Sunday, 14 April 2019

Our Daughters

How to be the Role Model your Daughter Deserves 

One of the things that drives me regularly when it comes to decision-making and behavior is how my daughter will perceive me and what she will learn from my actions. When I feel like quitting something, I remind myself that she is watching; when I don’t feel like training or eating well, I ask myself what I would want her to do in that moment.

There are so many ways I can influence the woman she is becoming, and I truly believe as mothers and parents we must never underestimate our role in this.

Our Health:
The decisions we make about our health and the importance we place on it as parents will ultimately influence the way our daughters cares about themselves. My daughter is a pre-teen, so role modeling basic hygiene and allowing her to see and replicate my hygiene is critical. However, I have learnt that simply demonstrating is not always enough. This is an area that I underestimated and am now investing more time in than I expected.

For me it is also about educating her dad, who lives separately, so it can be reinforced daily. But this goes far beyond hygiene and self care. My relationship with medical professionals such as GPs and dentists will be passed to my daughter as well. I have had to force myself to not only go to the dentist regularly, but also not let my fear of dentists pass on to my daughter. Teaching our daughters about the importance of regular check ups for pap smears and breast checks, even at a young age, will potentially save them one day. And more importantly, it takes away their fear of having these conversations with you, or a medical professional, when the need arises.

Our Body:
From day one of owning a gym I have always insisted that conversations about weight, scales and body fat not be discussed around my daughter. I have always had conversations about this with members as well, especially mums. Our daughters should never be brought up believing that scales must exist in their bathrooms and that they are defined by their weight; you are beautiful the way you are – you made that beautiful girl staring back at you.

Don’t teach her to be ashamed of her body, to measure her progress or to ever believe that her butt must be a certain size to be accepted. If you must have scales in your bathroom, please put them away and never weigh yourself in front of your daughter. She does not need to go through her teens believing her happiness is measured in numbers. Let’s teach them other ways to measure their health. Talk about what strength looks like and what it feels like to be capable, strong and independent. 
Photo Cred: Jill Wescombe
Our Family Unit:
Relationships can be extremely challenging to navigate. There’s a great mix of family units outside of the mum, dad and three kids scenario, with marriage breakdowns, same sex couples, single parents and many other family make-ups breaking the nuclear family mould. I have learnt that the best relationship is the one that demonstrates a healthy connection to each other with a solid dose of happiness. I don’t believe parents should stay together purely for their children. I believe parents should chase their own dreams and happiness, if this is what we genuinely want for our children. I invited a mum I deeply admire, who isn’t just a valued member of RHQ, but also someone I am lucky enough to consider a friend, to contribute to this piece.  I have watched Sarah Donald lead her children through beautiful relationship choices, with grace and integrity and it is an honor to co-write this piece with her.
I just adore this little family unit

“Healthy relationships come in all shapes and sizes, be it with friends, parents, siblings, work colleagues, girlfriends...even ex-husbands! Healthy relationships, particularly those with a romantic partner, will evolve over time. Every single one will present challenges and heartache but will also provide you with the most joyous, loved up feels you could ever imagine.

“We talk to our daughters about being kind and respectful and that to love and be loved is the most wonderful experience and gift. We want the best for our daughters, for them to be happy and yet most of us, if we reflect honestly, may  in fact admit that we are unhappy. Perhaps unhappy in our relationship, the very relationship we are supposed to be modelling to ensure our girls can go out into the world and experience the joy that a happy, healthy and respectful relationship can bring. We want our daughters to experience these relationships and grow from them.

“As grownups we need to remember that our girls are always watching, that what we model will have far greater impact than any wise words we may impart. They are looking at us and learning how to behave, react and how to love and be in a healthy relationship. 

“That being said, girls are always listening, listening when we are on the phone, when we are talking at the school gates, even when they are supposedly tucked up in their beds. They are listening and watching. They often know far more than we give them credit for.

“Now, here’s my story. I’m not going to lie, this has been harder than I anticipated, but I am glad I have written it down and while I question myself daily, I believe I made the correct decision. For myself and my girls.

“A little over eighteen months ago I moved out of the family home and blew up the only life my daughters (then 7 and 8) had ever known (mum, dad, two kids and a golden retriever under one roof). Now, I know what you are thinking, who am I to write about ‘healthy relationships’?

“I am qualified because I recognised that I wasn’t in one and that I could no longer model my fake happy or stay because I was ‘married and it’s the right thing to do for the children’. I was not happy and that was impacting every other aspect of my life and every other relationship, including my relationship with my daughters.

“The decision to leave, while difficult, allowed me the space to find ‘me’ and my true, authentic happy, and unsurprisingly I also found love (at the gym of all places 😊). I am in a healthy, loving, genuine relationship and I wouldn’t change a thing.

“At first glance you may think, ‘oh those poor girls’, however look a little longer and you will see what we see, bigger smiles, more laughter, more random hugs, gentle surprise kisses and hands that quietly slip into ours and hold on for a little longer. As I said before, our daughters are always watching and listening. My girls later informed me that they knew I was unhappy all along but didn’t want to say anything or didn’t know how, I guess.

“Kids are intuitive, my girls knew I was in love with AFN before I could bring myself to tell them, they could see how happy she made me (yes, she! That story is for another day). I have met my person now and I can finally demonstrate a healthy, loving and respectful relationship to my daughters.

“Your daughter’s best chance of seeking a healthy relationship is for you to choose and chase your happy. Model strong loving relationships with your kids and you will see the change, it’s the most beautiful thing to witness. As cliched as it sounds, actions speak louder than words, model happy and love and I’m certain your girls will benefit now and into the future.”

Our Social Media and Devices:
I want to make one thing clear here, I have VERY firm beliefs regarding the use of phones and social media. No, it doesn’t come from a space of restricting them, in fact I believe they should be able to explore and learn safely. However, while a child is living with you, they are your responsibility. We should never be afraid to remove a device from a child or teen. Ever. This is called parenting.

Will they react? Of course they will. We should have the confidence to restrict screen time, especially in the evenings, and we must establish a relationship built on trust, respect and open communication. Most importantly, we must role model a healthy relationship with our own devices. This for me is most definitely a necessary work in progress. Some of the images I see of teens on social media absolutely terrifies me. Parents, please, take control of their devices. They will thank you for it one day. 

Photo Cred: Greg Elkenhans

Our Work Ethic:
This is a sticky one for some parents and I want to start by saying I take my hat off to those of you who were stay-at-home mums and could maintain your sanity.  Whatever you decide to do, teach your daughter to follow her passion and her dreams. Figure out what you love and pursue it with absolute vigor.

Teach your daughter to chase her passion, not money. Teach her about giving back, volunteering, community work and helping people. Teach your daughter that sometimes YOU need to be the priority because it means you are making a genuine difference in this world and that’s ok. Teach your daughter to work hard and play hard. Teach her that stress won’t serve her and that she must rise to any challenge or obstacle thrown her way. Teach her not to have an entitlement over her time, rather that time is fleeting and to make it count. I chose to leave an extremely high paying job in the corporate world, to help and serve others through fitness and eventually through owning my own gyms. At the age of 40, I have never been more broke. But I have also never been more happy. I now make very conscious decisions about how to spend my very small income and we choose adventures. Had I stayed in my corporate job, we would certainly be living a more affluent lifestyle and I probably wouldn’t be renting, but I also wouldn’t be living true to myself.
I often take Josie to work with me.
I teach her that my job is about serving others, not myself.
I point out the amazing women around me and talk
about how strong they are. 

Our Sexual Relationships:
I called on good friend, Sarah Hickey, to cover this one for me.

“A young girl’s first and primary example of a relationship model is often her parents. These early observations and experiences have a significant impact on how she will interpret healthy or unhealthy behaviour in relationships, and her subsequent behaviour in future relationships. We observe how parents communicate, treat each other, behave in various environments (when we have company and when we don’t) and levels of physical affection. Another element we learn a lot about by watching them is; desire and intimacy.

“I’ve never met a child who enjoys seeing their parents passionately kiss, hold each other or tap each other on the bum – the response is often ‘ewwww’. However, in scenarios like this, what a child is really observing is healthy desire and intimacy, and affection between two consenting adults. Furthermore, they get to see their mother being treated with love and respect which sets the tone for how young girls shape their perceptions of a healthy dynamic. Some couples are naturally more affectionate than others but the point to drive home is that physical affection is a healthy behaviour for children to witness in a home.

“When it comes to sex itself, couples will have to develop their own style for how they will communicate with their children. Sharing with your child that Mum and Dad (or partner) are going to have some ‘connection’ time so they’ll be in the bedroom for a while and are not to be disturbed, can be a really healthy boundary to establish. A simple boundary like this can have an array of positive benefits:

·      It shows the child the importance of creating quality time.
·      It shows the child the importance of prioritising your relationship.
·      It actually allows the parents to have intimate time (if schedules are challenging).
·      It starts an early understanding that private time for parents is important and that Mums don’t just have a single identity as ‘Mum’, but partner and lover also.  
·      It can help drive healthy dialogue and curiosity about what ‘connection time’ is.

“A young girl who sees her Mum as a sexually empowered woman is a powerful learning.  Openness is a key element to talking with our children about sex and relationships and it’s better that they learn it from people they trust (where the information is accurate) than the school playground.

“What’s important to be aware of is that you can’t let your own discomfort of having these conversations get in the way of what your daughters need to help their growing understanding of relationships. Above all else – walk the talk. Because they’re watching.” J

Our Exercise and Nutrition:
Here’s the BIG one for me.

What is your relationship with exercise and what are you teaching your daughter? I see so many mums who quit their exercise when life gets busy, overwhelming, work is hard, finances are tight or the kids have too much on with extra curricular exercise. This is the message you are sending them – my own body, health and the way I look and feel about myself are not important. 

Do you want your daughter growing up believing that?

Do you want your daughter or your kids believing THEY are the reason you are overweight and unhealthy?

Do you want to teach your kids that MAFS is more important than hitting the gym and getting those endorphins pumping?

As for nutrition, too many of our mums and parents are teaching our kids to self medicate with food and alcohol. Hard day at work…drink wine. Too busy at work…eat crappy take-out. Big week…don’t prep food for the following week. Wanted a sleep in…here’s money for tuckshop.

We are creating a generation of kids who self-medicate with lollies, fast food and alcohol rather than understanding the benefits of eating well and eating whole foods consistently. Why? Because we can’t be bothered, and we don’t realise the damage we are doing to our kids.

Our Future:
At the end of the day when we make the decision to become parents, we make a lifelong commitment to take care of that child. This isn’t just about keeping that human alive. It’s about guiding them to decisions and helping them to become solid humans who will have a positive impact on our world and leave a legacy for future generations. All that I’ve talked about here is only PART of this beautifully complex puzzle we call parenting. Am I perfect at it? Absolutely not, far from it. But what I do know is this, my daughter will grow up knowing that she can be anything she wants to be, she can follow her passion and find her purpose and my role is to guide her and support her in finding her happiness, her voice and her strength. That it's ok, in fact it's critical, that she prioritise herself and her happiness and that her health is of the utmost importance if she wants to follow her dreams.


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