Carefully chosen words

All of a sudden, Maya has  grown taller and thinned out. Her delicious Michelin Man arm rolls and chubby toddler cheeks have all but disappeared. She is still built like Luis and I — a long, lean(ish) torso and thicker arms and legs. But her body is … different now.

She’s clearly had a growth spurt–even though she still religiously wears two pairs of 18-24 month BabyGap jeans (no clue how they still fit …) , depending on the brand, some of her 2T clothes are getting snug. Short. This is a kid who wore newborn til she was two months old and was always a size behind her age.

I first really noticed the change when she came to visit us in the hospital after I had Ben. Maybe it was the drugs they had me on, maybe it was post-op perspective … who knows. Either way, suddenly she looked like different kid. Like a soon-to-be-three-year-old. Like a little girl. Those four days I didn’t get much time with her, and so when I would see her, compared to her 7 lb 11 oz newborn brother, she looked like a pint-sized giant. The realization was both shocking and awesome. My baby is growing up!

Because I don’t want to consciously  inflict my own body image issues on Maya, I’ve tried really hard to choose my words carefully when talking about size. I never, ever use the “f” word — not about myself, not about others. It’s banned. Since our “belly incident” when she was one, I have been diligent about not letting her see me body-check — and she has never heard me body snark, either. It doesn’t mean I don’t think negative things sometimes … it’s just that I don’t want to be the one who transposes my issues onto her.

With children, growing “big” and “strong” are positives; things to strive for. “Drink your milk so you get strong bones!” we say. And I do want her to get big and strong. After being the smallest kid in the class for so long, it’s wonderful to see her catching up to her friends. She’s still at the small end of the spectrum, but she is healthy. Happy. And growing, which is more than any mama could wish for.

The thing is, for me — someone who has battled weight issues all her life — “big” will always have a negative connotation associated with it. So I try not to use that word if I can avoid it. I choose my words carefully.

I tell her how strong she is getting and she shows me her little arm muscles.

If something doesn’t fit her anymore, I let her tell me by asking leading questions, such as: “Do you like how these pants fit?” And she’ll say, “No, they’re too tight.” Or, “I don’t like them anymore.”

And if something new fits (or something old which had been too big now fits — like what happened last night with a pair of 24 month khakis … hurrah, they fit four weeks before her third birthday!) I tell her how happy I am she can wear such-and-such.

I realize this all might sound like I’m being hyper-sensitive where I perhaps need not be …being a “helicopter mom” of a different breed …  but my biggest fear is ruining her perfect, innocent sense of self. She has no shame and prances around the house in her underwear, belly sticking out and all. I could never fathom having such body confidence but I surely admire hers. While I was lucky to have a supportive mom who never critiqued my body and instead, understanding my insecurities, helped me dress for my shape — many girls weren’t so lucky. And I’ll be damned if a comment from me ever taints her beautiful self-esteem — now, or when she is 8, 13, or 24.

So I choose my words carefully. I am sure at some point I’ll slip and say the wrong thing and kick myself for it — I’m only human — but as long as she knows I love her no matter what, that’s ultimately all that matters. I just want her to always love herself the way she does now.

How about you? Do you worry about inflicting your own self-esteem/body image issues on your kids? What are some of your best strategies for curbing negative talk?

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5 thoughts on “Carefully chosen words

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