When mothers are the worst enemy

18 Oct

I wrote back in the summer in my Sunday Times column about how I had got up at 4am and camped outside the sports centre near my house that runs a gymnastics class. I was desperate to get my little one into gym – she spendsher life spinning cartwheels, is super flexible and, given that she takes after her mother in the being well covered department, I thought that a bit of extra rigorous exercise would do her good. Unfortunately the class is oversubscribed. In fact, that is an understatement. The only way to get a kid into the gymnastics programme is to queue: the doors open at 9am but there were only 26 places for all the six year olds in the Borough, so it’s first come, first served. Thus, I set off with my roll mat and sleeping bag to doss down, like a tramp, outside the Sports Centre to ensure a place (I wasn’t even the first. at 4am there were already three mums in front of me).
Anyway, fast forward a few months and little blondie is happily ensconced in her class. She loves it. Me? Not so much. I suppose I should have reckoned on it being a hot-ed of competitive mothering (that 4am start, Doh!). But while I can deal with the Tiger mums and their frantic homework scenarios upstairs, it’s the mothers’ attitude to weight and bodies that is more alarming. One mum told me that she is addicted to running; so concerned is she about maintaining her birdlike frame that she runs uphill till she throws up (she’s not even a lone nutter, she goes with a whole load of other mums). This was imparted in front of a group of kids.
On Twitter today, India Knight was despairing over a conversation she’d had about weight with a seven year old. It is depressingly regular to hear girls of that age and younger already worrying they are too fat. There’s only one place children that young can get those ideas from: their mothers and mothers’ friends. Women are forever saying: Ooh, I shouldn’t have had that cake. Or: I’ve eaten loads of fattening stuff today. Kids pick that up. It’s not just the talk that can be dangerous either. So frantic are some women not to have fat kids that some practically starve their offspring. I know a woman who barely feeds her two daughters – she gives them spicy adult meals and says she is trying to develop their palattes and if they were hungry they’d eat. The kids won’t eat it (though they eat normal stuff when they come round to my house – like starving animals). They look like twiglets –  like they might just snap. One is six but wears three year olds’ clothes. The mother doesn’t see this as a problem but a victory; I know she despises my rather more strapping offspring as she’s always making snidey comments about what age their clothes are for (who cares???).  It makes me want to shake her.
So ladies, hear my plea. It’s bad enough grown women obsessing about how much they’ve eaten, or their spare tyre. But if you must do it, please, please, do it in silence, or in code, with your friends. Don’t pass your neuroses on to your poor children; they are only little, allow them a few years grace before they too fall under the dreaded yoke of fat obsession.
A grisly postscript: I’ve been writing a lot about children and the internet and how to protect them from the seamier side of things (I highly recommend Talk Talk’s new parental controls which block everything from the home network without you having to install them on every computer). Anyway, I was at a round table on all of this stuff this morning where it was revealed that parents of teenagers are more worried about their kids seeing pro-anorexia websites and self harm sites than hard-core porn. Please think when you moan about how fat you are or that cake you eat of the messages you are putting across. I have two friends who work in teenage psychiatric units; all their female patients are anorexics being force fed, often while they do their exams…. none of us want that for our daughters, but those messages start young


3 Responses to “When mothers are the worst enemy”

  1. LauraCYMFT October 20, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    An interesting post, I’m sure it will split a lot of opinions. I’m quite happy with my body though I do exercise as I like to keep fit and then enjoy a cake afterwards. I think having a healthy attitude towards your body and towards food and exercise is the best way to be to encourage your children to follow suit. I don’t want my kids to be overweight but I wouldn’t want them to be underweight either. Neither is healthy.

  2. Anthoulla October 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    Perhaps these crazy mothers would think again if they realised that their daughters may have serious procreational issues in their adult lives. Incidentally, some girls raised in violent homes also go on to have eating disorders as they internalise their concerns. Boys on the other hand rarely become anorexic or bulimic because their aggression is externalised. Did anyone notice that most rioters were male?

  3. Bailey Ana November 25, 2011 at 9:00 pm #

    Wow, it’s scary that mums are virtually starving their children but I must admit I am quite conscious about what my boys eat. It’s really easy to make little comments and not realise the impact that they can have.

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