Lather, Rinse, Repeat: The Shame Cycle
Posted by themiracleisaroundthecorner
I have been told my daughter is a mini-me… what do you think?
It was a low-key recent Saturday morning, and my husband called me over to the computer to watch a video with Dr. Brene Brown talking about shame. At one point Dr. Brown remarked that specific memories can bring up shame for us, and, as I listened, a personal childhood memory popped into my head.
I couldn’t tell you my exact age, but I was old enough to make my own toast for breakfast, which I had done the Saturday morning this event took place. My childhood home had myself, my three siblings, two parents, a grandparent and a dog all living under one roof, and consequently there were always multiple things going on at any given time. So I happily buttered my toast, then sat down to eat it and watch Saturday morning cartoons (this was during the era when you could only watch cartoons on Saturday morning, kids these days don’t understand how good they have it!). Unbeknownst to me, my mother had taken note of how many pieces of toast I had made for myself, which was apparently too many, because suddenly I was the focus of her attention; an unusual occurrence, given the number of people in one household. In this particular case, being the center of attention was not a good thing. “Do you have any idea how bad that is for you?!?” she exclaimed. “How could you possibly even think to eat all of that?”
As I re-read the nuts and bolts of that story, it doesn’t look at all horrifying; in fact, it is probably a commonplace occurrence in the average American household. But I can tell you, it is at least 30 years later, and I can still feel the shame in the pit of my stomach when I recall that incident. I can place myself in the room in which it took place, 70’s decor and all. That feeling is one that would repeat itself, time and again, through the next 3 decades of my life.
So I recall the incident, I finish watching the video, and I walk into the kitchen to thank my husband for showing me the video. Instead of my husband, I find my 13-year old daughter pouring herself some cereal out of a Tupperware container, which is now almost empty. The problem is that I had only filled the container two days before. The container easily holds 12 servings of cereal, possibly more, so in doing this math, I am quite alarmed, and I start my interrogation: who has been eating this cereal? The discovery portion of this investigation yields that my daughter has eaten the lion’s share of this cereal in the past two days. I point to the Tupperware container in astonishment, and I exclaim, “Do you realize that this container holds 12 servings of cereal, and it now almost empty?” She just looks at me with an expression that in all likelihood mirrored the expression I had when my mother admonished me for the toast.
Sometimes when I say there are no coincidences, I say it with some sadness. I have shame as I am typing the story of how I handled The Cereal Incident.
I am no expert on shame and parenting, but I believe that if I were to read up on the subject, I would find that it is not a good thing to use shame as a parenting tool. Since my daughter has entered adolescence, I have been vigilant in how people speak to her about eating, because I know from personal experience the outcome of using shame to change a child’s eating decisions. Not too long after my issue with the toast is when I decided that food was best enjoyed in solitude, I began to eat in private, and the results of that decision have ultimately led me into recovery from substances other than food. So I have said to my husband, when he feels frustrated by my hampering of his conversations with our daughter, “Look, I don’t claim to have all the answers. I only know what not to do, because of what has happened to me.”
And yet, here I am, fresh off of listening to Dr. Brene Brown, and doing the exact opposite of what I have been preaching for years.
So how to handle the situation where your child is making decisions that are the opposite of what you have taught them? I have been very, very open about my struggles with weight. I truly believe in open communication with children when they are old enough to hear it, and, at 13, my daughter needs to hear about the consequences of overeating. And who better to tell her than someone who has lived through it? So we have had multiple conversations. I am honest with her about my bad decisions (regarding weight, we are not quite up to mind-altering substances yet, but that conversation is coming soon), and the way the consequences affected my entire life.
At the same time, who better than me to have empathy for poor eating decisions? Because I still make bad choices, all the time! So why would I react with frustration to a child who is doing as I have done (and, let’s face it, am doing)? There are no easy answers here, at least none of which I am aware. For now, I keep the lines of communication open, I make amends when I make mistakes like the one I just described, and I attempt to be observant for patterns of behavior. And the end result? I guess time will tell…
Posted on August 30, 2013, in Parenting and tagged Addiction, bad choices, Brene Brown, Cereal, childhood memories, children, Eating, family, fear, Feelings, Food, Food and Drink Related, history repeating itself, Home, mistakes, no coincidences, oa, open communication, overeating, Parenting, patterns of behavior, poor eating decisions, Recovery, Recreation, Shame, Sobriety, struggling with weight, Substance Abuse, Tupperware, weight. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.