Are you a rebel parent? Are you willing to break the current parenting expectations and bring a kinder, gentler, and more mindful approach to raising your child? Are you ready to help your child avoid, heal from, or reduce the severity of an eating disorder? If so, read on!
Resolve to accept your child as they are
First, you must accept your child as they are, without fiddling with them. This means accepting that they get anxious when you travel, can talk about game theory for hours, live in a larger body, are terrible at sports, slouch, get knots in their hair, or whatever else they are that you think that, as a “good” parent, you should fix.
We don’t need to fix our kids. We need to accept our kids.
We live in a time full of parenting advice, and yet it is becoming painfully obvious that we’re really struggling to parent well. Anxiety and depression are skyrocketing in child and young adult populations. Suicidality, self-harm, and eating disorders are reaching dramatic new rates. Parents are never to blame, but our kids are most definitely influenced by the environment in which they live, and how we parent our kids matters. This is stressful.
But don’t think that “parenting” has to mean following every trend on the Internet. In fact, don’t follow every trend on the Internet! If you do nothing else this year, learn to accept your child for who they are. Learn to love that they love animals (and you are allergic). Learn to love that they love to read (and you were a star athlete). Learn to love everything about them that makes them unique and separate and special precisely because they are different from you!
P.S. “Acceptance” is not the same as being passive or giving up. Truly accepting your child as they are is an active and challenging pursuit for most parents! It’s a lot harder than it sounds.
Resolve to accept your child’s weight
Unless your child is currently medically underweight, in which case you need to work with a medical and psychological team to address the dangers of being underweight, don’t worry about your kid’s weight.
Sound scary? I know. We live in a diet-centric culture. We firmly believe that it is healthier to “watch our weight” and that “childhood obesity” is something for which parents should be held accountable and shamed for. We are told that we must watch what our kids eat and control their intake to prevent weight gain and promote “health,” which in our culture really means low weight.
Almost all of us who have/had eating disorders remember feeling pressure to conform to a certain body type. Even the most loving parents can make mistakes when it comes to body acceptance simply because we live in a diet culture. It’s not your fault, but it’s time to change.
Spend this year learning about Health at Every Size and Intuitive Eating. Internalize the lessons about fat acceptance and rebel against the narrative that dieting or any lifestyle change with the intention of weight loss is healthy. Intentional weight loss not only leads to regain most of the time, but it also leads to eating disorders and causes serious harm both physically and emotionally.
Resolve to admire your child
When we admire someone, we go beyond acceptance. We take note of what makes them unique and special. We think about them fondly. When we speak about them, we do so with excitement and say positive things about them. This isn’t bragging – it’s having admiration for the people whom we love most in this world.
For some reason, as a culture we think it’s better to complain about our kids. Even when they are doing well, we are hesitant to be too positive about their performance for fear of either “jinxing” it somehow or making other people jealous. But this is no way to raise a child. You love your kid. Now you just have to practice admiring them.
Tell your child you admire their diligence. Tell your child you admire their compassion. Tell your child you admire their determination. When you’re talking about your child to other people, mention the things you admire about them. Don’t fall into the trap of complaining or saying things like, well, she has lots of friends, but I’m not sure why with that attitude – ha ha! No! Say that you admire the relationships she has built!
Resolve to stay close to your child
There comes a point when many teenagers drift away from their parents. As a culture, we tend to think this is normal and healthy. Many of us feel a little ping of pain when this happens, but since the cultural narrative is that teenagers are monsters and drive us crazy, we ignore the ping and allow our children to drift away.
Our children are always our children. At no point do they want to be our friends. At no point do they want to be our acquaintances. At no point do they want to be our enemies. Our children (no matter their age) desperately want us to be parents who support them, accept them, know them, and love them unconditionally. If they are behaving as if they don’t want our love and attention, they are showing us that they are in pain and that they need more love and attention from us.
If your children have pulled away from you – especially if they still live at home, don’t assume that’s the way things should be. It may be a sign that they need you to hold them closer. We must always take the high road and stay in the parental role, even when our kids push our buttons or push us away. You can get defensive and let them push you away, or you can get some help and figure out how to give them the love they desperately need.
Resolve to work on yourself
Many of us fall into the trap of pointing fingers at people who confound us, blaming their confounding behavior on something they are doing. This unfortunately happens with our kids, too. We say things like: she’s driving me crazy; I don’t know why he acts like that; she’s always so mean to me; etc.
This puts all the blame for a child’s behavior in their court. But we must always remember that we are in relationship with our children. No matter how old they are, we are always their parents. This means that there is always room for us to learn something new and become better parents.
Needing to learn something new doesn’t mean you’ve failed – it just means you have more to learn. We all do!
Get some help from a therapist, counselor or coach who can help you learn more about yourself, your own family or origin, and how you think about your children. Remember that we are not meant to fix our kids, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t make a tremendous and positive impact on their lives by working on ourselves and our own behavior!
Resolve to stop dieting and trying to control your own body
If you have spent years of your life trying to achieve a certain body weight, even if the supposed reason is “health,” then it’s time to stop. Intentional weight loss is unhealthy. It puts tremendous stress on the body, and results in regain plus additional weight 95% of the time. It also sets a dangerous precedent for your children. Watching a parent diet instills diet culture in a child, making them more likely to diet, which makes them more likely (25%) to develop an eating disorder.
Be a rebel. This year when everyone else resolves to lose weight, resolve to never try to lose weight again.
Ginny Jones is the editor of More-Love.org. She writes about parenting, body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders. Ginny is also a Parent Coach who helps parents handle their kids’ food and body issues.