Little Eyes Watching Mummy in the Mirror

I am probably not the only woman on this planet that has an unusual obsession with my weight and body image. Actually, it’s mainly my body image. I know this, because at one brief point I reached my ‘goal weight’ and yet found I was still unhappy with my body image. There were still aspects I was not happy with. But I reached my goal weight in time for my wedding – I proudly did my victory dance in the changing rooms as I put on my size 8 wedding dress and even now look back on my wedding photos with pride.

And then of course I became pregnant, and my battle started all over again. Now you may wonder why this topic on Cheeky Kids? Is this another whoa is me story about a Mum who is struggling to lose post-baby weight? Quite the alternative……as from tomorrow I am embarking on a process of ‘reverse dieting’. As I looked around for yet another approach to seeking the ‘perfect body’ I came across an Australian trainer advocating the need for women to eat real food and the right amounts of it for a healthy balance. To actually eat more calories, not less. As I shared with her my story and my 1200 calorie, 6 day-a-week training approach, she suggested I was not eating enough for my body to operate in a healthy way and that I was causing metabolic damage. She asked for how long I had adopted this approach in my quest for my ideal body image. I had never considered this, as to me it was just what you did. Eat less, exercise more. But it would seem I had been doing this for a rather long time – at least 7 years or more. And the proof of success of this approach clearly lay in my stagnant body measurements.

So tomorrow I embark on a process of increasing my calorie intake and reducing my high level of cardio exercise regime. The problem is, I enjoy the feeling of a hungry tummy. A rumbling tummy to me means I’m losing weight. A full tummy makes me feel fat. Ive got so used to missing meals, avoiding yummy foods, saying no to delicious delights all in the name of weight loss, that my body has accepted this is what it will operate from. And in the process I have suffered other side effects noted in a metabolic-resistant or damaged state – lethargy, anaemia, hormonal imbalance and so on. I have simply been damaging my body.

But if this was just about me then, quite honestly, I’d probably continue to keep going round and round in my under-eating/over-training cycle. But this is not just about me. I have a beautiful daughter who, without realising it, is learning from me what it means to be a woman. And so far she has watched her Mum head out almost daily to pound the pavements in her spandex. She has seen her Mum prepare meals for the family and not eat them herself. While enjoying a family ice cream trip, she has seen her Mum do the ordering, but not the eating. So what has this all taught her? That grown women provide for their families, but miss out on the delights themselves. That they exercise madly. That they don’t have a balanced love of food, exercise and life.

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We have been very careful in our family to avoid words that relate to body image in a derogatory sense. When I explain why I am off for my exercise I make the links between health and longevity of life. I jokingly say I want to meet my great-grandchildren one day, and to do that I need to have a healthy heart. And to have a healthy heart means regular exercise. We talk about healthy food and sometimes food, and the health benefits, not the aesthetic impact on ones body. But I have failed to realise that my actions are screaming much louder than my words. I am failing to provide my daughter with a model she can hang her own thoughts and beliefs on in the battle against the world’s obsession with the female body image.

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I want my daughter to be different than I. As parents, we work hard to nurture her spirit, her creativity, her character and her confidence. I would not want her, in 30 years time to be having the same battle I now face in reassessing my relationship with food and my own self-image. I want it to be a non-issue for her as she confidently moves through her life – happy in her own self-image, healthy and happy. So, tomorrow, the foundation for this will begin construction. I begin my own journey, so very conscious of the little eyes watching.

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Parent Power

My 14 year old becomes 15 in less than a week. This is somewhat of a horrifying thought, as it only reminds us of how little time we have left with him to guide, teach and advise him on the ways of being a responsible adult. So when life lessons arise, we work hard to ensure every moment is utilised, as he inches one step closer to adult responsibility.

What makes this difficult however are the parents of his teenage friends. For some reason, many parents feel that as their children become young adults, they can loosen up and shift roles……becoming more friend than parent. That they don’t need to worry about consistent boundaries or maintaining the role of ‘guide to life’ and ‘wisdom council’. Instead they try to become a cool parent, for fear that their child will turn away, angry, mad or embarrassed to be in the same room as them. And in adopting this approach to their teenager, they then have to assume the same role with their child’s friends – because it is the friends that influence the final seal of ‘approval’ from their child. If their friends hassle their child “Man your olds are stink” or “oh my god is that what your Dad said….” their popularity ratings decline and the likelihood of your child ‘liking you’ decreases.

Which is what raising a teenager is about right? Them ‘liking’ you? Not in our household. We have decided not to look at the micro steps our teenager will take from age 13-20 years. We have our sights firmly focused on the young man he will be at age 25. The strength of character, moral compass and set of values that he will have to give him the resiliency to move through the adult world successfully. Which then allows us to make parenting decisions that will (and there’s always the fingers-crossed clause) assist him to get to this point. Our latest goal is to have him understand money does not descend from the heavens at any given time. That if he wants money for his mobile phone, or movie tickets, or lollies or the latest clothes, he has to do like everyone else and work for the money. We began this process early in the year by suggesting that if he wanted a fun, exciting summer holiday he would need to begin the process of looking for a job. Easier said than done in today’s employment climate. Lessons are continuing to being learned around gaining wilful employment. We have provided him with many opportunities to earn money doing labour around our property. We pay well and are somewhat flexible employers. However we stick to our bottom line, if the job isn’t completed to our satisfaction, you don’t get paid.

So when our teenager negotiates his taxi fare (aka Mums car) out to a friends beach house for an invited stay, we agreed to his terms. Lawns were to be mowed and bedroom was to be spotless. An employment contract was entered into. But when the time came for us to keep to our end of the deal, we had no option but to decline the taxi ride. Lawns had been left too late in the day and with the rain arriving could not be completed. The bedroom had not been cleaned. Instead, he had chosen to watch movies ‘putting off’ the jobs till the last moment. This is a current theme of life presently…..putting off for another time. And yet the look of shock and disdain that came when he was informed the taxi ride was not happening still surprised me. He genuinely thought that he could continue the approach and ‘finish it later’ as he had a deal with his mate to head to the beach. We had no choice but to stick to our guns and decline him his ride. We compromised and advised him that if we saw a change in his attitude and the jobs were completed by the following lunchtime, he had one last chance at the taxi ride. But he had to pull finger and show a change in his focus.

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But this is where it gets tricky. I then had to advise the mother of the said friend at the beach. I was simply delivering the message that, providing the jobs were completed, my teenager would be arriving later than expected for the visit. I explained we were trying to grow a responsible work ethic and the value of integrity……something which was lost in translation as she conveyed to me that her son would be ‘guttered’. I had to continue to apologise for the inconvenience and reinforce what we were trying to teach our son. At no time did I receive a ‘good on you’, or ‘I understand completely’, or ‘absolutely, you do what you need to do, we can wait’. Instead it became about how she was going to keep her disappointed son happy for an additional half-day.

Where has Parent Power gone? What has happened to parents having each others’ backs? This is a tough gig. There is no rule book, no user manual. We are required to make calls in split seconds with minimal information, that can influence the character and integrity of our future adults. We need to support each other, rather than the fragmented, each-to-their-own approach that is so common these days. What concerns me is that as my son moves towards the teenage experiences of driving, parties, girls and alcohol who are the parents of his friends that I can trust will have my, and consequently, his back? Who will be the parents that will ring and say ‘hey have just heard our boys planning ….. we need to address this with them’? Sadly, I can’t count too many of them on one hand.

Parents need to be a team – they need to be that collective village that raises our children together. And it begins with knowing that you can’t be your teenager’s friend. As the parent it is your job to make the hard calls when they don’t have the developmental, emotional or moral ability to. They may be bigger than you (my son now towers over me), but they haven’t got the years behind them to allow them to make decisions that may be life-impacting. So being their friend isn’t the reality as the parent of a teenager. Being their advisor, chief of staff and moral compass is. Friendship comes when they have matured into the wonderful adults you worked so hard to create in their formative years.

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Separated Families at Christmas

For many Christmas is a time of relaxation, good food and good family company. Finally a chance to catch up with loved ones after a busy completed year. But for others it signals a logistical and emotional nightmare, as shared contact between separated families is managed. If a negotiated plan is not in place, disagreement and conflict between ex-partners can cause Christmas to be a time of anxiety and frustration, in which inevitably the child is caught in the middle of.

So how can this situation be managed and the stress minimised as much as possible? I can only share our experiences in managing this time with my eldest son’s biological family. When I first became his step-Mum, there was no formal plan in place for the care of him over the Christmas time. Furthermore, his birthday was two days after Christmas, which made it an even more concentrated time of anxiety, as it felt like we had to have a highly concentrated period of contact with his biological family than we would normally have. This said, initially, my husband would simply agree with his ex-partner to her requests, in order to keep the peace and avoid any unpleasantness for our son. But this also meant that our son did not experience Christmas with one half of his family, which was a significant loss for him in terms of his childhood. So, as many parents would try, we began to look for a middle ground……a way to carve up the day so that it had some air of fairness and so that our son could feel he was experiencing how both sides of his family celebrated the day. This was always a cause of great stress in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day. What was deemed ‘fair’ was always from varying perspectives, and when having to deal with an ex-partner with their own agenda, this made for a worrying time. It created conflict between myself and my husband, as we debated how to manage the communication around the time. And this was before we had even begun our holiday!

Despite plans being agreed to, the greatest source of stress was the inevitable contact with my sons biological family on the day. Where most of the year we tried to void any concentrated form of the family, suddenly we were having to collect our son from a place where the entire family had congregated! We all had to be nice and pleasant at the point of pick up……despite the preceding disagreements and arguments from throughout the year. It was all about ensuring our son didn’t cotton on to any animosity between his loved ones.

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What made the pick ups and drop offs even harder, however was dealing with the ex-partners inability to be on time. More often than not, we were spending much our Christmas Day waiting. Waiting to have lunch as we waited for our son to arrive and be apart of it…….or waiting for our son to get his things ready as we picked him up, despite knowing of the time we were due to arrive. Or waiting for a phone call to pick up our son which came an hour or two hours after the agreed time. A relaxing Christmas did not seem quite the same. Instead we always had one eye on the clock……and a knot in our stomach knowing we would need to be managing contact at some point in the day.

Another trickle-on effect in having to manage contact between two separated families over this time, is the limitation this puts in being able to travel away to visit other family out of town. In the initial years of becoming a step-parent, this meant if I wanted to spend time with my husband, son and young daughter, it meant my parents had to travel to us, and not vice versa. They lived a five hour drive away and we were not able to do what many families could by saying ‘we’re spending Christmas away’ this year. It became 3 families to juggle….not the usual two. And it was the third family that would have the most to say if they got to miss out on seeing their son/grandson over this holiday time. And while I tried hard for it not to bother me, it did. A family I would have nothing to do with, or nothing in common with, other than my love for their biological son/grandson, were dictating to me when I could see my own family at Christmas time. While I didn’t make this an issue to anyone on the outside, it certainly stewed and stirred on the inside!

The best thing we ever did as a family was create an agreement thought the Family Court. For most people this is a daunting thought – to go to court. But as someone who has come out the ‘other side’ I could, without a doubt, state I would do it again. This process resulted in a very transparent and fair agreement on the arrangements for both Christmas and birthday contact…..and went further to ensure other holidays, such as Easter, long weekends, Mothers Day and Father’s Day etc were explicitly understood. And there were inevitable consequences if one or the other party refused to follow the agreement. Yes, it was expensive, and yes, the stress was excruciating. But what followed was far less stress over the time that mattered.

A further preventative strategy we employed to avoid the anxiety at the point of picking up and dropping off our son was to ensure we were the one doing the transporting. We offered to drop off AND pick up. This meant we footed the bill for the petrol, and the time spent in a car on Christmas Day…….but it also meant we had control over the time. We were able to minimise down our ‘wait’ time, as we were not left wondering when our son was ever going to arrive. And when contact was particularly strained between my husband and his ex-partner, we employed the assistance of family members who were happy to do the drop and pick up for us. We chose family who we knew would not engage in conflict or would not be confrontational, and that would, at all times, be mindful of the ears and eyes watching the change-over. Someone that would ensure our son would continue to be protected from adult conflict. (This usually meant someone of whom the ex-partner was a little intimidated by). All we then waited on was a text to say he had been collected and was on his way. We could breathe easy and look forward to the remainder of our Christmas Day.

So if you find yourself having to manage these additional stresses at the holiday time, it is well worth looking into creating a more formalised and structured agreement between the parties involved. When it is clear and spelt out on paper, it is far less likely to be argued with. If you find yourself having to wait or be inconvenienced unduly, try to become proactive, offering to do the transporting yourself. And in a worst-case situation, look for support within your immediate family – have someone available to assist with the pick ups to minimise your stress, and ultimately any trickle-on effect to your children. These are just some ways we have found got us through potentially stressful moments over the holiday season when managing separated families.

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