About Me

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I am a wife, mother, instructor and PhD student of Health and Interpersonal Communication. My research is located at the intersection of health, identity and discourse and is informed by my background in Organizational Communication with an overall objective of addressing inequities in healthcare access across populations by examining communicative processes that contribute to institutionalized inequities. My hope is to contribute to an understanding of the relationship between micro/macro level discourses within the healthcare system to improve patient access to quality care across populations. This will include research aimed at improving communication among medical providers, between medical providers and patients, between healthcare institutions, and between health institutions and individuals.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fade Away Guilt

The other day I was talking with my sister about how busy things have been since starting my doctorate. She was commenting on how much I have to balance and how tough that balance is--and as we talked, the familiar pangs of guilt began to rear their ugly heads and I began to think about all the things that have fallen through the cracks since I've taken up my doctoral studies back in Fall 2011. Though she was complimentary of my ability to balance everything,  I thought of the fact that Julia went to her Confirmation Day retreat last week wearing her uniform instead of the everyday clothes that she was given the flexibility to wear. I thought about the Valentine's Day party that I missed for Ava back in pre-school. I thought about how much less often I've been up at school to help out in the classroom. I thought about the fact that I had to turn down the invitation to run for Parish Council at our church, and the fact that I had to turn down the opportunity to be a part of our school's Literary Festival. I thought about having to pass on the opportunity to be a part of The Board of Directors for an organization that I feel contributes significantly to the development of leaders among our youth. I thought about how I had to miss a lot of Tyler's football games last year when his game schedule conflicted with one of my doctoral classes.

I moved from thinking about all the things I wasn't doing for my kids to thinking about all the things I wasn't doing for myself. I thought about the fact that I've gained weight that I had not intended to gain since starting my doctoral studies--having cut out my regular work outs to minimize the impact of the time spent studying on the time I spend with the kids. I thought about all the research I failed to do about managing SLE lupus from a dietary and lifestyle perspective.  I thought about Jason and all the extra slack he's had to take up around the house--thinking of him moving from working a full day to doing laundry and cleaning the house while I move from working my full day to studying, writing, reading and grading. I thought about the fact that I've had to relinquish one of my favorite ways to take care of my family-planning and cooking our meals-to Jason so that I can concentrate on getting all of my school work done on top of my "work" work.

As I  thought about all of these things and so many more things that comprise the everyday guilt I carry around with me, I hear a sweet voice pipe up and say "You know what, Aunt Annie? Mom's always busy, but, we know that we ALWAYS come first". The other two kids heard my daughter say this, and as we were talking later, they reiterated Julia's comment. They all know that they are my number one priority--without any doubt. I don't even have words to describe the flood of relief that I felt in that moment. With that flood of relief came memories of staying up late so I could help with school projects and study time in the evening and still get my own work done after the kids were in bed. Memories of making extra trips to be home for a few minutes in between on-campus responsibilities so I could be there to talk to the kids about their days every day. Memories of re-arranging things even when it meant not sleeping so I could go on every single field trip the kids ever had. Memories of reading and studying at basketball clinics, football practices, soccer practices, and dance rehearsals so I could stay productive with my own schoolwork while getting the kids to their activities. Memories of reading research articles, taking a break to read/listen to Magic Tree House stories so I could make sure the kids were each reading every night. Memories of setting everything aside so that we had time to just talk about our days.

 That's all I ever wanted through this entire ordeal of getting my doctorate and working full time and trying to stay engaged/involved in each of my kids' lives. All I ever wanted was for each of my children to know that they were my top priority. Suddenly, all the guilt that I was feeling faded--not completely erased, but certainly diluted--and I looked my daughter square in the eye and said "That's the truth, Baby. That's the truth".

Friday, March 21, 2014

The importance of communicating empathy in illness

The more I study and live through the experience of illness from a wide array of vantage points, the more I am convinced that the relational resources so important to connecting through the illness experience can be linguistically inhibited. Take empathy, for example. Empathy is something that requires personal investment in the experience of another person. This requires time, attention, and a willingness to set aside personal perspectives and presumptions and open oneself up through imagination to the potential experience of another person. Further, it requires that we let that felt experience shape our own understanding of the illness experience. That takes (1) time--something we rarely have an excess of and often feel a need to justify sacrificing in the name of benefiting another person (2) emotional investment-something that is often uncomfortable and draining, again, sacrificing at least some of the emotional energy we might spend on our own struggles (3) imagination- an ability and willingness to first learn about the possibility that someone's experience might not fit nicely into our preconceived ideas and second a willingness to take some time to learn about how an experience might be different from what we would expect or presume to be "normal" based on our own vantage point.

All of this is required to simply feel empathy--but then, to communicate empathy, it takes so much more. It takes courage to accept changes in one's relational and social positioning, it takes a willingness to change one's relationship--to sacrifice the stability of the familiar for the instability of the unfamiliar, and it takes curiosity and prioritizing relational and other development over simply self development.

Why is feeling and communicating empathy important in the context of the illness experience? Simply put, so we can authentically connect with one another to navigate the experience of illness in all its difficulty, struggle, fear, joy, love, and ultimately, transformation. Hearing about the experience of someone going through chronic illness and being a "sounding board" offers support, to be sure--and this is certainly an important way to support a loved one through a difficult time. But possessing and then communicating empathy in the context of illness---that is a potentially dialogic connection in the context of illness. That is solidarity. That is a willingness to embrace and be a part of the struggle presented by and through the illness. That is putting yourself in the middle and walking with a person, being changed by the experience and helping the person through the experience in ways that facilitate her/his transformation. The communication of empathy as a relational resource for chronic illness is something that we must strive toward. Empathy for the patient, empathy for the caregiver, empathy for each individual family member, empathy for the healthcare provider(s). It is this relational resource that can connect us in meaningful ways that can be transformative for those involved in the illness. It is this relational resource that has the potential to harness the individual talents, perspectives, and vantage points of all those going through the struggle in ways that surpass what any one person can offer.

Essentially, for us to "do illness" well together, we have to learn how to communicate empathy into being in our own relationships. Period. The next blog post and complementary idea here will be the ways in which we linguistically inhibit the development of, and most certainly the communication of, empathy...and the cornerstone of this discussion will rest on the ways in which we adopt biomedical language in relational contexts to provide information needs but avoid emotional demands of illness. This adoption of biomedical language facilitates sharing information and inhibits sharing emotion--which ultimately sabotages our ability to develop and communicate empathy.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Parenting at the intersection of discourses


So, this blog is aimed at balancing my role as parent and academic. That's the whole reason I started it when I learned I was accepted into a PhD program studying communication processes back in February of 2011. Though my research itself centers on health communication processes, I see implications for my parenting choices in each article I read and nearly every discussion I have in class. What has become increasingly clear over the past few years is that we are all positioned at the intersection of competing discourses, and we need to make choices about what discourses to enact and how to enact them in every interaction we engage in. For example, when I interact with somebody to talk about illness, I can enact the dominant biomedical discourse in my talk, talking in terms of symptoms, effectiveness of treatments, stripping the felt experience of the disease from my talk and focusing specifically on the physical manifestation of the illness...OR, I can challenge that dominant discourse and draw more on a discourse of care in my talk--giving voice to the emotional challenges associated with the illness and treatment, along with the implications of the disease and treatment regimen for my sense of self, family and friend relationships, and my shifting social roles in the face of the illness itself. The discourse I enact in talk demonstrates what I privilege as important to my experience, and the discourse I fail to engage often represents a marginalized expression of the experience.

As a parent, the discourses I enact in my family and with others outside my family serve as powerful socializing agents for my children, and as such, I would argue have implications that are much more far reaching than the enactment of discourses in a non-parental role. Of course, there are other social roles that serve a powerful socializing function (teachers, physicians, any 'expert', etc). So, when I wear my academic hat, I often think in terms of how I can enact discourses in my family and with my children in ways that have the potential to facilitate social change--to socialize my children to challenge those dominant discourses that serve to oppress specific social (subject) positions. I see this as one responsibility I bear as a scholar/parent. But it's just one responsibility I bear. Not THE responsibility I bear.

THE responsibility I bear is to raise my children to be healthy, well-adjusted individuals who can make a unique and important contribution to their social world--but their contribution is not mine to determine. I don't have any desire to usurp their potential by imposing my perceptions about how they need/should contribute. I have too much respect for the people they are and who they will become. I will, of course guide them along the way--help them figure out who they are, what they stand for, what is important to them, and how they will go about pursuing that--that is my job. Raising healthy, confident, well adjusted children who have both the desire and potential to change/challenge dominant understandings of "normal" and to create space for non-normative expressions of self. How the hell do you do that? That is my struggle from Day 1 of my combined academic/parental journey until now and I'm sure until forever...

Children tend to have better relational and health outcomes when they are well-adjusted, well-connected, have strong family and peer relationships, and high self-esteem (something correlated with strong peer connection/relationships). They tend to have poorer outcomes when they experience loneliness and isolation, rejection in peer environments, low self-esteem. This research, when taken by itself, would indicate that you parent your children to fit in. Of course, you can never interpret one body of research in isolation of others. We also know that embracing relational struggle and having a positive, constructive orientation to that struggle leads to better outcomes. So, the struggle itself is not inherently bad--it is an opportunity for some very good, positive outcomes, both relationally and in terms of overall well-being.

I want to parent my children in ways that encourage and facilitate their ability to have strong, healthy, positive peer relationships so that they do have the chance to develop a sense of confidence, independence from me and their family, strong sense of self, and solid, well-developed peer support network. I also want to parent my children in ways that encourage them to challenge dominant understandings of what is normal and to feel a personal responsibility to create space for those that don't fit within this dominant understanding. That is a social responsibility that I believe we all bear, and to socialize my children into feeling that responsibility is a primary parental goal. Of course--this invites that struggle I mentioned earlier. And struggle, though difficult, is good. It is through struggle that growth happens--that children begin to discern what they stand for, what's important to them, and how to enact that in their everyday talk and relationships. This is where we see the perpetuation or challenging of dominant ways of understanding.

But at what cost? When and how do I teach my children balance in this? They are developing as individuals. They need to feel that responsibility to be socially conscious and mindful of theirs and others positioning in our social structure. They also need to have an opportunity to develop strong senses of self and have every opportunity to become the strong individuals they will need to become in order to do the things I am hoping they will be able to do.  This is clearly not something I can facilitate for my children alone--parental connection and communication is but one part of the overall picture. They are reliant in many ways on a healthy connection to their peer network. So, I also, as a responsible parent, have to facilitate that healthy connection. But again--at what cost? A big part of gaining acceptance in a peer network, particularly at younger ages, is being perceived as 'normal'--accepting and enacting a normative understanding of things. Doing this perpetuates the dominant discourses I want them to learn to question. Normative behavior is a part of gaining access to the peer relationships needed to develop the necessary self esteem, strong sense of self, confidence and feeling of self worth that lead to someone confident enough to challenge that normative behavior. How does one parent in the midst of that tension? It's a difficult balance, an ongoing negotiation, and it changes as the kids get older and engage in more complex social issues. Balance--develop and maintain a strong social network--fit in, at least in some meaningful way so you can develop those things--but challenge and be willing to put yourself at risk to change people's thinking.

It's a lot to take on--and it's on my mind a lot as a parent. Clearly access to the potential to develop peer relationships and the actual development of healthy peer relationships are two distinct things. But to even have the opportunity to develop healthy relationships that create space for individual expressions, normative or non-normative, of self, you have to have social resources (commonalities that are often defined in terms of normative understandings and expectations) that facilitate access to those peers. Mindful parenting at the intersection of discourse is an ever-evolving balance that I cannot ever say for certain I have struck well--and if I've ever hit it, I can't say that I've adequately maintained it. But, I am painfully aware of the importance of struggling to parent mindfully within these dominant and marginalized discourses--and that is MY struggle. Despite the difficulty inherent in it, it is a struggle that I feel an ethical and personal responsibility to continue to seek out and embrace.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Joyful Moments

Today I take a moment out from a mind-bogglingly busy semester to reflect and take stock of all the amazing things going on around me that I too often take for granted. As I sent the kids out front to play on this absolutely gorgeous March afternoon, I sat and listened to the sounds of their fun-and lost myself for a moment in the sounds of pure elation and joy that are so beautifully expressed in the laughter of children completely lost in the fun of the moment. What a gift that is--to be lost in the fun of the here and now. What an amazing, intangible gift that is so rarely appreciated as a gift and so often taken for granted in our lives. Those moments of pure elation and joy--unencumbered by the shadows of difficulty, fear, worry, frustration. All of that is there--none of us is ever totally free from those struggles--but, we all have moments like that in our lives. Those moments are gold-and should be treasured and valued as such. Those moments are moments from which we can draw strength when we are dealt the inevitable difficulties we will face in life. They are the moments that shine through the struggle--and, at least from my perspective, they are what provide hope in the face of any struggle that we encounter.

I often wonder what the future me would say to the present me. Further, I wonder what the future Mom I will become will say to the present Mom that I am. How would she advise my kids? What kind of perspective would she afford them that I can't yet see well enough to provide them now? I have to believe that at least one of those pieces of advice would be to start paying attention to and building up their treasure chest of these moments. Remember the pure, unadulterated joy that they hold and remember that they are capable of experiencing joy now and always. I suspect that the future me would advise my children to recognize and honor the joy they experience in life as a gift, and cherish it as such.

And maybe, just maybe, part of our responsibility to others is to first,  help create those moments of pure joy in each other's lives, and second, help recall them in times of struggle. Joy as a resource for struggle that we are all responsible for building and replenishing for ourselves and for others. Joy as a resource for those struggling and for those helping others through their struggle. This just might be why I am so drawn to capturing moments in photography and on video--not so I can document my children's childhood--but so I can capture and remember the pure joy each of them possess as children. I want them to carry that joy with them throughout their lives. When they encounter struggle, and they will encounter struggle--I won't be able to predict what it is (nor will they). I won't be able to protect them or prevent the difficulty that lies ahead for each of them. None of us know what we will face and when we will face it. But my hope is that I can shine a light on the joy inherent in each of them through honoring the memory of and striving toward these joyful moments we so often take for granted.



Friday, December 27, 2013

Explaining my Scholarship

It's funny--over the holidays we all have time to step back and reflect on our lives just a bit. Things slow down a little, we get time with family and friends--people who love us and who we don't get to see often in our day-to-day lives. It's so rejuvenating to be with our loved ones, and, it offers an important opportunity to reflect on our lives from a different vantage point. As I talk about my pursuit of my PhD with others who aren't involved in the day-to-day struggle to balance it with everything else, I have had to think through how to explain why this pursuit is so important to me. I can talk about it in academic terms--what I study, why I study it, and what I hope to achieve through studying it. What I haven't often been asked to do is explain this in everyday language. Until now.

I am working toward earning my PhD in communication because of the things that have consistently bothered me over the years. We live in and create a society filled with contradictions---contradictions that inhibit our ability to flourish and thrive as individuals and as a community. Below I offer a few examples of some of those that are top of mind as I write this post:

BEAUTY
Our society presents this unachievable ideal of beauty as something for us to aspire to as individuals:


 When this is the kind of beauty that makes a difference in our world:

SUCCESS
In our world  success looks like this...and the success of a person's life is often measured in these terms:

 But, those that are truly successful focus on a balanced development of these--and success should be measured in these terms:
LOVE
As a society, we reduce our representation of love to sexual connection between beautiful men and women

 Completely de-valuing the deeper, more meaningful love that we have for one another in our family, friend, and romantic partner relationships

SELECTIVE SOCIAL BLINDNESS
We have food eating contests, television shows focused on how much one person can eat...
 while people are starving in our own local communities and around the world
 Millions of Americans quietly living in poverty
 Unseen and unheard by decision-makers and those in power

INDIVIDUALITY
We focus on and celebrate individual success



and demonize individual failure without recognizing our inherent connectedness and the systemic nature of that connection. Individuals who succeed are said to do so on their own, by virtue of their hard work and determination, while those that fail are said to have some sort of character flaw. This is handy, because, as a society, we can blame that individual for his or her failures, and wash our hands of our collective responsibility for the systemic nature of that failure.
 We need to critically consider these contradictions and what they mean to us, our lives, our relationships, our worldview. We need to understand how these contradictions ensnare our thinking and limit our ability to relate to one another and shape our world. These are but a few of the concerning contradictions that drive my passion for what I do--there are so many more--too many to delve into here. My hope is that these examples offer some insight into the passion that drives me to pursue my scholarship. Ultimately, what this comes down to for me is the importance of the effect we have on one another, on ourselves and on our society with our communication. We also need to consider the effect our social structures that we create in our communication have on us as individuals, couples, families, and communities. It is through our communication that we connect (or don't) with one another--and through the quality of that communication that we define our relationships with/to one another. Our communication facilitates the connection and defines the relationships that shape our world for ourselves and for others. We have the agency and responsibility to be mindful of the power of our communication and to recognize that some have more social power than others in the shaping of our world through their communication. Right now, we are failing miserably in the task of taking responsibility for our communication--and I want to change that through my scholarship. I embark on this scholarly journey for all the reasons listed above and so many more...ultimately, we need to understand, accept and become mindfully responsible for the connections between us.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Parenting To Nurture

I've been thinking a lot about the way in which we categorize parenting into styles. Recent examples in the news highlight how parents who are overly protective and involved (helicopter parenting) or parents that are self-centered and focused on their own lives without regard to the healthy development of their children (and the inherent struggle between parent/child to achieve that). And I always have to be careful when I do this, because, I think you get into dangerous waters when you start to promote one style over the other. There is no perfect parenting style that can be prescribed to every parent in every family in every culture in every circumstance. Wouldn't that be a fantastic little silver bullet, though? I mean really. If you could just say--"do it like this...follow these steps...and your children will be well equipped to handle whatever life throws at them.' What a fantastic little world that would be. Note the sarcasm. Because that's ridiculous. We're not turning out robots here. We're not trying to churn out drones. These are people. And so are we. Part of our beauty is our uniqueness. Each child...each parent...each family...each circumstance...is different.

I'm not going to spend time talking about helicopter parents here, or the culture of "everybody wins", or the culture of cheating. These cliche' explanations of what parenting is and where it falls short really don't do a lot for parents raising children today. A lot of people are talking about these issues-- and they're important to consider, critically reflect on and try to sort through as parents of children growing up today. But, they're reflection prompts that should help us get at a larger picture--not the complete picture--nowhere near it.From my perspective, all of these issues, and so many more, touch on the idea that many parents fall into three broad camps--and this is based purely on my own experience--not research based. This is, in fact, merely a personal commentary. Before I describe these camps from my perspective, it's important to note that very few people fall squarely into one of these camps. I see these as located on a continuum, and parents move along this continuum not just at different points in their family's life, but delicately walk this line differently as they parent each of their children.

The way I see parenting approaches can be broken down like this:  (1) Minimalist Approach--this approach to parenting focuses on letting kids figure things out on their own. In this approach, the best way to teach kids is to let them work their way through problems, fall down, pick themselves up, dust themselves off and have another go. In this approach, parents minimize their discussion with their kids, often trivializing their children's problems as insignificant or unimportant--and I say this quite respectfully. There's an incredible value in teaching your children to develop a sense of independence and perspective. These parents are exceptionally good at this. (2) Kid-Centric Approach--In this approach, the lives of the parents center on their children. These kids see the love and support that their parents exude for them as central to their family life. They know their parents are in their corner, never doubting that their parents will back them up and have their back no matter the predicament they've gotten themselves into. These children are so incredibly secure in the knowledge that their parents will do whatever they can to support their children's growth and development--and this has both positive and negative consequences for parent, child, and society.  (3) Parent-Centric Approach-In this approach, the child's needs and desires come second to the needs and desires of the parents. There's no lack of love, just lack of priority. In this approach, kids learn that parents call the shots, parents needs are what drive the family and the family's decisions, and children and their needs must somehow fit in the parental approach to family management (as opposed to driving it).

Okay--so these are the three broad camps. Of course, these do not address parental neglect--that is an entirely different camp and one that would fall well outside the scope of this blog post. But, these three camps are instructive, I think, as we consider the ways in which parents approach family decisions and priorities and the influences these have on children. Each style of parenting has its benefits and drawbacks--and, though ideal parenting styles would be a well-informed balance of all three dependent on family and situational circumstances and the needs of each particular child, more often than not, we as parents adopt one approach as most comfortable and operate from that parental paradigm most of the time. For me, as a parent, I would much rather learn how to respect and adopt specific approaches based on the needs of my family and children in a particular situation rather than spend my time justifying the merits/benefits of my preferred approach. However, in parental discourse, we often are presented with the "right" and "wrong" way to approach the overwhelming task of parenting our children. We're so concerned about doing it right and doing it fair, we don't do it well all the time.

What it comes down to is this--we need to nurture our children. We need to teach our children that they are loved, accepted, and valued as the unique individuals they are. We need to offer the guidance and support that will both affirm the inherent value of each of our children AND guide, teach, and challenge them to grow as individuals. We need to teach them how valuable and important they and their talents are to shaping their world.  And that looks different for each child and each circumstance. It requires parental growth and struggle. It requires us to challenge ourselves and what's comfortable for us. It requires us to question ourselves. It requires us to be uncomfortable and vulnerable.To be the best parents we can be, we have to be willing to defy societal scripts associated with specific parental categories that tell us how to be "good" parents and enter into each situation with each child with our full set of parental skills and sensibilities to critically decide what approach fits with our objective to nurture our children in their growth and development.

And this, I would argue, is what drives DPS, Differential Parental Solicitude--or the child's perception differential parental support and allocation of relational resources to each child. This has been demonstrated to be the fundamental driver for sibling rivalry, and, though DPS is part of a theory that is biologically driven (Theory of Natural Selection) we can and should challenge the origination of DPS as a form of individualized parenting resulting from the parental perception of differential childhood needs resulting in child perceptions of unequal access to parental resources.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Parent's Alternative Viewpoint on Weight Management

Childhood obesity is a big concern. It can complicate childhood illness, exacerbate risk for developing chronic conditions and lead to obesity in adulthood. It can lead to serious problems for a child's self-esteem during a critical time in a developing sense of self. Its impact on self-esteem and on a child's perception of self will affect and reflect the child's fledgling relationships and this has serious implications for that child's social and psychological development. For these and so many other reasons, it truly is important that parents and healthcare providers stay out in front of educating our children on how to eat healthy and set them up for living a healthy, well-balanced life.

So--that's all great. But, what are the implications of this heightened awareness? Is there a downside? I certainly think that there is. For me--this starts with the way we have conflated what health looks like and what attractiveness looks like as it pertains to weight. When you look at Health magazines--healthy bodies are attractive bodies, and attractive bodies are thin, tight bodies. But, we all know that not all bodies of healthy individuals are tight and thin, nor are they all cut and ripped--some individuals are quite healthy with bodies that don't meet either of these ideals. There's very little room for a person to be depicted as healthy but not at an ideal weight. That is extremely concerning. Prior to the increased awareness of childhood obesity, these messages were largely constructed and imposed on our children via ideals set forth in the media and reproduced in conversations with peers and families in a lot of cases. This is difficult enough to manage. With the increased attention on the "obesity epidemic", there is a medical legitimization for this problematic conflation of health and attractiveness as it pertains to weight. Now, if you conflate ideal body type with healthy body type and judge yourself (or others judge you and communicate that judgment to you) to not fit this ideal healthy body type, there is a wealth of medical literature and information explaining exactly how unhealthy you really are and how unhealthy you really will be. That's an awful lot of pressure on a young child to try to fit into an acceptable ideal.

Worse yet, achieving the ideal body type is largely depicted as the product of choice--the choice to eat healthy or exercise. When we perceive that someone is making a poor choice, we tend to assume that person deserves what that choice yields. We stigmatize our perceptions of poor choices. If we can rationalize that a person has problems because of his or her choices, we can abandon compassion and jump to judgment. We perceive them as weak and undisciplined and as not worthy of the status associated with being perceived as healthy. While there is some truth to that--it is not quite that simple. Some bodies will never look like the P90X body, no matter what you do--it's just not in the genetic cards. Some bodies are bigger than others--some are smaller. Some bodies harbor medical conditions that affect metabolism, weight, and physical capabilities. These medical conditions are largely invisible to those who would make and communicate judgment about the appearance of one's body. Each person has differing levels of access to the kinds of things that would lead to the ideal healthy body--it costs money to eat well and to gain access to a gym.

As a parent of children moving into a more sensitive time regarding appearance and health, this conflation of health and attractiveness manifested in discussions about weight is very concerning. Though it is important to raise awareness about healthy eating choices and active lifestyles, it is equally important to create space for a variety of healthy body types. This is something I struggle with--and I often feel like I'm fighting an uphill battle to create and maintain that space. How do I promote healthy habits and provide motivation to adopt these habits while reassuring them that their body type is exactly what it should be--and that being outside the norm is both okay and still quite healthy? How do I promote healthy eating habits and a healthy self-esteem in my family in ways that leaves room for them to be okay with not fitting into this horribly restricting norm? It's an incredibly difficult parenting challenge and one that I am not at all convinced I have figured out.

One problem, of course, is that it is not something I can address on my own. My interactions with my kids, though powerful, are just one part of what shapes their ideas about themselves, their weight, and their health. And my power is waning as they get older--other people are beginning to yield a lot more influence on their developing sense of selves than I do. Their interactions with peers, other trusted and respected adults, and, of course, the messages that wash over them via media--all of these shape what my kids equate with what healthy is, what healthy looks like and how they measure up.

Another problem is that I am not immune from the effects of this societal conflation of health and beauty with regard to weight management. I want to do the right thing for my kids. I want to have the difficult conversations with them to help them make good choices, develop good habits, and make informed decisions about their health. I want to educate them. But I don't want to de-value them or contribute in any way to the notion that they need to fit some kind of unrealistic and unforgiving ideal. I don't want to support a harsh set of expectations about what they should look like in order to perceive themselves as healthy. I don't want to perpetuate the very notions I've outlined here as problematic. I don't want to make weight management salient for them all the time, particularly when weight management as a topic of discussion is often associated with failure to manage weight well.

This is something I could blog about for quite a while--and it is something I plan to research at some point. More thoughts on this as they continue to develop.