Monday, October 19, 2009

"Why Is Max So Fat?"

In my 19+ years of parenting, I've tried very hard to teach my children to be kind... to treat others as they would want to be treated, and not to base their treatment of a person on their outward appearance. I talked to my kids about differences in people; yes, some children have darker skin or lighter skin just like some have brown hair or blonde hair, blue eyes or green eyes. No big deal, everyone is different. Some people walk, others use wheelchairs. Some have accents. Some dress differently. Isn't it great that people are not all the same? How boring that would be! And I think my kids absorbed that pretty well. They all have been friends with a diverse group of kids, from those who are disabled to deaf kids to kids with rare diseases that make them look very different. They're just PEOPLE... notice the difference and move on to friendship.

My little girl is in preschool now, and I go in and help on occasion so I get to meet all of her friends. During the first week, I met Max. Max is a kid who definitely stands out from the crowd; Max is big. He is not chubby, or plump, or a bit heavy. He is exceptionally large...about four times the size of my daughter and the kind of large that probably gets rude, inappropriate comments directed at his parents in Walmart (because, as we know, Walmart is the place to go if you want high-quality stranger interactions... NOT). Anyway, I *noticed* his size simply because it was hard to ignore, and I was concerned that he was going to trip over the adult-sized gym shorts he was wearing that hung past his ankles to the floor. But he was just a little boy, and we did our crafts and sang our songs and got on just fine.

About two weeks later, when I picked up my daughter from preschool, I was asking her about her day as I usually do. After telling me about making paintings with vegetables and gluing paper apples on a tree, she asked me a question: "Why is Max so fat?"

I was a little surprised. She's never asked me why any of her other playmates are "so dark brown" or "so skinny" or "so short." But Max, she noticed. The difference was so vast between his size and hers that she took note. But she didn't ask me why he is so "big" or so "large"... she said FAT. I guess that took me off guard. I didn't think she'd ever heard anyone call a person FAT. Maybe I was just naive.

"Everyone is different," I said, "just like some kids have dark skin and some have wavy hair, and some people have blonde hair like you, and others have freckles. People come in different sizes, too." I pondered for a few seconds whether I should go into a diatribe about eating healthy and exercising but I decided this was not the time nor place; I didn't want my daughter making assumptions that Max... or in fact, that EVERY fat person she sees... eats junk food and sits around getting no exercise. At 4 years old, a child is apt (in their innocence) to burst out in the grocery store with, "That lady is fat because she eats too much!" So I am keeping the healthy eating lessons separate from the "why is Max fat" discussion. After all, I personally DO NOT KNOW why Max is fat.

We went on to discuss differences. "Have you ever seen a person with just one leg?" I asked? Her eyes got wide. "No!" she exclaimed, "There are people with ONE LEG??" I went on to talk about people with 2 legs, one leg, or no legs. I talked about people with one arm, two arms or no arms. I told her about a girl I knew in grade school with one eye. We discussed differences in height, size, color and ability. "But if you met someone in preschool with one arm, would you still be their friend?" She had to think about that, but decided she probably would. We talked about how physical differences don't mean the person isn't NICE. They can still be your friend.

I was thrilled when a segment came on Oprah that evening. I don't even watch Oprah, but when I was channel surfing and saw a little girl with one leg, I *knew* this was an opportunity to show my daughter just what I meant. I called her into the room. "Look," I said, "here is a little girl with one leg like I told you about." The little girl, in fact, had two legs fused together into one, so it *looked* like and functioned as one. I think she was 8 or 9 years old, and she was the sweetest kid. As my daughter watched the little girl talk about her condition and the fun girly things she likes to do, I asked, "Would you like to be her friend?" And my daughter smiled and said, "Yeah! She is so nice! Having one leg doesn't matter!" And we talked about giving everyone a chance, regardless of their appearance or differences, to be our friend. Earlier she had said (to my dismay) that she would not be friends with Max because he is "so fat" but after the show she decided to give Max a chance to be her friend because no matter what someone looks like, they can be NICE.

There were a few moments when I said to her, "It isn't really nice to call someone fat. It might hurt their feelings if they heard you" to which she replied, "he can't hear me, we are in the car." But I wanted to be sure she understood that although fat is a valid descriptor, it can be a hurtful label. Just like you wouldn't dance around singing, "You only have one leg! You only have one leg!" at the one-legged girl, you don't call someone fat. The story of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (and the accompanying song) helped get this point across. She felt compassion for a deer who was different and saw his sadness at the other deer "calling him names" and never letting him "join in any reindeer games." She is generally a very thoughtful and compassionate girl, so I think she got the point.

It's up to me as a parent to raise children who do not cause more pain in this world. I have been the target of insults based on my weight, even as an adult. And I still harbor the pain of being taunted in middle school over my glasses, hair, fat thighs, acne, and religion. I don't want ANY of my kids bringing that kind of pain to anyone. Ever.

My daughter went back to school with a new outlook. Max is big, but it's no big deal. She will give him the same chance as any other boy in that school, and that makes me proud of her.

34 comments:

Jodie said...

I always tell my children I have a "big belly" (we don't call it fat) because I ate too many cookies when I was little. (which is true.) It helps when they ask why they can't have 6 cookies instead of 3. I tell them it's my job now to make sure they don't eat too much now, so they won't have a "big belly" later.

Diana said...

I often try to talk about those things with my niece (she's 5). She has called ME fat, which I know she mostly did to "challenge" me. While at first I was upset, I started telling her "So what? There are fat people, skinny people, tall people, short people, etc etc". She doesn't call me that anymore but everytime she says it about/to someone else I make sure I explain the same thing.

Sometimes it pains me a little to know that children already think about those things. As you know, children CAN be cruel in their innocence so I honestly hope that my niece doesn't cause pain to anyone. I too know what it's like to be on the receiving end of those kinds of comments.

Good for you, for explaining that to your daughter. She seems like she's a sweet kid. :)

relationshipspot said...

Kudos!!

Sharon said...

You handled that perfectly. I remember when my 4 year old stepdaughter called me "fat" and I broke down in tears. After I regained my composure, we had a similar discussion. Now she is 15 and a very compassionate young lady. Good job!

Georgia Mist said...

Children sometimes don't really realize the stigma(and pain) of being fat or being called fat.
When my daughter was 4, she ran up to me and hugged me and said, "Mommy, I love you 'cause you are so fat and so stupid"!
Now, I KNOW she didn't mean anything hurtful by that. But it took me surprise! We had a nice long talk over a Happy Meal about it!
I think you did GREAT explaining things to your daughter.

Steelers6 said...

Aw, I really enjoyed reading that Lyn! So sweet, and you sound like you do SO great w/your kids. =) I love how you handled this, and sat here w/a grin on my face over the Rudolph part. Good job. hee hee

I was thinking of you today as I made myself an omelet w/spinach for the first time. I think I got that suggestion from you. [adding spinach] You are a great veggie encourager for me. It was delicious, btw. Before my 'new' lifestyle I was a bit lazy in the veg dept..now I know how impt they are.

I recently made chili w/ground turkey and added a zucchini (shredded). I had never done that before either, and felt like that idea came to me from you somehow. ? Not sure, but somewhere I had read about adding lots of veggies to chili. Guess what- it was delicious! Nobody in the fam cared at all. : )

As always, thanks for your forthright post. Best, ChrissyS

Lyn said...

Chrissy~

Yeah, I always put zucchini in my chili! Glad you tried it. And spinach in eggs too. In fact you can put steamed zucchini in just about anything without affecting the flavor (soups, spaghetti sauce, sloppy joes, whatever). I love zucchini!

Karyn said...

You are amazing, Lyn! What a good job of 'training your child in the way she should go'. She will undoubtedly grow to be a woman people are drawn to because of her compassionate, loving nature - which you will molded in her!

beerab said...

Beautiful post- you are such a wonderful parent :)

I wish more parents taught their kids to be respectful of others.

Shauna said...

oh well played Lyn! what a great mum :)

screwdestiny said...

Sounds like you're a good parent. Kudos.

Melissa said...

i LOVE your explanation to her & how you taught her in the car & with the Oprah lesson. :) Awesome!

Rae at 24:01 A.M. said...

Wonderful post! It's so amazing that you addressed that to your daughter. If I ever had a son or daughter I'm positive I'd say the same thing.

People deserve to be treated with kindness and respect, even at the youngest age.

It's important to teach that to our youngest generation early as possible.

:)

Paula said...

Wow! What a great example of awesome parenting...AND I'm not a parent. Just think that was an awesome read! :)

Hanlie said...

I think you handled that perfectly! Good job!

The Lassie said...

Lyn, you handled that so well!! I really, really enjoyed reading this. I often wonder how I'd react if my daughter were to make comments/discuss something like that - I'm sure it'll come up at some point. You did such a great job there!

McLauren84 said...

Lyn, I wish more parents were so responsible and enlightened; our country would likely be a very different place today if they were!

Hope @ Hope's Journey said...

Seriously, good for you.

I think many of us, especially myself can remember thing people have said/comments that were made at one time or another regarding our weight. Words have impact. Words can destroy.

I've always vowed that when/if I have children, I will teach them to respect all people, and if I ever find out they have done otherwise, the consequences will be severe. More parents need to take to heart and be held responsible for what thier kids are saying to other kids.

Good for you.

-Hope

Fat[free]Me said...

You are a wise mom and handled it perfectly - if only all parents were so sensitive.

Bev P aka Hockeygal4ever said...

Ahh, it's often to explain life in general to children and we unfortunately or perhaps fortunately cannot control all they hear & see around them.

You did well with your explanation and I must point out well to observe that we all DO notice differences.. no matter what they are or why we notice them. It's how we handle those "differences" that makes us who we are as human beings.

I think explaining that nobody is "perfect", everybody has something that is "wrong" with them, whether it be a nose that is bigger, a limp, a lisp, a big belly, a skinny set of arms & legs, etc. we are all different and nobody is perfect as human beings is a very big thing in raising our kids.

Kudos to you for your wonderful explanation!

Check out my blog at One Day At A Time

NewMe said...

Excellent parenting. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

WOW, kids are the sweetest! Great job on teaching her this lesson. This is a feel good post.

Greta said...

You are a great Mom. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

Tammy said...

Oh my goodness..I cried over this post. You did the right thing with trying to make her understand about differences in people and not giving people hurtful labels. I, too, was made fun of in school, from middle school on up through high school, and even still as an adult. It's a terrible thing. I'm glad you're trying to teach your children differently. :)

Salted with Shadows said...

Very nice post. Bravo.

Hopeful said...

I'm so glad there are parents like yourself, teaching your children how to be kind, compassionate, and nonjudgemental. Kudos to you!

Deniz said...

You are a wonderful mum and a great inspiration to us all. Sounds like you have a lovely little girl too.

Vickie said...

I did not read the other comments - I suspect that I might be the lone voice saying this - but I don't know.

When this stuff comes up - I try to talk about the health ramifications that we can't 'see' but might/are there - like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, etc.

You can nearly SEE the childhood diabetes numbers as they increase by walking through schools these days.

Because while I do not want my kids to scorn these children - I also want my kids to understand the health risks associated with obesity.

I do not want them to think that the eating habits that obtain obesity are OKAY.

So, I want them to have compassion but not so far that they ENABLE.

And I think there is a fine line in there somewhere between ENABLING and being a friend.

Good friends do not encourage one to eat junk. and where the lines are between being supportive and not being enabling/codependent - I really don't know.

I see a lot of enabling/codependency in the world of adults - how to teach kids to accept but EMPOWER is hard.

And when my kids see other children already obese or are gaining masses of weight - MY kids get very upset with those kids' parents - especially their moms.

The latest one was a preschooler that was probably very much like Max. And my kids were very upset that child's mom and grandma (with him and also obese) would allow this to happen to a preschooler (that doesn't know any better).

They have the same reaction when they see children not in car seats or in a car with the parent smoking. Or a grocery cart piled high with non-food instead of food.

They expect the parents to KNOW BETTER and DO BETTER because they are adults.

Part of this is because I set a really good example in what I eat and how I exercise.

and part of it is that my kids are not actually weight conscious, but they are very health conscious.

Even though it has just been 5 years since I started this process - none of my kids can actually remember me over 200 lbs. They only see/remember the 'in process' me.

so they do not think in terms of FAT - they think in terms of taking care of oneself.

and that is what they SEE when they look at these kids - they think that no one is taking care of them properly.

We have another example that hits close to home that they do see - my mom's husband that has both legs amputated and a host of major health problems (diabetes) so they REALLY GET The BIG PICTURE of where bad food and no exercise leads.

Josie said...

Good for you for not trying to explain "WHY" he's so fat when you yourself didn't know! What a great lesson you've taught your child!

No one can possibly know HOW or WHY someone is fat from just looking at them...and making assumptions about their parents "not taking care of them" or their lifestyle is just perpetuating stereotypes that do more harm than good.

Laura @ Finding A Healthy Balance...after a 100+ POUND weight loss!!! said...

I think you answered your daughter's question wonderfully! I know it is a tough one to answer, I had to a few years back myself with my own daughter!

Just found your blog today....I really enjoy it. =) Laura

jane said...

that was wonderful.. and so simple! tall people, short people etc etc..

i am going to use this on grown-ups also, some need to hear it!

you are a wonderful mom

Anonymous said...

You have a sweet kid (and you're a great parent). I'd be proud of her too ;)

Fattie Fatterton said...

I love how you talked about this with your youngster. Great job!!

Christina said...

I love how you related it back to Rudolf. I have a 5 year old who this has come up with before and I think that's a great story to help illustrate it for a child to help them understand. I think you handled this PERFECTLY. Good job mom!