Fear in Parenting: Part 1 physically

So again I prompt you to explore your fears about raising your kids in a world that does not value them the way you do. What fears do you harbor that isolates you and manipulates your parenting in both good and unhealthy ways?

I want to discuss the ways that we fear for our children physically! This discussion can go a couple of different places. We could narrow in on keeping their bodies safe from harm, from cancer, sickness, and abuse from others. These are usually the fears that come to our mind first when thinking about our children’s vulnerability. In fact, I was prompted to start this series after reading an article about vaccines. My youngest child is 9 months and due for his MMR vaccine, which is what many people are saying is the catalyst to autism spectrum disorders. Though I have had my 3 older children all receive this vaccine, it overwhelms me to think I could be purposely damaging my child’s brain, and debilitating him for the rest of his life! Whoa, heavy stuff! But that is NOT what I want to talk about.

I rather focus on the fear that I have as a parent for my child’s personal physical perception. How they view their body, how that translates into their worth, and ways they attempt to compensate for areas they find lacking.

It appears to me that comparison happens at such a young age, from what others have for lunch, to what toys they are playing with. With age and brain development, the comparison goes into areas of physical design. The color of their skin, hair, eyes. The shape of their arms, legs, face. The way they walk, carry themselves, level of coordination. And initially the child just recognizes that they are different, that everyone is different! But then comes evaluation of the difference, and the ranking of where they themselves stand.

This is a struggle for both boys and girls. Watch my #Trending: Boy Body Image Issues. (http://www.trendsandteens.com/?p=219) To see how boys also struggle with comparison and how parents are unintentionally contributing to this.

My fear for my kids are that they feel inadequate. That in the process of comparison they find that they are “NOT”_______ fill in the blank, and this changes their belief about their value. And as if their thought life of inadequacy doesn’t make me fearful enough, I fear they will take steps to “fit in,” be “the same.” From changing their hair color, to manipulating their bodies to become the shape they desire.
I believe there are choices they will make that will ultimately change their bodies that are not as bad as other, (says the mom with tattoos, ear piercings, wears makeup, jewelry, and has had many different hair colors!) It’s not so much a ranking of what’s bad and what isn’t. It all comes down to the state of the person’s intention for the change, and that is where my fear comes to a head!

I desire for my kids to be content with their bodies and appearance. Contentment isn’t always about happiness, but instead about acceptance of reality. Having them acknowledge there are parts of their bodies that they do not like, allow them to be disappointed and if there are ways they can make changes that are healthy then encourage them to do so.

For example, I have a canine tooth that looks like a baby tooth compared to my other adult teeth. When I got into high school it was horrifying to smile, laugh and sometimes even talk. I learned to strategically place my hand so that it covered my mouth just enough to avoid exposing my tooth. While in college I got a cap that allowed my tooth to look like the rest. It changed everything for me! My body language, my sociability, and my ability to cackle with the best of them! I felt with this tooth I was inadequate, and I desired greatly to change it. So when I was able to I did and have never regretted altering my body. With maturity and time, I have come to understand the importance of my perception of self and how that should shape my value, over the way that I look. That’s not to say that if the cap fell off tomorrow i wouldn’t get it repaired! I would be in the dentist the next morning!!!

However, I am saying that the state of my contentment no longer lies completely in my appearance. How can I hope for my child to have contentment at their age, when it has taken me decades to achieve it for myself? Well, I can’t, not completely at least, which is why my fear has traction.
So the questions is, stay in this fear or take steps of action??!!

Here are some action steps to reduce your fear and to equip your child:

Discuss with your kids what is beautiful/handsome.
Talk about how even the most beautiful men and women in the world may have a selfish and cold heart, making their beauty diminish. Help them make a list of attributes that make a person attractive, and match up the ones that your child already has, and ways to practice the other ones.
Some good Bible verses for this are 1 Peter 3:3,4 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
Or my favorite translate of this verse comes from the Message version. Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV) So, Chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear LOVE. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Discuss with your kids how everyone has a unique design and purpose. Each person is made differently. Encouraging them to see how their design is purposeful and are created by the God of the universe. Here are a couple of verses to use for this point:
Galatians 6:4, The Message Version, Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.
1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (NIV) Just as the body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body-whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Doubt, insecurity, and disappointment is normal, and is located at the beginning at every entrance into contentment. Process with them about what they are insecure about, what they are disappointed in. Allow them to have their feelings, and perceptions. Don’t tell them they are wrong, because they will think you are not truly listening. Instead, acknowledge that their feelings are valid, but that their perception is distorted. But remember before saying anything at all, listen, repeat back to them what you hear, and listen again. Ask if there is anything you can do to help, or if they would be interested in hearing what you have to say. Then respect their decision either way. Then Hug them, and tell them that you love them! At some point either through writing a note, or verbally, when they are ready to hear you, tell them your story of insecurity, tell them about your understanding of where true beauty comes from, and tell them all the attributes you see that make them unique and special!

Be aware of the type of entertainment and social relationships your child is engaging in. The entertainment world sets many standards for appearance, many times in an unhealthy way. Your child may be watching tv shows, movies, and listening to music that is preaching a message that is deemed accepted by society, but is contrary to your own values. Determine where you stand, while being realistic, on such issues as clothing, hair styles, make up, relationships, sex, language, etc. And have a conversation with your child about your views. Not with the goal to get them to NEVER do those things, but instead to be educated about why you as the parent do not want them engaging in such behavior.

What if you and your partner disagree with the other about such issues. This is the case with me and my husband! He believes that for a teen girl to dye her hair a crazy color, like pink, she is saying she is loose with her morals! I say if that is the area she is choosing to express herself then I think the parents got off lucky! So how to resolve something like this? We continue to communicate about it. We attempt to compromise between just us, and then come to a conclusion that we can bring to our child. But if we can still not find a compromise then I will relinquish my control on the topic and go with what my husband says.

SIDE NOTE: Now before you go into ‘but I don’t believe that the man is in charge of the woman, etc.’ To give you the Cliff Notes version on my beliefs on this, I believe that God created man/husband to be the leader of his entire family. That he should be respectful and open to his wife’s view. That even when the wife disagrees with his decision that he hears her out, then proceeds with what he believes is right in his discernment. And that ultimately God will judge the man/husband for his leadership, and I will be standing there in Heaven waiting for my chance to say “I told you so!” But here on earth I will be praying for patience and a controlled tongue when I disagree!

And finally, just LOVE on your kiddos! It doesn’t matter if they are adult children, or they are newborns. Love your kids. Spend time with them. Ask them about their fears and joys. Pray with them and for them. And introduce them to Jesus!

So, what will you do? Stay in the fear or move into action? Make your choice!

Paige Clingenpeel

Teen Therapist working with teens and parents on TV, Radio, Web-Based Media, Blogs, and Print. Presently a monthly contributor to the women's parenting & marriage site iMom.com, and host of TBN's Tween show iShine K'Nect. Paige also provides individual therapy at LifeSprings Counseling Center, and works at Parkview Health as a student assistant counselor assigned to Carroll High School. Paige is married to Ryan and has two daughters and two sons!