Like Mother, Like Child
Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. –James Baldwin
Teenagers may tune us out now and then, and two-year olds may willfully ignore our direct orders, but never doubt they are truly influenced by the things we do. Do you try to eat a healthy diet? It is truly having an impact on your children. Studies have shown that children’s food preferences are strongly linked with that of their parents, and more so with the mother than with the father.* Daughters are even more likely than sons to be influenced by the mother’s nutritional example. The mother’s habits and attitudes about food, dieting and self image have a huge impact on her daughter. This study may just be reaffirming what you already knew.
When you think about your childhood, your mother and food, what images come to mind? Do you believe it is true for you? In my case, my mother had made our nutrition and the family’s food choices a huge focus. She was into organic and natural foods and our school lunches differed wildly from our classmates making us feel very uncool. We ate sandwiches on homemade bread that was held together by the peanut butter, apples from our trees, and for a treat, a carob chip cookie. However to this day, I actually prefer eating healthy and whole foods, but long ago, I traded in the carob chips for good dark chocolate.
If you get on your bicycle and ride for exercise or to get from one place to another, that too, is having an influence on your children. A few years ago, The Wall Street Journal published the results of a study that showed that not only were a mother’s nutrition habits strongly influencing her daughter, but so were her exercise habits.** It is a true case of “daughter see, daughter do.” Evidently, exercise habits do get passed on in families. The importance of modeling good exercise habits is especially important for your daughters because compared with your sons, their exercise levels drop dramatically after age 9.
If you exercise independently, you are still serving as a role model, but exercising together is also very important. Bicycling is a great exercise to share with your daughter. It is something you can do together to share some precious one-on-one time. Cycling is excellent because it is an informal, less competitive activity where girls don’t have to feel self-conscious about their abilities. “Take Our Daughters to Work Day” has become a very popular way to teach our daughters about the value of a good career. I propose we start “Take Our Daughters (& Sons) on a Bicycle Ride Day” to pass on the values of a good, healthy life.
* Family Pattern Similarities and Differences Among Family Members by C. Kies and T.L.Dunlap in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association
**Leading by Example:Research Explorers Moms’ Role in Girls’ Health and Nutrition by Tara Parker-Pope, Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2006