I remember when I first laid eyes on Katherine, when they first put her, wrapped in a green blanket and pink cap, into my shaking arms and I remember vividly that first night when we stared at each other for hours. I was in awe and a little terrified of this totally new person that was suddenly my responsibility, and was of me and John, but someone utterly different. Right from the start we both knew we were together in this adventure, but definitely individuals.
And she grew. She grew quickly and wonderfully; I watched her mind expand and her body grow, strong and confident. One night when she was about nine, John said quietly to me, “She’s watching you, you know. You’re what shapes her idea of what it is to become a woman. And that time is coming soon.”
Of all the things he has ever said to me, this was and still is the most sobering. And it’s what best friends are for, that utter honesty, quietly-spoken in the softness of evening.
A month later, I called a trainer for help and started working on getting into better shape, changing my body to match what I wanted to believe I could be in my head. I started rewriting my internal voices and scripts so that they were allies and friends in my journey, not destructive critics. I started becoming increasingly mindful of how I viewed and talked about food and bodies. The voices we use for ourselves creep out at moments unknown, and the voices we hear as children stay with us as our internal voices in some measure for life. To raise a strong daughter I needed to give her strong voices. To do that, I needed to build my own voices to be strong, honest and clear enough for two.
The self-talk is the hardest part, but the most important. It’s an on-going internal dialogue with one who knows you best, both your strengths and weaknesses. It’s the dance with the devil on your shoulder 24-7, but it’s a conversation that you’ll never stop having, so getting better at managing it and controlling the parts that are less helpful is essential. It’s not easy, but the important stuff never is. You just do it anyway.
I’m human, like anyone. I have shitty days where I feel down about things. I have days where I look in the mirror and say, “whoa. that’s not what I want to be, gotta fix that.” I have rough training weeks, injuries, weight gained and lost, days where food is primarily of great-quality and days where I finish off the evening with half a bottle of wine and a bag of sour cream and cheddar baked chips. That’s part of being alive, those slight swings of the pendulum. But I also have great days, more great than not, and have learned to look past the blips in training and life and see the overall trajectory. And when I have the wine and chips, I bloody enjoy them, without self-recrimination, knowing that it’s one eye-blink of food in a month of quality nutrition and that it was a choice I made and I accept myself for it. I firmly and without any regret walked away from the idea that exercise was punishment and food was payment for good deeds. Both are a part of my life and it’s a good life, a balanced life, and a life that I love and am not done with building.
What my journey in strength has taught me is that raising a daughter is raising yourself.
You cannot teach what you do not believe and you cannot ask someone else to do what you are unwilling to do yourself.
To raise a child who loves their body, you must love yours. You must love it though it is flawed and be able to see it as both a work of art and a work in progress, both equally without judgement. You must love it through fat and thin, strong and weak, pregnant and not, young and old, and you must always be able to see the potential in it.
To have a child learn that food is an essential element of life, to be celebrated, enjoyed, shared, and used carefully under particular circumstances, but without neuroses, you must be able to demonstrate that. You have to truly believe that there is no one size fits all solution for anything in life, and to accept that infinite variety and ongoing exploration and experimentation is the essential part of the human condition. You have to be unafraid to try new paths.
To teach someone to manage their health, you must be willing to learn what is needful to manage your own.
What you’re teaching is less an absolute and more a process. You’re teaching self-discovery without fear of failure; teaching them to take the chance to learn something even if it means they might not win and that winning was never really the goal anyway. You’re teaching them to change their working definition of success.
Raising up any other person requires that you teach through being, be it as a parent, a teacher, or a coach. There really is no other genuine way.
I don’t talk a lot about this particular motivation, about my relationship with Katherine and ours with our bodies. Part of that story is hers and his blog doesn’t write other peoples’ stories. Part of it is that it’s pretty personal. I think as well that I’ve been afraid that by saying out loud that raising a daughter who loves her body, is confident in it, enjoys food and has a healthy attitude to it has been one of my fundamental guiding principals in my lifting and life, I’d be jinxing something. But it’s important. It’s the most important thing I’ve done for myself, our family, and whatever magnificent life Katherine has ahead of her in the years to come.
I guess learning this is Katherine’s gift to me, really… thanks kiddo.