I don’t know how or when my daughter will find out that for nine years I struggled with an eating disorder, but at some point it will happen. When it does I’d like to find the right words. The words that will let her know that she is perfectly beautiful as she is. Words that encourage her to be strong when pushed and swayed by the opinion of others. Words that are honest about the dark struggle of addiction. Words that let her know that she doesn’t have to walk the same path.
Perhaps it’s every mother’s dilemma: how can I raise a confident and strong young woman who doesn’t make the same mistakes I did. Is that possible? Or is it even the right desire?
I want to protect my daughter from making the same mistakes I did. I want to keep her safe, yes in the literal sense from physical harm, more accurately I want to protect her from emotional difficulty. I want to keep her safe from struggle. However, safe doesn’t jive with strong or confident or resilient. One doesn’t become these things by playing it safe, in fact strength is built from resistance…strength is a result of struggle.
Struggle is necessary. The rudest awakening for me as a teenager and later as a young adult was realizing that life doesn’t always go as you planned, even if you do everything “right.” Life takes unexpected twist and turns, there are mountain tops and valleys. And it’s the struggle that makes us who we are. Life isn’t about avoiding the struggle, it’s about learning to embrace it. To handle the disappointment, frustration and hurt with grace. It’s learning how to learn from it and move on.
Instead of of protecting and keeping our young women safe, how do we teach them to be resilient in the face of difficulty? To lean into that which is uncomfortable? To resolve conflict? To embrace struggle? If we desire a resilient and confident next generation we need to focus on teaching the skills that will keep our girls afloat when life and society and peers press in on all sides, threatening to pull them under.
For my four-year old, struggle comes in the form of shirts turned inside-out or coordinating a fork and a knife to cut her pancake. For me teaching her resilience means stepping back: becoming more of an observer who offers gentle encouragement when needed, letting her work through the struggle. My impulse is to step-in and do it for her, often times because I’m in a hurry and on occasion because it’s hard to see her struggle in frustration, and because from birth until just recently I’ve had to do most things for her. To teach my daughter the skills she’ll need later in life I need to slow down, to step aside and let her work through the process on her own. I’m sure this will be far harder for me then when she’s a teenager than it is now, watching her tangled in a shirt turned inside-out.
Making an impact on a future generation often feels intangible. Who is this future generation? And how exactly can I impact them? The future generation is not just our own daughters, it is our nieces, the daughters of our girlfriends, our daughter’s friends. It’s the girls in our classroom, on the basketball team we coach. It’s the girl who lives down the street and sees you head out for a run every day while she waits for the bus. This is our future generation and what they see you doing today will impact the women they become.
My daughter may have an eating disorder, it certainly isn’t my hope or wish or dream for her. Ultimately, I cannot control her outcome. If she’s wired anything like her mother she’ll be a stubborn gal, who’ll need to learn by doing. Maybe she will be fortunate enough to not encounter the same struggles. Maybe she’ll learn more quickly than I, and instead of nine years she’ll only struggle for one or two, because she’s been taught the skills necessary to weather any struggle.
Sarah Canney is a wife, mother, runner and defeater of bulimia. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two children. She is passionate about family, running and freedom and she blogs about it at RunFarGirl.com.