is so valuable!
3.     CONSIDER BRINGING SOMETHING BACK for the others. My second daughter is always thinking of others and she was like, "Can we bring something back for our sisters and mommy?" and I said sure. So now they’re thinking of what their siblings would like. It's beautiful.
4.       GIVE YOURSELF SOME GRACE, BUT TRY NOT TO MAKE IT A HABIT OF MISSING. I told my middle daughter that we would go on a date the next day and then I spaced it. She reminded me as I was tucking her into bed that night that I had forgotten. A man who doesn't keep his word is not a man (I screw up too often with this--my yes is not always yes). I don’t want my daughter to fall for a flakey guy. We’re all imperfect but we have to try and make these commitments. (I took her on a date the next day) The girls wait for and anticipate these all month. Someone once told me, don’t start something you can’t finish. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. This choice to start these dates will become a tradition they look forward to.
Our daughters are always watching how we treat them and their moms, and we don’t want our daughters future to be hindered by our examples if we men neglect the responsibility to lead and direct the next generation. If we set the example for them, then prayerfully, hopefully, by God’s grace, they will not settle for anything less. Be strong and courageous-He’s with us wherever we go. His power is perfected in our weakness. May He strengthen us and build our houses.

What You Can Do Now to Raise Teens Who Talk to You

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

As a mom who's been blessed with all girls, I often find myself talking to a perfect stranger who, when they see that I have girls, feels compelled to warn me of the dreadfulness that will surely come to visit us in their teen years. It's simple statements with loaded implications, like "Oh what beautiful girls you have! What a blessing! Enjoy it now, because once they're teens..." Like it's a given that once our house is full of teenage girls instead of toddlers and school-agers, suddenly life is going to be full of misery and angst. Seriously, I've not ever received one positive comment from anyone regarding what's to come. Now, I write this as a mom who doesn't yet have teenagers, but before you blow me off as unqualified to write such an article, please note that these are all words of wisdom that have been given to me over the years from wise women who have raised girls, and not only survived, but thrived through the teen years. I've tucked these words away and try to remember to apply them daily, so that Lord willing, our home won't be as awful as all these well-meaning (or not-so-well-meaning!) individuals say it will. Even if your daughter is little, it's not too early to start intentionally forging a relationship with her that will make her more inclined to grow into a teen who wants to have you be primarily her mother, but also her confidant and friend. Here are four things you can do right now to move in that direction.

1. Listen to her even when you're bored out of your mind.

Sometimes my oldest wants to tell me every single thing that just happened on The Magic School Bus (her current favorite show). I'm talking details. That I don't care about. She will revisit the show in it's entirety, giving me the play by play for fifteen solid minutes. So guess what I do? I muster up a smile and I listen. I could take it a step further by stopping what I'm doing and really engaging and asking questions here and there. Why bother? Because if I don't listen to her now, she will eventually stop telling me about everything, and one day I'll wake up and she'll be a pre-teen going through some hard and awkward things and she won't want to talk to me about them. It will be too late. I'm putting the work in now (if you can call listening to the details of dreams and kid shows 'work') so they will feel like mom is always available to listen and talk with later when issues get heavy.

2. Watch your facial expressions.

This one goes along with listening. Kids are so in tune with details that we assume they are oblivious to. Not only do they notice our idiosyncrasies and mimic us, they notice our body language, our tone of voice, and our slight facial expressions. They can tell when we are listening but bored. They notice the dumbfounded look on my face that I get when they say or do something I disapprove of (or when they don't know something simple that I think they should know by now). Kids are amazingly in tune, especially with their mothers, and a snarky or bored or stupefied look on our face can cause them to be hesitant to talk to us openly and honestly. We don't have to wear big fake smiles all day long, but we can fight the urge for negative facial expressions when our children are talking to us.

3. Don't react negatively when they ask you a shocking question or say something wildly inappropriate.

Kids say the darndest things, we all know this and have experienced it at some point--or several. Young children will inevitably ask very frank questions about very personal subjects. They are curious and when they're little, they have no embarrassment themselves whatsoever, which is why it's important to answer them with an age appropriate answer, without getting all weird about it. That doesn't mean we have to give a three year old the details of how to insert a tampon and what a period is! But when she finds a tampon while rummaging in your purse and asks "What's this?", it's important to give a quick answer without making it into a big deal. If your child is school age, they will come home with questions about things they hear other (often older) kids talking about, and the questions might be absolutely shocking. Again, no need to divulge further than necessary, but please, please don't get angry or freak out about it! Even if it's a totally taboo subject that a 7-year-old shouldn't know about, your child isn't being bad by asking. By always answering in a calm and collected, unembarrassed way, you're communicating to your child that you are indeed a person she can feel comfortable talking to. As parents, we definitely hope to be the first people our kids come to as they start to have questions about their bodies, sex, and relationships. We can prove ourselves to be just those people by not getting upset or awkward about their questions now.

4. Make it a habit to talk with your daughter-not just at her.

I was surprised one day when I asked my five-year-old what her favorite thing to do is. She replied, "Just talking with you, Mom!" I knew what she was talking about. Her little sisters still take naps most afternoons, and while I make Addison rest for a bit, she usually comes out and just wants to hang out with me. Sometimes I read to her or she helps me with things around the house, but every once in awhile we play the question game, where I ask her a bunch of questions about what her favorite things are. She absolutely loves this! I find myself talking at my girls so often. Time for breakfast...make sure to clear your plates...brush your teeth and get dressed...don't talk to each other like that, use kind voices...did you brush for two minutes?...we have to leave in five minutes, get your shoes on! Sound familiar? Children need a lot of direction, so naturally we moms find ourselves guiding them through the day, reminding them of things and directing them. It can become a constant thing, especially when they're little. That's why it's so important to intentionally make time and effort to talk with them. I find that coloring with my girls opens up communication in such a simple way. When we're all coloring together, there's no other where to go, nothing to clean up, and generally no one is fighting or getting into trouble when we're just coloring. It's the perfect time to just sit and chat and ask them questions or tell them stories from when I was a little girl (they love hearing about when I was a kid, although they can hardly believe I was ever little like them!) Opening up the communication channels and becoming a person they love to talk to is crucial to building a beautiful, deep, open relationship that we all desperately hope we have with them as they grow into young adults and beyond.

If your daughter is little, start applying these things now and start building the foundation for a beautiful relationship during the more tricky teenage years. And if she is older and you read this feeling like you've already messed up, don't despair! It's never too late. Start today, and ask the Lord to bless your efforts. Our girls want to have a good relationship with us, and I believe they would prefer to have us be the ones they come to with hard things, but it starts with us. It's dependent upon our intentionality in making sure our girls know we are there for them in a non-judgmental, unembarrassed, talk-to-us-about-anything sort of way. TODAY, we build the foundation for the relationship we desire to have with our daughters tomorrow, and for a lifetime.