Recently I observed a 3-year-old girl with her family in a restaurant. She
was having difficulty walking due to the heels on her sandals. I actually understand her desire to be “more grown up.” However, I did feel sad and curious about a cultural paradigm that promotes preschoolers to be hobbling in order to look thinner.
You might be saying “But she wasn’t trying to look thinner. She was just copying Mommy, or wanting to play dress up.” To which I would say “And why was Mommy wearing high heels?” I was at a [dress up] event for parents of young children recently and one of the dads curiously asked “why DO women wear high heels?” To which I heard a mom reply:
“To enhance their legs or look thinner.”
I myself have worn high heels (though much less after becoming a mom as walking/running/getting shoes dirty and protecting my back have become more important). There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel and look attractive. However, I do question certain underlying values including
- Looking-thin-or-smaller-is-more-important-than-being-able-to-walk; or
- A woman’s-value-is-in-their-appearance-rather-than-their-skills, abilities, or being.
The comedian Jim Gaffigan (Dad is Fat, New York: Three Rivers Press, 2013) riffs on the ridiculous-ness of this strange cultural phenomena when he talks about the obsessive interest in his newborn baby girl’s weight:
The masses of family and friends want to …get information on the baby. For some reason, it’s really important for people to know how much the baby weighs. This always baffled me. ‘How much does she weigh?’ That’s rude. She’s not even a day old, and people seem to be obsessed with my daughter’s weight? She was nine pounds, but I remember telling friends, ‘She was eight pounds, sixteen ounces’ because it sounded thinner. Either way, she carried the weight very well, but we put her on the Atkins diet anyway…
My latest celebrity hero is Adele: not because I like her music or even follow celebrities much. But because she is one voice of opposition within the airbrushed media culture challenging lies such as:
- Looking Good= You will Not Suffer or Die and
- You can never be too rich or too thin.
She is speaking out, modeling for women and mothers, that is it okay to be yourself, in the size that you are. There are more valuable compasses from which to steer your life than appearance. Though admitting to some body image problems, she states:
“I think I remind everyone of themselves…I’m not perfect. I don’t let [body image problems] rule my life…I’m motivated by … a legacy that I’m leaving for my child.”*
Amen to that.
*Us Weekly, “Adele Choosing Family Over Fame,” Issue 1086, December 7, 2015.
A colleague of mine is in the process of creating and producing the “Mama Faces Project” – a video art project interviewing mothers. (I will share with her permission when it is complete). In this project, she invites mothers to say TO YOURSELF what you needed to hear in those most difficult moments of motherhood: those moments where you felt alone, overwhelmed, full of rage or failure. The purpose is so any mother out there who may be feeling awful in the moment will know they aren’t alone .
As I prepared for participating in this video project, I thought, hmmmmm…what were those moments for me? I definitely struggled with sleep: sleep “training,” modified sleep training, no sleep training, chucking sleep training out the window, co sleeping with a baby kicking me in the face, etc. (BTW Here is a funny image of what any parent who has attempted co sleeping has experienced: http://www.howtobeadad.com/2011/6452/baby-sleep-positions-“h-hell” )
Here is what I would say to myself:
1. Lots of people have “failed” at this. You are NOT ALONE in struggling with this.
2. It is ok to be angry at your husband during this phase of sleep deprivation. That is normal. Love is under the anger. (You don’t have to feel or remember that right now.)
3. I know you know a lot about psychological conditioning (I was studying this for my licensure exam while in this phase of infant Mommyhood) right now and how “reinforcing” it can be to respond to “negative” cries for attention or respond erratically/inconsistently, but here is what I want you to know from a fierce mother’s heart: Your child is not a dog, rat or pigeon and you are not Pavlov, Skinner, Watson or any other behavioral Psychological researcher! (Here is a frightening example of how the behavioral Psychologist Skinner kept pigeons underweight and living in tiny boxes in order to have them be hungry enough to want to eat food as a reinforcement for the behavior he was trying to condition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_ctJqjlrHA )
4. It is ok to be inconsistent because you are human and one of the best lessons you can model for your child is to listen to your intuition on where you are suffering and let that guide you toward the most appropriate response.
You do not have to cut yourself off from that awareness to be a good Mom. Yes, of course it can be helpful to be consistent, but remember the deeper place of consistency is the ability to flow with chaos. This is not a laboratory. This is a real life experience with messiness and failure. And growth comes from failure. AFGO’s (Another F*cking Growth Opportunity) come from failure. Remember how Brenee Brown called TED “the failure conference”? There is a LOT of inspirational growth in failure. Invite failure more! Invite yourself to fail! As it says in the first sentence of the 12 steps:
“WHO cares to admit complete defeat? Practically no one, of course. Every natural instinct cries out against the idea…” *
And yet the foundation of transformative learning (as well as recovery from any addiction such as alcoholism, codependency, eating disorders, etc) comes from admitting “Ok I am having an AFGO here, failing, and I am whole heartedly willing to stop suffering in this way and try something different.”
I invite you to wholeheartedly be willing to stop beating up on yourself for the ways you are “failing” as a mother and embrace messy learning. As Brenee Brown states, one of the greatest gifts we can teach our children is that “You are worthy of love, belonging and joy.” And we model this for our children by modeling self-compassion and embracing our own imperfections.
For a beautiful version of Brenee Brown’s Parenting Manifesto, click here:
* The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous