Monthly Archives: November 2014

I Wanna Be a Supermodel

“Not just a song by Jill Sobule” was going to be my subtitle, until I realised her song was “I’m gonna be a Supermodel”… although that may still be appropriate.

In the olden days it was called “setting a good example”, but in 21st century parenting lingo, it’s known as “modelling”. Whatever you want to call it, it’s been something I’ve been giving considerable thought to lately. Partly because I’ve been modelling some particularly bad behaviour & coping mechanisms, partly because (as a result of said badness) I have be consulting widely with various parenting/self-help manuals, [the best of which was a book called The Smallest Things by Angela Mollard– it was very un-self-helpy and easy to read] and finally, because I had Dr Phil on today (while doing some really boring work-stuff) and they had yet another “family in crisis” where the parents’ behaviour both towards each other and towards their kids was pretty diabolical and their eldest child was starting to “disrespect” her mother. I thought: “Only starting to???” but also, “Well how do you expect her to act any differently when she’s been seeing that kind of interaction all her life?” Which is exactly what Dr Phil said. Genius, evidently.

I know I’ve banged on a lot about this on my blog (well, as much as “a lot” can be with my rather scanty posts) but again and again, I’m struck by the reflection of myself in my kids, especially Master L. And I’m usually really quite ashamed. He shouts at his sister (not all the time, but sometimes), he loses his temper very quickly, often with the simplest of things, and the other night when I stopped briefly to snack on a piece of bread on the way up to their bath and bed, they of course wanted a piece of bread too and I realised how they want to copy everything you do. Some of this (like the temper outbursts) is typical toddler behaviour. But all you have to do is hear your words come out of their mouths (good and bad words, I might add) and you realise what little sponges they are.

I’ve been conscious of my propensity to lose my temper more easily than I should for a while and am desperately trying to be more patient. I found a nice little poem the other day and stuck it on the fridge which has helped a bit:

Give me patience when little hands

Tug at me with ceaseless small demands

Give me gentle words and smiling eyes

And keep my lips from hasty, sharp replies

Let not fatigue, confusion or noise

Obscure my vision of life’s fleeting joys

So when in years to come my house is still

Beautiful memories its rooms may fill

Unknown

But the bread incident made me think- what other behaviours am I “modeling” for my children that I’d really like to be modeling better?

1. Eating habits– It doesn’t help that I’m now 15 weeks pregnant with number 3 (yay!) so despite the fact that my eating should really be squeaky clean in the interests of number 3’s health, I figure I did ok the last 2 pregnancies eating with (almost) reckless abandon, lost my baby weight each time and produced healthy babies. (Albeit sizeable ones- whether their size was because of my more than 20kg weight gain I’m not sure. Probably not.) Since they started eating solids we’ve been aware of how they want to eat the same things you do, they always want what’s on your plate regardless of what’s on theirs. On the whole, we do eat fairly healthily and I like to think that having the occasional cake or muffin teaches them that these things are part of our way of life and we need to learn to enjoy them in moderation. But I am terrible when it comes to standing up snacking & grazing, eating slowly, not eating the kids’ leftovers and eating while driving/walking around etc. It’s really bad, unconscious eating, which goes against everything I’ve learned when it comes to enjoying food but not over-doing it. I don’t want my kids to start copying this.

On the plus side (let’s acknowledge the positives too!) the kids always eat breakfast and dinner (and 99% of the time, lunch) sitting at the table, I don’t let them walk around and eat, and I don’t have my phone/laptop/book/magazine at the table and I’m trying to ban toys and other distractions for them too (we don’t have the TV on at meal times). I try to be fairly relaxed about what they eat and how much (I never make them finish their food but when Master L’s vegetables remain on his plate untouched it’s very hard to not say “Just eat 3 pieces of carrot and then you can have your yoghurt/fruit etc”.)

Anyway it’s a work in progress but I’m really becoming conscious of the example I’m setting these days.

2. Getting things done– I’ve mentioned before that I tend to procrastinate and be of the “Oh I’ll finish it later, I really need/deserve a sit-down/rest/mindless TV viewing session” mentality (the definition of procrastination). This is exactly how my parents are and exactly how I don’t want to be and how I don’t want my kids to end up. And to be honest, when I’ve worked till 2am the night before or been up with Master L 5 times during the night, I feel quite entitled to do what I want while Miss L’s asleep! But I can’t expect the kids to understand this. Besides which, I’ve often found that it’s when you feel most tired and lethargic that the best remedy is to keep busy or you feel even worse.  The fact that it’s hard to get anything other than a limited set of tasks actually done with the kids around is hardly a motivator to start sometimes, but sitting around trying to do nothing with them is probably even more frustrating.

3. Exercise– I’ve pulled the pregnancy card lately but they do see me take the dog out for a walk (not often enough). When I look around at friends of mine who are active, by and large they have active parents (this goes not just for physical exercise but also for activities in general, as per my previous point). They also tend to have active kids. I remember when my Dad went through a jogging phase when I was about 8 years old. It lasted about 2 weeks and I think he went for 3 runs in that time. I was so excited to go with him- waking up early and going out running seemed like a huge adventure. Then, when I got a bit older and could really have benefitted from a bit more exercise myself, but wasn’t old enough to go out running alone, having one of my parents to go with would have been perfect. I remember always being envious of my cousins, who used to go on family bike rides with their parents. I have seen my Mum on a bike once, my Dad, never. We got to go for family walks, or we’d ride our bikes while Mum and Dad walked, allowing us to clock up a grand total of about 5km for a bike ride. Hardly a work-out. So not just for myself, but the sake of my kids, I think it’s important to make time to exercise, even though they are so often the excuse why I don’t.

So I’m wondering if the extrinsic motivator of my kids will prove to be more powerful than my own intrinsic motivation. I don’t think my hair will ever shine like the sea or that everyone will want to look just like me, but I’m hoping one day, even if not a supermodel, I might just make a super model.

Checkout at the checkout

I had this idea for a blog post aaaaages ago in Sydney when I found myself (yet again) checking out the contents of other people’s trolleys at the supermarket checkout. Admittedly, this was usually an exercise in smugness on my part but I am often astounded by the amount of rubbish people put in their shopping trolleys…

Where we lived in Sydney, while not an extremely affluent area, people were generally comfortably well-off. The other shoppers at the supermarket (as far as I’m aware) were not typically trying to feed a family of 6 on social security benefits. And so I didn’t feel too bad surreptitiously glancing into their trolleys at the chips, the muesli bars, the fruit roll-ups, the sliced white bread, flavoured milk, cordial and soft drink, the processed, packaged, pre-made, frozen food and thinking “Where’s the REAL” food? I was always proud to say that, by and large, my trolley contained none of that sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong, I am the first to admit there’s more room in mine and Mr L’s diets for fruit and veg (although we’d generally get these from the fruit market, hence their absence from our supermarket our trolley) but typically my trolley contains basic staple ingredients. Eggs, flour, sugar and butter (to make our own cakes and biscuits), rolled oats, nuts and seeds (to make my own muesli. Generally there isn’t a chip in sight (ok, so I’m not really a chip eater to be fair) or a muesli bar and yes, there will occasionally be a packet of Tim Tams but it’s not an every week occurrence. And so I’d hand over my money, put my groceries in my reusable shopping bag, polish my halo and toddle off home.

Where we live in Auckland is a lovely suburb as well, with a lot of money but it borders on a suburb (and we usually go to a supermarket) with a much lower socio-economic status and a high Pacific Islander population. Last week in the supermarket I found myself checking out the contents of the trolley of the lady behind me and I was astounded. Not one piece of fruit or veg but 3 large packets of corn chips, 2 packets of chocolate biscuits, the ubiquitous sliced white bread, 4 large bottles of soft-drink, a family pack of fun-sized Snickers and a giant “value” pack of “pork-flavoured” sausages…. I’m not sure exactly what had been flavoured to taste like pork, but the implication was that there wasn’t much pig in there. I looked at this large Polynesian woman and her solid, although probably not technically overweight daughter and thought “is that what you guys eat every day?” (Ok so it might not be, maybe it was for a birthday party or a big BBQ or perhaps they were actually on their way to the fruit shop… hmmmm).

But instead of feeling smug this time, I actually felt quite sad. I just thought “Look at yourselves! Think of how bad this stuff is for you! And it’s solo expensive!” This mother and daughter might have had loads of money for all I know, I’m not trying to stereotype, but in Sydney as well as Auckland, it wouldn’t be unfair or untrue to say that lower-income families are more prone to obesity. And I’ve never understood how people justify buying stuff like that on a budget- this trolley contained Oreos and Doritos, not just home brand chocolate biscuits- you can’t tell me that that stretches your dollar further than a bag of apples and a loaf of wholemeal bread. I’m in the fortunate position of never really having to count dollars and cents, but I just don’t buy the whole “healthy eating costs a lot” argument.

Is it an educational thing? I suspect a lot of it is certainly habit, which is probably more powerful than education. Maybe if parents are working long hours to make ends meet then convenient, packaged food is the easiest option, I understand that the last thing you want to do when you get home after a long day is cook, but that’s not just a problem for people with not much money, it’s a problem for us all, unless you can afford a personal chef/housekeeper (which most people can’t).

The cost of obesity and its related problems to society is HUGE. Ultimately people have a responsibility to themselves, I know that, but denial is a powerful thing and even fairly well educated people’s abysmal understanding of health and nutrition frequently astounds me. I just wonder if some government cash might be better spent on community programs like community dinners or cooking classes, school education and cooking programs, even vouchers or healthy food donations directly to families. I’ve always had a problem with the fact that people on government hand-outs (or, more accurately, tax-payer hand-outs) can pretty much spend their money on what they want, and gel-manicures and plasma-screen TVs seem to take an inappropriately high priority for some people. Giving people vouchers to spend at the supermarket or fruit market or, better still, food parcels would, I suppose, pose some logistical challenges but would surely save some money from the health care budget in the long run?

Perhaps I’m being naïve, but the obesity “epidemic” doesn’t seem to be improving and I just wonder about the cost we’re paying for it, financially and socially. Like cigarettes, junk food just seems to be too accessible to those who need it the least.

[Incidentally, after I wrote this post, there was a story on TV about pregnant Maori women being given vouchers as a reward for not smoking…. Obviously things like this can be set up…]