A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood
Print Friendly and PDF

There are many aspects of my more than decade-long career as a teacher that I'm proud of. My reputation for giving lots and lots of homework is not one of them.


For most of my teaching career, I taught fifth or sixth grade. Sometimes I gave more than two hours of homework. Kids complained a lot, though parents rarely did, at least not to my face. I think parents mostly felt the same way I did: that homework was the best way to practice new skills, that it teaches responsibility and helps to develop a strong work ethic, and that it's an opportunity to reflect on new learning.

But most of all, my students' parents and I were more than a little afraid that our kids would fall behind—behind their classmates in the next classroom, behind the kids in a neighboring school, behind the kids in other countries. Homework was considered one of many ways to prevent that from happening.

I wasn't entirely wrong about all of that, and I still believe a lot of those things. But only for middle and high school students (and not hours of assignments). Not for elementary students, and certainly not for kindergarteners or preschoolers.

FEATURED VIDEO

When I entered a doctoral program in education policy, I learned about the research that suggests that homework is not good for young kids. Not only does it fail to improve the academic performance of elementary students, but it might actually be damaging to kids' attitudes toward school, and to their physical health. In a review of available research studies, Harris Cooper, a leading researcher who has spent decades studying the effect of homework, concluded that “there is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students."

When I became a parent during graduate school, I experienced for myself just how tired and overwhelmed kids can be after a full day at daycare, preschool, or elementary school, often followed by more after school activities. After hours spent sitting and engaging in mostly adult-directed activities, children's minds and bodies need other kinds of experiences when they get home, not more academics.

It's not just that homework itself may be harmful for little kids, it's also that homework is replacing other fun, developmentally appropriate, and valuable activities—activities that help them grow into healthy, happy adults.

So, what are some of the things kids could be doing in those hours between the end of the school day and bed time?

1. Jump rope

An important part of how young kids' minds develop is through free, self-directed play. According to David Elkind, Ph.D., author of The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children, free play is critical now more than ever, as recesses are shortened or eliminated, and kids' calendars are busier than ever.

“Through play," Elkind writes, “children create new learning experiences, and those self-created experiences enable them to acquire social, emotional, and intellectual skills they could not acquire any other way."

2. Talk with parents

I've heard from countless friends about their daily battles with their elementary-aged kids struggling to do homework, and the way it's negatively affected their relationships.

Instead, of parents asking their overtired kids to do homework they're too young to do independently, families should spent much time talking together about their day. In fact, conversation is the best way for all of us, especially young children, to learn about our world and cultivate empathy.

3. Sleep

The National Sleep Foundation estimates that between 25 and 30 percent of children aren't getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep can cause all sorts of problems in kids, including poor attention, behavior problems, academic difficulties, irritability, and weight gain. But even small amounts of additional sleep can have big impacts. One study found that only 20 additional minutes of sleep can improve kids' grades.

4. Independent reading

Most of us know that developing good habits (and hopefully a love of reading) is critical to doing well at school. However, homework can actually interfere with the time that kids can spend on reading.

5. Listen to a book

Studies show that kids who are read aloud to do better in school and have better vocabularies.

6. Work on a puzzle

Being able to play on their own without adults (called “solitary play") builds confidence in kids and makes them more relaxed.

7. Go up a slide backwards

“Risky" play—activities like climbing a tree—is good for kids. Children need to explore their own limits, to be able to assess risks, and to learn how to negotiate their environments.

Researchers theorize that risky play, found across all cultures and in other mammals, has a evolutionary role in preparing offspring for life without their caretakers.

8. Dig in the dirt

Another type of play, sensory play, is also critical for kids' development. When kids knead clay or finger paint, they are stimulating their senses. “Sensory experiences," explains one early childhood educator, “provide open-ended opportunities where the process is more important than the product; how children use materials is much more important than what they make with them."

9. Playing with a friend in a sandbox

Parallel play, or the type of play in which kids play next to each other, begins in toddlers. But even for older kids, parallel play can help develop critical social skills.

10. Help with dinner

Kids who learn about new foods, and how to prepare them, may be more likely to choose more nutritious foods later on.

11. Walk the dog

Kids who help take care of family pets may be less anxious, less likely to develop allergies and asthma, and are more active.

12. Volunteer at an animal shelter

Even kids who don't have pets at home can benefit from being around animals. The emotional and psychological benefits of being around animals can also be found when kids care for injured animals and take on care-taking responsibilities for other people's pets.

13. Plant a garden

Kids who work in gardens may have higher achievement scores in science than those who don't. That's because they're actively engaging in scientific concepts and practicing math skills as they learn about plants.

14. Practice an instrument

Kids who participate in musical activities – those who practice an instrument regularly and participate actively in music groups – may have brains who are better wired for literacy skills, according to one study.

15. Hang out at Grandma's

Encouraging multi-generational relationships can yield many lessons for kids. They can learn how other adult role models in their lives who love them handle conflict, create and negotiate rules and routines, and embrace family traditions.

16. Participate in a community service project

Through volunteering, kids can become more grateful, empathetic, and feel more connected to the wider community.

17. Draw a picture

For kids who have trouble expressing themselves verbally, drawing can be a way for them to relax and communicate in a different way.

18. Do a science experiment

Kids are naturally curious and want to know how things work. Scientific exploration outside the classroom may be particularly effective at teaching kids about scientific thinking.

19. Play dress up

The significance of imaginative “pretend" or “fantasy" play for kids' creativity and future problem-solving skills is difficult to overstate. When kids pretend they're superheroes or talk to stuffed animals, they're learning about social roles, setting the stage for later learning, and processing ideas from the world around them. In fact, some research suggests that kids who don't engage in fantasy play may actually struggle in the classroom later.

20. Wrestle with a sibling

Rough and tumble" play is not the same as aggression. It's vigorous, free-form, whole-body, energetic, happy play. Kids learn decision-making skills, relieve stress, improve their ability to read social cues, and enhance their cardio-vascular health.

21. Clean their room

When kids are spending their afternoons working on homework, there's often not time for them to help out with housework and other chores. A University of Minnesota researcher, Marty Rossman, found that one of the best predictors of a kid's future success is whether they contributed to household chores as a young child.

According to Rossman, “Through participating in household tasks, parents are teaching children responsibility, how to contribute to family life, a sense of empathy and how to take care of themselves."

22. Write a story

By writing down stories, kids can express their feelings, stretch their imaginations, and practice their fine motor skills.

23. Zone out

Just as important as play is “down time." The authors of “Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Happy, Successful Kids“ argue that every kids needs PDF: playtime, downtime, and family time.

Downtime is when kids are allowed to literally do not much of anything, like sit around and listen to music or stare at the ceiling. These moments allow children to reflect, rest, and reset their minds and bodies.

24. Meditate

Kids also benefit from meditation. Studies have found that mindfulness and meditation can improve behavior, focus, and reduce impulsiveness.

25. Create a collage

Constructive play" – building a fort, making a snowman – is goal-oriented and involves kids building something using tools and materials. Constructive play also has an important role in developing children's communication, mathematical, and socio-emotional skills.

26. Listen to classical music

One study found that playing classical music to children can improve their listening and concentration skills, as well as self-discipline.

27. Learn to knit

Knitting, sewing, and crocheting are hobbies that can help enhance fine motor skills, improve coordination, and develop longer attention spans.

28. Take pictures

“Photography can help develop a child's voice, vision and identity as it pertains to their family, friends and community," according to one photographer who teaches photography to children in Canada.

29. Ride a bike

Kids who are physically active – as well as adults! – have stronger hearts, lungs, and bones. They are less likely to develop cancer or be overweight and more likely to feel good about themselves.

30. Listen to a long bedtime story

Babies, children, and adult sleep better when they have a regular (not rushed) bedtime routine. Kids who don't have bedtime routines are more likely to have behavior problems, be hyperactive, and suffer from emotional difficulties.

31. Play “Simon Says"

During cooperative games, kids collaborate to reach a common goal. There may be a leader, and kids start to learn about social contracts and social rules.

When homework is assigned to young children, it doesn't improve academic learning. In any case, the learning done in school is only one form of learning. Homework takes away from the time available to engage in endless other forms of learning, such as social, physical, and emotional, as well as rest.

Our kids deserve a chance to spend all their other hours outside of school doing their most important job of all: being a kid.

You might also like:

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.

Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.

The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.

I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.

Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:

1. Getting on the school bus.

Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.

2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!

3. Posing with their backpack.

Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.

4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.

Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.

5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.

Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.

6. With their graduating class shirt.

When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!

Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.

7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.

8. In their classroom.

From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.

9. With their teacher.

If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.

10. With you!

We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.

This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

When I lost my father suddenly to a fatal heart attack four years ago, the pain of loss and subsequent grief were overwhelming. At the time, my husband and I had two little girls (ages 5 and 2), who were very attached to their PopPop Geno, and in many ways, they were my path through grief.

I had to quickly figure out how I was going to walk them through the grieving process while trying to navigate my own emotions. Loss is an inevitable part of life, and the intense sorrow that accompanies the loss of a loved one through death or separation is a normal response. These feelings can be overwhelming and confusing for children who don't quite understand death.

In preparing children for death, it's important to be honest, explicit and as concrete as possible without providing too much information. After a loss, avoid saying well-meaning euphemisms for death such as, "he's gone to sleep forever," or telling a young child that someone, "…was very sick and died," which can stoke fear of going to sleep or getting sick for children who are very literal in their thinking. It's best to have conversations that are simple, honest and developmentally appropriate.

FEATURED VIDEO

Here are four ways to help children deal with death:

1. Have patience.

Children younger than 8 years old don't typically understand the permanence of death unless they've experienced it first-hand. Even when they've acknowledged, "So, Grandpa isn't coming back?" they may ask days or months later when they will see their loved one again. Our brains are designed to protect us. Research shows that young children will only process loss in small chunks of time. Parents often misunderstand this as them being done with the grieving process or not really understanding what's happening. Although children grieve for short blocks of time, these can occur over very long periods of months or even years depending on the age of the child. It is important to be patient, answer questions as they arise, and pay attention to behavioral cues. Consistency and establishing a routine is the key to making sure your child feels secure during this period of uncertainty.

2. Develop a narrative.

Often, feelings of change or abandonment can surface depending on how close the friend or family member was to the child. Having a story about that person to hold on to allows them more time to fully process the loss as their capacity to better understand death also develops.

Having a narrative also helps kids understand they didn't do anything wrong and that they weren't the reason the person left.

In my case, we opted to talk about good memories and how much their grandfather loved them. Now, they will often do something they are proud of and say, "PopPop would have loved to be here for that!" It continues to let him be present and for my kids to stay in a relationship with him. Remember that if you don't help your children develop a narrative, they will develop their own.

As you develop a story with them, make sure you share your own feelings as well. It's hard for a child to understand unexpected emotions, but having a caregiver model feelings can be powerful. Children learn well when they have a vocabulary for these feelings and a model for behaviors that are appropriate expressions of grief. Seeing a parent cry can be scary for them but that experience provides a learning opportunity and therapy for you, too. So, sharing that you are okay but sad right now might help children normalize their own feelings.

3. Create a totem.

Children are such concrete thinkers, meaning they have trouble with abstract concepts, so having a tangible object, such as a picture, item of clothing or even a game or figurine from that person can help ease the transition in their absence.

By allowing a child to transfer significance to a lovey connected to a person they lost, they can also grieve in their own time. Creating a scrapbook with memories and pictures can be a powerful way to process loss together in an experiential way. Try making a game of hunting for meaningful items, pictures and items that represent good times.

4. Give children the chance to say goodbye.

You may decide not to expose your child to the funeral and that's okay. However, it's important to let them find a way to help them say their own goodbye. Funeral rituals can provide closure for family members and allow us to grieve in community. Consider having a small family memorial that allows your child to tell their passed loved one about their favorite memory, what they loved about them and what they might miss. At any age, this can be cathartic. If you decide to take your child to the funeral, make sure you prepare them ahead of time that a lot of people will be sad but they are there because they all loved the person who passed.

Above all, respect that your child is handling intense emotions the best way they can. If you don't have the perfect words, just reflect back what you are hearing your child say. The best thing parents can do is be present and empathic.

You might also like:

Learn + Play

Listen up, mamas, because we've got a doozie of a shopping opportunity for you. The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale is here and the discounts are major. Yes, you can score some of Zella's famous high-waisted leggings for $20 off... but really, we're just laser-focused on the baby gear and kids items right now!

Below are just a handful of the biggest deals being offered on some of our favorite brands, check them out before they're gone!

Thule Urban Glide 2 Double Jogging Stroller On-the-Go Bundle

Sale price: $598.90

Regular price: $799.85

SHOP

Nuna Pipa Lite Infant Car Seat

Nuna Pipa Lite

Sale price: $314.90

Regularly price: $419.95

SHOP

Stokke Tripp Trapp Chair, Baby Set, Cushion & Tray Set

Stokke Tripp Trapp Chair

Sale price: $253.90

Regular price: $339.00

SHOP

Freshly Picked Classic City Pack Faux Leather Diaper Bag

Freshly Picked City Pack

Sale price: $116.90

Regular price: $175.00

SHOP

Maxi-Cosi Magellan Max 2019 5-in-1 Convertible Car Seat

Maxi-Cosi Magellan

Sale price: $260.90

Regular price: $349.99

SHOP

BOB Revolution Flex 3 Single Jogging Stroller

Sale price: $375.99

Reguar price: $469.99

SHOP

Nuna 2019 MIXX Stroller & PIPA Lite LX Infant Car Seat Set Travel System

Sale price: $849.90

Regular price: $1,049.90

SHOP

Hunter Buckle Strap Waterproof Rain Boot

Hunter Buckle Strap Waterproof Rain Boot

Sale price: $39.90

Regular price: $60

SHOP

See Kai Run Peyton High Top Sneaker

See Kai Run Peyton High Top Sneaker

Sale price: $31.90

Regular price: $48

SHOP

Baby Bling Waffle Bun Baby Headband

Sale price: $8.90

Regular price: $14.00

SHOP

Vineyard Vines Boys Heathered Island Polo

Sale price: $29.90

Reguar price: $40

SHOP

Little Giraffe Luxe Baby Blanket

Little Giraffe

Sale price: $59.90

Original price: $92.00

SHOP

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

You might also like:

Shop

I sit awkwardly with an eight months pregnant belly on a shaggy grey rug with my son's stacked towers of Lego blocks holding little plastic teeth-bearing dinosaurs cascading up and down the tower steps.

My son roars.

His T-Rex makes a big splash into the makeshift carpet-ocean. He swims like a fishy, you know, how a T-Rex would.

I have to be Scar. A smaller, grey T-Rex (definitely the lesser of the cool T-Rexes). I have to hold him and personify him and roar. And basically follow the big T-Rex wherever he wants to go, doing whatever he wants me to.

Normally, my opinions on what Scar might want to do are, well, wrong. Luckily, my exhaustion can be minimized by the fact that I can quite literally hardly move down on the floor (or in general), so Scar can only make arm-length treks. I am safe(ish) in my legs-splayed seated position that I may never be able to get up from.

"Hi," says T-Rex in a jovial voice, bouncing up and down in front of me. "Wanna play?"

I have to pick up Scar, don my enthusiastic, friendly dinosaur-voice (despite the fact that Scar has yellow eyes and gnashing sharp teeth) and reply that I do, in fact, want to play! Any variation of that is actually just incorrect.

FEATURED VIDEO

"Okay!" says T-Rex, "let's go over here." T-Rex takes massive leaps and practically soars in mid-air, and Scar merely scoots along behind him in little jumps. Scar pretends to fly but is quickly reminded that Scar does not fly.

I set Scar down momentarily and glance at the clock because I have now been Scar for 28 minutes and I am feeling fairly repressed creatively. I set him down carefully on the stairway we made with blocks and then subsequently made our dinosaurs climb up and down at least 200 times in a row.

T-Rex thought it was fun, and Scar was more annoyed and wondering what the point of all of it was. But if Scar stopped, T-Rex—in his ridiculously giddy, adorable little boy voice—kindly reminded him that he wanted to keep going.

It was maybe seven seconds after my fingertip left Scar—my other hand had my mug of (now lukewarm) coffee, not even at my lips yet. And there T-Rex was, right in my face, dino-nose to human-nose. "Where's Scar?"

Within seconds my son hands him back to me. "Here you go, you want Scar?"

My son is happy, smiling. T-Rex is gripped in his other hand, anxiously wondering what Scar was doing getting out of character.

"Wanna play Scar?" He keeps asking that while we are playing and my mom voice comes out.

"We are playing, sweetie. That is what we are doing right now. You don't have to keep asking…."

He looks at me with his innocent little blue eyes and doesn't even let me finish speaking before T-Rex is at my nose, "Wanna play?"

So I'm Scar again.

"Mama's coffee," he says. "T-Rex loves coffee." The little Dinosaur's face, mouth open wide, is headfirst in my coffee.

He looks over at me pensively. "Scar needs coffee too…" He doesn't know if this is a question yet. I have yet to react to the dinosaur he is swirling in my coffee. But clearly, Scar wants to play too.

My coffee sloshes onto my pants, which my son recently wiped a trail of snot on. I watch him smile as I take Scar and let Scar have a sip of my coffee too.

This is a Tuesday. Tuesdays I am home with my son. His cereal bowl is on the counter with remnants of oats and milk. My French press is half full, the cream is still out. I have yet to get properly dressed, or attempt to begin the strange battle that is dressing my son.

I am so pregnant and so tired that I am aware that I may not dress either of us today. I may not even move. The sun is shining through the windows and the dog continuously brings me a ball to throw for her. It's just after 9:30 am.

I have been up for a hundred hours, I am sure. My husband will likely be home in eight more hours. The thought of that brings a moment of panic in my chest. The exhaustion I feel, obviously exacerbated by pregnancy, tells me there is no way I will make it. Even the thought of having to get myself off this floor to make it to the couch has me procrastinating.

This is motherhood. A tiny, tiny glimpse into the job.

I am playing with coffee-drinking miniature dinosaurs. Our house is comfortable, our bellies are full, we are clothed. In this world—the world of my 4-year-old—the biggest stressors known to man are stopping playing to pee on the potty, getting dressed and not getting ice cream.

His pain is real, his stress is real. I know this. I soothe him through it in a practical way. And in the back of my head, I can't help but think of my own larger problems, the world's bigger, more catastrophic issues. They pop up in thought bubbles around me that I work to knock away. Mindfully, I tell myself. Notice it, wave it goodbye. Be here.

I glance at the clock again, and only a minute has passed. I look over at my son. He is watching me. Dinosaur clutched in hand, practicing a rare moment of patience. Eyes hopeful. I take a deep breath. I breathe out the overflow of bills, of dishes, of dog hair, of to-dos, unread-texts and emails.

His eyes are still on me, his fingers inching Scar closer to my leg. I take another breath.

Here I am, on this Tuesday, I am Scar.

You might also like:



Life

[Trigger Warning: This essay discusses one woman's journey with an eating disorder.]

We stopped for ice cream on the way home from your last day of kindergarten. As chocolate ice cream dripped from your cone and melted onto your hands and smeared across your face, you talked excitedly about how we would spend the summer weeks that stretched out in front of us. The sun had already started to lighten your hair and send rows of freckles marching across your cheeks. My newly minted kindergarten graduate, the little girl big enough to order her own ice cream, but young enough to still ask politely for sprinkles.

Today, you told me that your thighs are chubby. I don't know what caused you to say something like that. You probably heard it on the playground, another little girl parroting an adult's insecurities.

I know for a fact you have never heard me talk about myself that way, because as soon as the ultrasound tech told Daddy and I that the little creature squirming around on the screen in front of us was a little girl, I made a promise to you that you would never hear me talking badly about my body.

FEATURED VIDEO

Here's why: When I was 15, I had an illness called Anorexia Nervosa. If you were to read about this harsh sounding name on the National Eating Disorders website, you would learn that anorexics have an "intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight," and suffer from a "disturbance in the way in which one's body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight."

But let me tell you what it's really like to intentionally, deliberately, starve yourself.

I was a freshman in high school when I decided to stop eating. It wasn't a sudden, impulsive decision. My eating disorder was a long time coming, and, in some ways, a rather inevitable result of genetics mixed with my early love of cross-country and distance running.

I was always a very intense, goal-oriented people pleaser. In middle school, I was skipping dessert and wearing one-piece bathing suits because I hated the way my stomach looked. The stress of high school—being in a new school where I didn't make friends easily—and running varsity cross-country as a freshman-brought my eating disorder to the surface.

Also, I didn't know it at the time, but there was something different about the way my mind works. There was something electric, something wild, about how quickly my thoughts went racing around in my head, and I was desperate to find a way to tame the energy and anxiety that sent my brain spinning. And starvation did just that.

You see, anorexia tricks so many girls and boys into thinking that by controlling what you put into your body, you control the parts of life that you truly can't do a thing about. I couldn't help that I wasn't the most talented runner on my team, but I could starve and skip meals and count calories, and if I couldn't be the fastest, my sick mind would settle for at least being the skinniest.

So I starved. I restricted my diet until it consisted of only flavored water, ice chips and gum, but soon even the pieces of gum had too many calories. I starved until my pants became baggy and my cheekbones sharpened.

I became a master of deception. I knew how to trick my parents and coaches into thinking I had eaten, and I learned how to hide food and lie. I starved until my weight became dangerously low and I was forced to stop running.

I was starving when the bloodwork came back that showed my body was starting to break down my muscles because it so desperately needed something to digest. And then, when I couldn't starve anymore, when I finally realized what my lies were doing to my family and understood how much danger I was in, I had to recover and learn how to care for myself again.

It is hard for me to explain to you what it was like to recover from an eating disorder. 'Recover' is too gentle and far too passive of a word to describe what it was like to beat anorexia and learn how to eat again. Every small step forward, from giving myself permission to eat when my belly grumbled to finding the right medicine to help me worry a little less, was an exhausting, miserable, uphill battle that I wouldn't wish on anyone. And I promise you, sweet girl, that the desire to starve never fully leaves you. Not quite. The temptation to relapse and fall back into my old ways of skipping meals and counting calories is always there, lurking in the corners of my mind, ready to overwhelm me when I'm feeling stressed or sad.

That, dear girl, is the thing about anorexia: You either recover or you die. Eating disorders are the most lethal of all mental illnesses, and that's why your comment about your thighs worries me so much.

My first reaction when I heard you say your thighs are chubby was disappointment. I try so hard to model self-love and how to have a healthy relationship with food. I try to teach you the importance of exercise and cook you healthy meals, but I also make a point to let you see me enjoying a donut or a cookie.

Yet, here you are, a 6-year-old who looks at her thighs and sees them as anything less than what they are: Healthy, strong legs that help you do things like chase after your brother or ride the big girl bike you were given for your sixth birthday.

But, I understand. I understand that no matter what I do, no matter how many times I tell you you're smart and beautiful, that your genes might render you vulnerable to a dark voice inside your sweet mind that tells you you're less than worthy. One day, that horrible voice might drown out all the behaviors I try to model for you and all the love that I give, and it might convince you that you aren't the thoughtful, creative, compassionate daughter I know you are.

Let me tell you what will happen if you give in. You will lose, and you will lose so much. Months and years of your life that should be spent chasing your passions, enjoying friendships, and simply being happy will instead be spent counting calories and hiding food as your body wastes away to nothing. You will never have those years of your life back, and I promise you when you do eventually recover, the years you have lost to anorexia will be one of your greatest regrets.

I promise you that if you find yourself on the path of self-destruction that I will never give up on you. I will hold your hand through your darkest days until you are able to treat yourself with kindness again.

I know I'm your mom and you won't think I'm cool in a few years, but please promise you'll always come to me and we will figure this out together. I want you to know that strong is more important than thin. That the ads you see in magazines are lies. That chocolate is good for the soul. That the person who you will spend your days with will love every part of you (including your love handles). That bodies are here to carry around our hearts. And my darling, your heart is the most beautiful heart I know.

You might also like:

Life
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.