A Mother’s Day Sentiment, What Will Be Your Legacy: “The Gift” or “The Struggle?”

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With Mother’s Day upon us, there has been much sentiment expressed regarding the love and the loss, the need and the fulfillment that surrounds our relationship with Mother.

Especially on Mother’s Day, it’s easy to become sentimental about the maternal traits that influenced us most.

From positive to negative (and everywhere in-between), the messages we received from Mother have the absolute ability to influence how we feel about our self.

And especially for daughters, nothing is more powerful than the maternal messages we take in regarding body-image and appearance.

Unfortunately, if you are still in the middle of your struggle with body-image issues and/or eating disordered behavior, you are at risk of passing down to your children these multi-generational disorders, despite your desire to do otherwise.

Research shows that mothers who have struggled with an eating disorder are at 3-12 times greater risk of having a child who develops an eating disorder, primarily due to genetic predisposition. Similarly, a well-known study found the presence of dieting behavior among 5-year-old children whose mothers dieted. And an excessive focus on weight and appearance within a family, correlates with the development of disordered eating among children.

For better or for worse, what a mother models and the values she emulates regarding body-image will become either “the gift” or “the struggle” she hands down as her legacy to her children.

Thankfully, at A New Beginning, we know that recovery is absolutely possible!  Everyone has the power to change, to heal and to hand down to the next generation a legacy that is healthier than the one they received.

While painful, working to heal from past childhood experiences rife with an excess focus on weight, that valued others based on appearance, and/or necessitated that you dodge ridicule by attempting to become “perfect,” will result in a newfound ability to bring a healthier self forward – to both yourself and your children.

And will result in your ability to give your children the gift of a positive body-image and a healthy relationship with food.

If you are still in the middle of your recovery journey, here are some (relatively!) simple steps that will help support and guide you in your desire to hand down “the gift” of a positive body-image as you continue to heal, grow and work to fully recover!

  1. Model in front of your children only positive statements about your body and its abilities; regardless of your size, shape or weight. Model acceptance of your imperfections.  Statements such as, “Oh well, it doesn’t have to be perfect!” go a long way to create a foundation of acceptance and self-leniency in our impressionable children.
  2. Practice non-dieting “intuitive eating” behavior. Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full. Eat all foods in moderation. Eliminate “good food / bad food” labels.  Creating a “no need to diet” belief system and accompanying healthy eating habits will help prevent your children from falling into the never ending diet-overeat-diet-overeat disordered eating trap that plagues the majority of our country (and leads to eating disorders, from anorexia to binge eating disorder).
  3. Cease using body negative and/or body bias language.  A child’s attitude and values regarding others are learned behavior, and there is no greater influence than parental values that start within the home.  Stop commenting negatively on the weight and/or appearance of others.  Never judge others (or yourself) for your appearance or weight.  And never assign one’s value or worth to something as silly as outer appearances or weight.
  4. Express value for internal vs external traits of yourself and others.  Let your kids hear you say, “I love Viviane, she’s so nice!” and “He’s so smart, I really admire him!” as opposed to noticing and commenting on others’ weight or appearance.
  5. Compliment your children readily, especially for non-appearance skills, values and traits.  I promise you, your kids will not “get a big head” from giving them sincere, honest compliments!  Give accurate praise for characteristics and skills that are important to them.  This will not only give them positive value for sentiments that are important to them, it will help foster positive self-esteem and a multifaceted identity that will help them withstand the normal external imperfections that come with being human!

To all the love-filled Mothers who are working so hard to recover,

Happy Mother’s Day!

May you learn to love yourself, so you can pass down the gift to others!

If you like this, then please share!

Julie T. Anné, Ph.D.

Scottsdale, Arizona,

Dr Julie T. Anne is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Eating Disorder Specialist, Founder and Clinical Director of A New Beginning and Co-Founder and Clinical Director of TheHealthyWeighOut, both specialty eating disorder treatment facilities located in Scottsdale, Arizona.
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