Monday, August 15, 2011

Parenting a Healthy Lifestyle

Disclaimer: This may be a controversial post. You may not like it. You may even disagree with it. If that's the case, please leave your well-formed, well-though-out opinion in the comment below.

Obesity in America is an epidemic.

We all know this, we've seen the news reports, heard that statistics, it's practically shoved in our faces that we, as a country, are fat.

As an adult I know that I have the responsibility to watch what I eat, maintain some type of exercise program, and generally take care of my health. It benefits me, it benefits my family, and it benefits society (lower usage of health care, lowered chances of health issues which in turn means less chance of having serious health issues resulting in usage of medicaid, etc.)

But what about our youth of America? I've seen just as many reports on the growing obesity in children. The increase of video games as a pastime means less time spent outdoors and fast food is so easy and quick for rushed parents that it has become a norm.

Schools have adopts Presidential Fitness awards into their Physical Education programs. Disney has started promoting a "Healthy Magic" campaign. We're seeing a trend.

Some days its tough making healthy decisions.

It's even tougher when you're a parent and seeing your kid make bad health decisions. They want chicken nuggets instead of skinless, baked chicken breast. They will sneak an extra piece of candy when you're not looking. They have less self-control and more impulsive behaviors than adults. (At least mine does.)

So how do we normally react? We force it...
"No, you can't have another cookie?"
"No, put down that cereal box, we're getting fiber."
"No, drink water or milk instead."

We hit them with a lot of "you cant's"... What are we teaching them? We're giving them strict rules that we're enforcing, but not reinforcing good decision making skills.

At what point do we as parents have to step away and allow our children to make the decisions for themselves?

Shouldn't we react with?
"Are you still hungry?"
"Do you think that is a healthy decision?"
"What is your body telling you you want another piece?"

I know it sounds crazy, but are we teaching our kids to listen to their bodies? Not their little impulsive minds?

Sure I model healthy eating and exercise. I cook balanced meals and encourage DubyaKid to be in a "some sort of sport" year round. But she has to want it, doesn't she? I can't force it. It's tough making healthy decision for them, especially when they don't like the choices. But it's even tougher letting them make them the unhealthy decisions.

So how do we go about raising a kid to make better decisions? How do we quit saying "Don't eat too much!"? How do we quit saying "No! You can't have another Sprite!"

I think there's three ways:
  1. Encouraging fitness, but not forcing.
    We have to let them know that fitness is a normal every day routine. Not something people do to lose weight. Not something we do when we want to train for marathons. It's something we do because we enjoy it, and because after sitting in school all day it's nice to get out ans stretch those legs. Ask them if they have fitness goals. Do they wanna run a 5K? Do they want to join a swim team? Encourage goals, and then (gently) help them achieve it.
  2. Letting them find their "healthy" way.
    I have an older child so this is something I have to learn. I have to step back and let her make her health decisions. In some cases, she'll make poor choices. I have to remember that she is going to make poor health choices in her life and in doing so, she's learning. Obviously, when recurring poor choices are made over and over and it seems that the direction is going towards detrimental health, a new strategy takes place. But! I have a responsibility not to dictate my child's decisions, but to educate them, and hope they make the ones that benefit their health.
  3. Not focusing on weight!
    They get enough of this at school,from magazines, from movies. Especially girls. They know what "fat" is and what it means in today's society. We have to make sure that our goal isn't to get them to lose weight, but to be healthy. When we encourage a healthy lifestyle it lasts long-term and it helps self-esteem. Encourage confidence in their health goals, not anti-body messages.
I love this poem from Kahlil Gibran (The Prophet - "Children"):
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Remember that our children are not ours. That is to say, they will grow up and have their own thoughts, feelings, and opinions of they're own. What are you teaching them about healthy living? What are they learning from you? Are you the bow? Is your hand releasing them for "gladness"?

In retrospect, DubyaKid doesn't care what I look like in a bathing suit. She doesn't care whether my thighs jiggle, or I have stretch marks on my hips, or what my finishing time was on my last run. Those things are not important. What she does care about, is that I'm around to see her get married. That I'm there for her kid's talent show. That I live to a nice ripe old age. She wants to have a mother who will healthy enough to be around.

I have one grandparent left.
It's a sad reality to be faced with.

DubyaSis had me in tears one day when she said that she "fears not having any grandparents at her wedding." Wow, what a realization.

... And the more I think about that, the more I realize that Parenting a Healthy Lifestyle isn't optional. We owe it to our children, and our children's children.

Get Mean. Twisted Evil Make a Decision. Exclamation Choose Health! Cool

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