I’m a marriage and family therapist, so sometimes I am prone to analyzing (and over-analyzing) the ways our family of origin’s habits affect us as adults. While I love the idea of creating our own destiny, I also am a believer in the idea of family systems—meaning that in the absence of great effort, we tend to repeat the patterns that we observed in the families we were raised in. The behaviors of our parents often become our default behaviors.
It doesn’t mean that we are destined to become our parents. It just means that we may have to be intentional to make sure that we don’t subconsciously fall into the familiar ways of acting we observed as kids.
Over the last year, as I’ve been on a journey to live in a more healthy, sustainable way, I’ve been very aware of the habits I have that are entrenched in my own family system. I didn’t have great modeling in terms of taking care of my body. While my mom was an amazing example in many aspects, she has had an ongoing struggle with her weight that was definitely passed down to her daughters. My mom never went to the grocery store. My grandfather lived with us and did all the shopping, and then she fixed whatever he bought. There was no meal-planning to speak of and very little intention about the nutrition of our food. Most of our vegetables were out of a can, and we rotated through the same five meals each week. There wasn’t a sense of adventure or a love of cooking modeled when it came to food. However, we WERE passionate about our desserts. Both of my parents were fond of sweets, and in my house we had Little Debbie cakes on hand all the time. I think I ate several each day, never really seeing a problem with it. My mom didn’t teach me about portion control or moderation . . . and she didn’t model it, either. I understood food to be a reward, or something to do when bored, because that’s what I watched my parents do.
I also never saw my mom working out. She was active when I was really young, but my biggest memory was her complaining that she was too fat to go to the gym. She was worried that she would look foolish, and that others would judge her. So she didn’t go.
I’m not bringing this up to cast judgment on my mom – on the contrary, I see all of these tendencies in myself. I really struggle with meal-planning and with keeping my pantry stocked. I am usually doing the six-o’clock scramble trying to figure out what to have for dinner. I like to eat as a reward for a hard day. I don’t take classes at my gym for fear of looking stupid.
I don’t blame my mom, but I am aware that it is hard to change the narratives. I do sometimes wonder if things would be easier now if I had watched my parents prioritize self-care. Would I have an easier time making a habit of working out if that was something I observed growing up? How would my choices be different if my mom had taught me how to cook with fresh ingredients instead of opening a can?
I ask these questions not just for myself, but also for my kids. I want to take better care of myself and change some of the family habits that have been passed down. But I also want to model good habits for my kids. I want them to learn how to enjoy healthy foods, and to see me prioritizing my health.I want us to be a healthy family that does active things together. And I NEVER want to send the message that we should sit out of something because we might look stupid.
I’m hoping to change my family’s legacy. Not just for me, but for my kids.
How about you? What were some of the messages you got growing up? How have they helped or hindered you in finding health and in body acceptance?