What Could Have Helped?

What Could Have Helped?

Last week I gave a live presentation of a talk I’m working on called Parenting Toward Positive Self Image. (More to share on that soon!)

It’s rather fun to speak with others. I continue to learn things typically go much better when I’ve prepared in advance (note to high school self — practice your presentations for English class rather than winging them!).

Following the presentation, I received lots of useful feedback (thank you!). I’d shared highlights and lowlights, how things had looked good on paper though I’d eventually found myself deep in a hole, any positive self image eroded. The group wondered how/where the downward spiral started and what things might have helped between the highs and lows, as well as greater linking to ideas I’d shared about supporting our kids with building the practice of positive self image and what we as parents can do. Yes, useful feedback!

I’ve been thinking over their notes and ideas and am working on the next iteration of the talk. For this week’s post, I thought I’d share some of my ponderings.

I recall feeling sensitive as a child, particularly as I got into my preteens and older. Comments from others, changes in schedules, and not enough sleep could put me on edge or leave me feeling jumbled up and out of control inside. I wasn’t particularly adept at sorting and handling these feelings, and I started to internalize them as “I’m doing something wrong and must get back in control!”. (Spoiler: This internalization was not helpful.) Add to this the newness and changes of various gymnastics clubs, coaches, schools, and friends in my preteens/teens (family moves to new states at 12 and 16), and my footing (and self image) grew shakier.

If I could go back and change anything from those times, I’d suggest to my parents to create more consistent and regular space for talking about and sharing feelings and emotions (however smoothly or awkwardly done), particularly the messy ones and especially during times of newness and change. As I got older, I began to believe the “bad” feelings and emotions weren’t okay to share, and this kept me from voicing how messy I felt inside (which stopped me from asking for and getting help, a factor in my struggles dragging on).

Into my mid-twenties, I began to share a little more with others, as well as hear their stories. Starting to learn that others felt as messy as I did at times was hugely helpful to me, and had I heard such stories and sharings sooner in my life, perhaps I wouldn’t have gone so far down the holes of depression and eating disorders.

Now, with that said, it also struck me that perhaps more sharing (or anything else) may not have made that much of a difference. It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback a situation after the fact, and hard to say what I would have listened to then, because I didn’t know then what I know now. I learned through traversing the struggles, pain, and messy times.

This isn’t to say it’s not worth implementing regular time for open conversations and sharing about messy feelings and emotions, or other efforts for support. I think sharing can be one of the most helpful and healing things we can offer to ourselves and our kids. However, we can also be realistic that some of our actions now may not yield immediate results — and it’s okay. We can’t know what’s going to happen or what our kids will definitely respond to. However, we can plant seeds for support, trusting they will bloom in their own time.

As adults, we do the best we can to support our kids where they are, to the best of our abilities with our present knowledge. And things may get messy, because life is messy. No one knows everything; it’s through the messy times we learn the most.

Our kids have their lessons to learn — and it’s okay. When we’re trying our best with what we know at the time, being the best models of self-care and kindness to ourselves that we can be (there is no perfect or “right” way), paying attention for hints when things are off (and sometimes things go off the rails for us all), and then asking/listening/tweaking when things are off the rails — that is always, always, always enough.

In the biggest, grandest picture: We are doing fine. Our kids are doing fine. Life is messy sometimes — and we keep showing up, trying, learning, and trying again. And that’s always enough.


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