What You Say to Your Kids Isn’t Always What They Hear

I write for a living. All day long I wrestle with words, carefully and meticulously deciphering which ones I want to use to convey the right message to my audience. And then, when my workday is done, I come home and tend to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and these very blog pages to do more of the same. In short, words are my life.


Which is why I’m having a difficult time figuring out why I have so much trouble refraining from saying stupid and potentially harmful things in front of Will.

It’s not like I’m swearing in front of him or verbally abusing him. But

at least that would be easy to identify. Nope, what’s been happening lately is much more subtle (and far more frustrating). Unlike the past few years when Will couldn’t comprehend most of the things I’m saying, suddenly he understands EVERYTHING. Even if he doesn’t quite grasp the words I’m using, he somehow gets the concept and gist of what I’m talking about and the meaning behind it. And when I say something — regardless of my intended meaning — he takes it another way.

Case in point:

Me: “OK buddy, I’ve gotta go to the gym for a run.”
Will: “Dada, why do you run?”
Me: “Because I’m too fat. So I run so I can get skinny like you.”

Honestly, I didn’t think anything of it. I was calling myself fat (a fact) and I thought I was setting a positive example by showing him that it’s important to exercise and be fit. Nothing wrong with that right?

Well a few hours later after I got back, Will got really revved up and would not stop running around. It was like someone had mainlined Pixy Stix directly into his bloodstream. When I finally corralled him and asked him what was going on, I was floored by his answer.

“I’m getting fat so I needed to run like you, Dada.”

For some naive reason, I thought because I’m raising a son I would never have to deal with body issues and all that crap. Which is hysterical because I’ve hated the way I look and the fact that I’ve been pudgy since I was a kid. But suddenly I found myself knee deep in it.

I never meant to scare him or make him feel bad about himself, but I also failed to realize that by talking about myself negatively, it affects him too. To the point a 4-year-old had to exercise to avoid feeling fat. All because of an offhand comment I made in my rush to get to the gym. Now he’s intermittently afraid to take his shirt off in front of us because he thinks we’ll call him fat. And he’s obsessed with standing on the scale because he sees me weighing myself all the time.

I just can’t believe what started as me wanting to get healthy, go to the gym and live longer to enjoy life with my son, has turned into me giving aforementioned son unhealthy body issues and an obsession with weight at the tender age of 4.

Parenting ain’t easy.

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17 thoughts on “What You Say to Your Kids Isn’t Always What They Hear

  1. If you’re trying to change your body and “get skinny” you’re *going* to send a negative message to him that fat is bad and that staying skinny is important. It’s not just what you say or do in front of him- you need to shift *your* thinking. By all means keep running, but realize that most fat people who exercise don’t actually get skinny. Stop worrying about how you look and just focus on your health. I recommend reading Lessons From the Fat O Sphere by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby, Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon PhD and The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos (I listed those in order of ease of reading). They have plenty of studies and science on healthy eating, exercise, and weight. I eat healthy foods and exercise, but I make sure my son knows that my body (a fat body) isn’t bad, that it’s just the way I’m built (we even got into a discussion on the evolutionary reasons why some people are genetically predisposed to being efficient at storing fat and others aren’t). Hating your body WILL effect your son (more than it already has). Body acceptance is probably one of the best things you can do for your son.. this story breaks my heart.
    Heather recently posted..The Moment I knew I Had to Stop DietingMy Profile

  2. Heather: I hear you, but I disagree. I DO want to change my body and my entire goal is to look and stay skinny (or at least skinnier). And you’re wrong in that many fat people do get skinny. If I wasn’t worried about how I look, I wouldn’t be doing any of this. Sure I’m eating healthy and counting calories so I can feel better and be healthier, but I’m not afraid to admit I’m doing that — at least in part — to look better and to be happier with myself. And that’s not a bad thing.

    To me, a fat body is a bad body. I’m tired of my fat body. I know I’ll never be rail thin because of the way I’m built, but I also know I can get to the point I’m not fat. Then, and only then, will I engage in “body acceptance.” And that’s not to knock people who are OK with their bigger bodies — to each his/her own. But I want to be healthier and thinner, and with good reason.

    The lesson I’ve learned is to make sure I communicate more effectively with my son and let him know why I’m doing it and not be so flippant with my remarks.
    Daddy Files recently posted..What You Say to Your Kids Isn’t Always What They HearMy Profile

  3. So this is what I tell Erin….”Mommy is eating healthier and exercising so I can be healthy. I want to be around for you for a long time.” Of course she will be 8 and understands that mommy is fat. (She will poke my belly and tell me that I am fat, but that she loves me just the same!) However, she helps me in the store to make the right choices because she loves me and doesn’t want anything bad to happen to me! Don’t worry about your son because I am sure that he will come to his own conclusion that the world thinks skinny people are better looking. You (and I) are doing this to look better. Sure we want to feel better too, but if we are honest with ourselves it is because you looked in the mirror one day and thought “wow what a fat ass I am!” So don’t beat your self up about your son and body issues. Parenting is hard! P.S. I have always liked a man with a bit of chunk! 😉

  4. Jamie: Exactly. I don’t get why we’re all so afraid to cop to our vanity. What’s wrong with wanting to look good and not be fat?? I know this won’t be popular, but fat (truly fat, not the skinny people who call themselves fat because of 5 extra lbs) is bad. It’s unhealthy and unattractive. And I got tired of being so unhealthy and unattractive. Is it wrong to hate the way you look if the way you look is terrible? I don’t think so. Not when changing the way you look is completely of your own doing and within your power to change.

    Yes, I need to be more careful about how I express that to my young son who can’t understand all the complexities of this issue. I know that now. But I not only want to live longer and be healthier, I want to look good dammit. I want to be able to take my shirt off if I go to the beach or swim in the pool without feeling like a whale. I want to buy shirts that don’t have an “X” on the tag. I want people to say “Damn, you look AWESOME!” because it makes me feel better.

    Why are we all so afraid to admit that??
    Daddy Files recently posted..What You Say to Your Kids Isn’t Always What They HearMy Profile

  5. What’s wrong is that you are equating thinness with beauty and will thusly be teaching your child that if he is fat, he is ugly. Not to mention teaching him that judging a fat person by their appearance is okay… which it is not. If your vanity is so important that you need to pass it onto your child, think about all the other avenues of shame you are opening him up to.

    What is important for parents is to teach our children that we are all people, we all should love and take care of our bodies, and we don’t have the right to prescribe our negative body image as the ‘norm’.

    How about saying “Daddy’s going to gym so he can keep up with you when we play ball, etc.” Associate with a healthy attitude and your son will too.

  6. I’m not equating thinness with beauty. In fact, I’m firmly on the record as saying I’m attracted to women with a little meat on their bones. Rail thin women do nothing for me. And, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m also not looking to be a stick figure. I’m going for an average build and not fat. That’s it.

    Also, I am NOT teaching my son to judge fat people and I resent that implication. I teach my son to respect all people. But you can’t deny that fat equals unhealthy. It’s a fact. And yes, wanting to look good is a form of vanity. But who among us doesn’t want to look good??

    Show me where I ever purported to be the “norm” or even have the market cornered on the norm. My negative body image stemmed from the fact that I was fat. Being as fat as I was is inarguably a negative. I tell my son I’m going to the gym to get exercise because we all need to exercise our muscles and take care of ourselves. Sure I’m more cognizant of him seeing me stress about my weight and jump on the scale every day. I’ll correct those mistakes. But while I will teach him to respect all people, I’m not going to lie to him and tell him it’s healthy and hunky-dory to be obese.
    Daddy Files recently posted..What You Say to Your Kids Isn’t Always What They HearMy Profile

  7. ‘To me, a fat body is a bad body’.

    Seriously? You need to shift your attitude before your child picks up any more of your self-hatred. And just because you aren’t out there openly hating on the fatties doesn’t mean that you aren’t hating on them at all. That statement, right from your keyboard, states that you do.

    ‘But you can’t deny that fat equals unhealthy.’

    Watch me: http://bigliberty.wordpress.com/truth-behind-fat-links-science/

  8. “My negative body image stemmed from the fact that I was fat. ”

    I disagree. Your negative body image stemmed from your environment, just like everyone else in the world. A child who has never heard the word ‘ugly’ will not have that word in his vocabulary. Just like a child who has never been exposed to racial discrimination will not racially discriminate, a child who has been taught to treat EVERY body with respect (which means not judging ANY body – including his own – as ‘bad’ based on size, colour, clothing, hairstyle, etc.) will not look at a fat person and see a ‘fat’ person, he will see a PERSON.

    The argument that WEIGHT = HEALTH has been disproved in so many different ways over the past couple of decades, yet people who were brought up in our generations can’t understand how that is possible. Well, it is possible. The BMI is rubbish and antiquated, scientists and medical experts have said so. You are falling victim to society’s view of how your body should look to be, as you said, ‘Awesome’.

    Would you be happy going to the gym to be healthy and be happy if you’re healthier, but not thinner? My guess is that you probably wouldn’t. Read the research, it’s out there. Teach your son to be healthy and that size has nothing to do with it!

  9. Dan: I don’t need to shift anything. Do I really need to remind you about all the problems that result from obesity? It’s not like I hate the person I am, I hate the fact that I was morbidly obese. Some people are fat and they’re completely happy with that. More power to them. But I’m not speaking for them, I’m speaking for myself. And I was not OK with being so fat and unhealthy. What’s so hard to understand??

    Hedda: You don’t even know about my environment, so how can you say it’s responsible for how I fall on this issue? That’s ridiculous. You want to pretend everyone is the same but we’re not. There are fat people, skinny people, ugly people, beautiful people…all kinds, shapes and sizes. And depending on our personal preferences, we each find those different types either appealing or unattractive. Both of my parents are fat. It doesn’t mean I love them less, I love the shit out of them. But they’re still fat and I wish they’d get healthier so my dad wouldn’t have diabetes. You know, diabetes — that disease you get specifically because of obesity. So there goes your theory that weight doesn’t equal health.

    And to answer your question, when I get down towards my goal weight I will be happier simply getting healthier and not losing weight. Hell, my goal weight is still considered overweight for my height. But I don’t care about that or BMI because that’s a healthy (but not super skinny) place for me to be. But make no mistake, at 5’10 and 281 lbs I absolutely HAD to lose weight. Size had EVERYTHING to do with it. I was too big. But once I get down to around 200 lbs I’ll be much more interested in maintaining and putting on a little muscle (which will cause me to GAIN weight) as opposed to losing weight.

    It’s unfortunate that anyone who seeks to lose weight and has the honesty to call himself fat is viewed as a self-loathing hater who can’t stand himself. Your claims are just not accurate.
    Daddy Files recently posted..What You Say to Your Kids Isn’t Always What They HearMy Profile

  10. Once again I am stunned by the total misinformation that people accept as gospel truth.

    Any “study” can be reported to prove just about anything you want it to; I am married to a scientist he would tell you the same.

    How could being absolutly unable to catch your breath after climbing a flight of stairs not be considered unhealthy?

    I don’t always agree with your opinions but I never doubt your “smartness”.

  11. This is definitely something that we don’t think about as much as parents of boys, but my husband has bulimia, so I know it can affect them. He has had it under control for a long time, but when we met he was very skinny. I would hate to see my kids go through that. I’m in the midst of a big weight loss effort (I have lost 40 pounds, have about 65 to go), and my almost 6 year old son is old enough now that I have to talk to him about it. I have explained that I want to be healthier and be able to play with him more easily, and that sometimes if you eat too much of the wrong foods it’s not good for your body. I agree with Danny – definitely a good reminder!
    Rachael recently posted..Week 18: 10% DownMy Profile

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