A few weeks ago, I was standing in front of the mirror frowning at the cellulite on my legs that never seemed to go away no matter how much expensive lotion I used or how many lunges I did.
“What?” my boyfriend asked, noticing my grimace.
“Nothing… I just hate how my legs look.”
“Didn’t you tell me that if you have daughters you want to make sure you don’t talk about what you hate about your looks?”
I rolled my eyes. What did that have to do with this?
What did that have to do with this? I am 32 and want to have kids in the next few years. And I am far from believing that amazing parents have to be perfect people. Perfect, completely self-actualized people don’t exist and the opposite of the type of parent I want to be is someone who creates unrealistic, unattainable expectations.
However, I also have a vision of what I would like to be as a parent. I would like to be the type of parent who teaches her children to handle conflict well, both with other people and with her/himself. I would like to be the type of parent who says nice things about other people both when it is easy and when it is hard. Who teaches her kids how to be calm when life feels frustrating and overwhelming. Who is kind to everyone, even myself, especially myself.
I want to be this kind of parent because I want my children to learn to be like this and I know that the best thing you can do as a parent is be a role model for your children.
The problem is, this best version of myself, that person that I hope to be in a few years isn’t exactly who I am today. I’m not always kind to myself; sometimes I’m cold and unforgiving. When I get stressed out, I tend to bottle it up until I start crying — in the shower, in the car, in the grocery store. I don’t always see the best in people and I definitely have let my insecurities get the best of me.
While I know all of this is human, and I would want my kids to know- it is okay to cry in the middle of an airport terminal if that’s where you feel like crying, I also think life should be about striving to become the best version of ourselves. And so I think, instead of hoping to magically wake up one day as a parent and a better version of myself, I need to, today, in my current childless state, practice being the type of person who I want to be.
For instance: I’ve always thought that learning to meditate would change the way I handled stress. Instead of (as I noted before) bottling it up until I burst, I’ve seen meditation offer a healthy way to navigate unpleasant emotions. I imagine my future children would practice meditation as part of their upbringing- when they had a temper tantrum, I would teach them to sit in stillness and learn to breathe. However, I rarely do that. It’s the ideal that I just never get around to working on. So how can I expect that when I become a mom, I’ll be different?
Similarly, I think it’s just as important to practice the more subtle behaviors. Sarah Koppelkam published a beautiful piece called How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body. It’s incredibly inspiring and I highly recommend everyone read it-whether you have a daughter or not. The gist of it is, you shouldn’t be talking about how your daughter looks but, instead, who she is as a person. And also, maybe most importantly, you shouldn’t criticize or express shame over your own body, because she’ll learn how to see herself through how you see yourself.
I love this. I want to be that mom. I want to model that behavior for my kids. But I can’t expect to become that person as a mom if I’m not learning to be that person today.
So, for now, I have to practice what I hope to preach.
I look in the mirror. The negative thoughts are still there, but I don’t give much attention to them. It doesn’t feel quite authentic yet, but as I look at my reflection I say, “That was a great 4 mile run.”