Ep. 79 – Dr. Hillary McBride – Buffering Kids From Body Shame
- Common ideas kids inherit that make them feel ashamed of their bodies or as if their bodies are not good enough
- How to help kids listen to and hold onto the wisdom of their bodies
- Helpful responses to eating before dinner, bathtime battles and belly shirts
In this episode, we’re talking with Dr. Hillary McBride about why 90% of children, who freely run, roll, wiggle and laugh when they are young, become so unhappy with their bodies later on in life, and how they can learn to engage and delight within their bodies once again. Most of us have complicated relationships with our bodies. When we discover how to be in our bodies in a way that protects us from body shame we’re more capable of supporting our children on their own journey. Join us!
Dr. Hillary McBrideDr. Hillary L. McBride is a therapist and an award-winning researcher focused on helping people who feel disconnected from their bodies find their way home to themselves. She is also the author of the books, Mothers, Daughters and Body Image, Embodiment and Eating Disorders, and her newest award-winning work, The Wisdom Of Your Body.
Hillary teaches in the department of counseling psychology at the University of British Columbia and maintains a private counseling practice in Vancouver BC.
Ep. 79 – Dr. Hillary McBride – Buffering Kids From Body Shame
RC – Well, good morning, Hillary – it is bright and early!
HM – It’s so good to see you this morning though.
RC – You too! We have worked hard to find a time for this conversation and I’m so glad that time is now because I think this episode is landing in a really lovely placement of guests. Our last episode was with Dr. Lori Brotto, who I’ve learned you know, talking about Sex After Kids. And an upcoming episode is with Sandy Rosen, who I’ve found out you know as well, talking about Healing Trauma Through Movement. So, I’m feeling like an exciting trilogy of information is unfolding.
HM – Oh cool.
RC – Well, you have so much to be congratulated on right now. You’ve written this incredible book, The Wisdom of Your Body, that’s getting so much attention and acclaim. And you just had a new baby daughter.
HM – I did. Yeah. Thank you so much for noticing those things. Feels good to think about them both.
RC – Undoubtedly it’s taken considerable creativity and planning and effort to be where you are at in your life and career right now, so you should be celebrated.
HM – Thank you.
RC – Well, we like to start with a question to let listeners get to know you a little bit more. And so do you feel ready for a question this early in the morning?
HM – Alright. I’m ready.
RC – Here it is. Aristotle stated, Show me a child at seven and I will show you the adult. And so, Hillary, I’m wondering, is there a story or experience from your childhood that reflects the adult that you are today?
HM – Well, I can really think of a number of them, but the one that comes to mind immediately is how my parents in the upstairs of their home had a bathroom and just the way that the heating system worked in the house, there were the vents that came up through the bottom of the floor in the bathroom upstairs. And my dad tells me the story of being, I would have been much younger than seven at this point, probably like four or something like that. But I had this pail of water that I had filled up in the bath, and I just poured down the heating vent. And my parents were sitting downstairs in the living room and all of a sudden water started pouring through the ceiling and they had no idea what was going on. So they rushed upstairs and saw me sitting there with a bucket, actively, pouring it down the heating vent. And my dad said, “What are you doing? What’s going on here? No, no, no.” Right? whatever he did to stop me.
And I said, “Oh you didn’t tell me not to.”
And what I love about this story now is I think about how free my mind was and has been to wander into the areas that it wants to wander into and the places it wants to go. And I want to behave in the way that I want to behave. And this kind of like, oh, but I, you know, there is no rule here. So I just I went here. There was nothing that told me I shouldn’t. And maybe even there was something that told me I shouldn’t and I did it anyway or whatever. Right. There’s a little bit of that in me and I just feel like although I’m not actively trying to create distress in people’s lives.
Obviously, I’m wanting to bring healing and connection and embodiment and all of the things that people know my work for, I also love sitting on the edges of things.
RC – “On the edges of things.” What do you mean by that?
HM – What I mean by that is when there is a new body of work that’s emerging or when there is the possibility to dream and create and ask the question, “Where else could we go with this? Where else could we take this idea? How much more creative could we be if we let ourselves go all the places that are actually available to us instead of staying restricted to the things that are right in front of us or the things that we think we’re supposed to say or do or be.”
RC – Yeah. So just keep on pouring water down these vents.
HM – That’s right.
RC – And really, that is curiosity in action. You were finding out where else could I go with this bath water?
HM – Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.
RC – And the living room was your answer. How did your dad respond to that?
HM – Yeah, you know, I don’t actually remember, but in the story that they tell, there was hilarity and a kind of sense of shock and maybe the typical parent response of throwing your hands up like, “Well, what are we going to do here?”
But I don’t remember being shamed or disciplined. I remember them saying, “You’re right, we didn’t tell you not to. So here you are. Of course you’re doing this.”
RC – Oh, that is such a fantastic entry into what I want to talk to you about today. Like you just said, you’re known for bringing healing and connection and embodiment, and I read your book, and I read it from the perspective of an adult myself and thinking about my own embodiment. But I also thought, “Hillary, you’ve got to write a book for parenting around this, because I feel like that response that you gave to your parents, “Well, you never told me not to,” and you remembering their warm and positive response to your natural four-year-old curiosity and experimentation, I think it’s in those responses that we start to lead into our child having continued access to embodiment or maybe starting to step out of it. So I’d love to ask you questions around ‘how we parent in a way that protects embodiment,’ if you’re comfortable with that?
HM – Let’s do it. I’m ready.
RC – Okay, good. Would it be good to start with defining what embodiment means? Because for me, that was a newer term.
HM – Yeah, absolutely. There are a number of definitions of embodiment. There’s no one unified definition that we have. But what I will say is that what we’re talking about here is different than the way that we have typically heard about embodiment culturally. So when we hear about embodiment culturally usually what people are saying is something about how a person embodies their values, right? How a person lives and enfleshes the things that they talk about. We say “That teacher embodies the principle of Montessori,”
Or, “You know, that leader really embodies what he’s talking about.”
But this kind of embodiment is actually something different. And this kind of embodiment that we are talking about here in this conversation comes out of remembering that our body is a central part of our experience of being human. That we are not just minds carried around by bodies, but our bodies actually shape what it means to be the self. And that our bodies are always inculturated; which means that the bodies that are shaping the self are reading and being read by social context. We are getting feedback constantly about if our body and the way we are socially in relationship is good or not good. If we need to do something different in order to be safe or to belong. And all of those experiences shape what it means to be us. So embodiment is, it’s the experience of being a body as it’s shaped by the world around us.
RC – I’m just going to try and put this all together in my mind. So, we come into the world with a body that’s been shaped inside of a womb, and our little baby body has immediate biological needs that we instinctively demand be met because nobody has ever told us not to – like you. So we cry out for food and sleep. We look for connections that will keep us alive. Are we starting from a place of full embodiment at that point? Are we born embodied?
HM – Yeah, it’s an interesting question. I mean, I would say largely yes, right. That’s the only way that we come into the world is being bodies and and knowing ourselves and knowing the world through the body that we are. We’re not necessarily born embodied at the moment of birth the same way that we would be, you know, at one year old or two years old because the infant doesn’t actually know where they end or where they begin. There’s a kind of inter-being that happens right at the beginning where babies in their bodies aren’t really sure that their body is different than somebody else’s body. So it gets a little murky at the beginning. But what we see is that through engaging with their body in the world, that there is a sense of knowing ‘what is I and what is not I,’ that comes.
You know, the infant sticks their hand in their mouth and they realized, oh, that I feel something and my mouth feels something and my fingers feel something. But when I stick someone else’s hand in my mouth, it feels different. And their body perhaps is a little different than mine. But there’s this really sweet experience at the beginning that I think is kind of mystical, maybe even a little psychedelic, maybe deeply spiritual, that babies don’t have the sense of the not-I and the I distinction yet, which means that they are experiencing a kind of oneness in the world. And that can be where some of our wounds begin to emerge.
When someone around us experiences something distressing, we feel it inside of us too. When somebody around us experiences shame, we experience that in our bodies without necessarily knowing if their shame is about them or if it’s about us. So all of these experiences of the unified consciousness at the beginning and how that emerges at the same time of body awareness and self-awareness, all of those things together shape the foundations of the story of what it means to be me. And all of that. Shows up in the body.
Musical Interlude #1
For highlights from this conversation with Dr. Hillary McBride, please follow us on Facebook or Instagram. We’ve put pink around her quotes from this episode so you can distinguish them quickly. Find us at family360podcast and DM us with comments or suggestions for further episodes. We would love to connect with you.
RC – Ok, so in your book, The Wisdom Of Your Body, you describe behavioral characteristics of disembodiment, so signs that a person is not doing well living in their body, and these include, self-harm, forgetting or disregarding bodily needs, trying to make our body disappear or conform, following diets instead of hunger cues, and pushing our body to the limits even when doing so causes us pain or injury.
You work with hundreds and thousands of people who come to your practice, or workshops or read your books, helping them to find healing and wholeness and connection through rediscovering embodiment. So, here’s my first parenting question.
Is there a way to not lose our connection to our bodies in the first place? Knowing all you know Hillary, as a new Mom, what would be your desire for your daughter, so that she does not lose that connection to herself?
HM – Yeah, I think my desire for her is to have this capacity to sense what she’s sensing and stay attuned to that, because attunement is a central feature of embodiment; the ability to go, “Okay, I’m noticing something, a sensation, an impulse, a longing, a feeling, and I can listen to that.”
So I would like for her to be able to notice those things. And then given where she’s at developmentally and where her language skills are, to be able to articulate that to me or to other safe adults in her life. Because I know that in our home we are going to create an experience of safety and connection and unconditional love and warmth. But I also want her to know that when she goes out into the world and there are experiences of sadness or fear or disappointment, that she knows how to pay attention to those and what to do with them. And I think the ability to pay attention to them happens because we encourage that and we support that kind of mechanism of self knowing, but also supporting her by putting language around it so that she has a shorthand to hand to another adult, perhaps when she is at preschool and say, “This feeling in my body is here. Can you help me with it?” Instead of her feeling like she has to disavow that feeling or keep it alone inside of her?
RC – I don’t think I could have described that as articulately as you just did, but that’s what I would want for my children as well. You’re talking about what happens inside your house and what might happen outside of your house. And that reminds me of a beautiful metaphor in your book about living in a home, with that home meaning your body, but then looking out of our home and noticing, “Oh! My neighbors are out on their front lawns and they’re all looking at each other’s houses and talking about their houses.”
So, you go out of your home and pretty soon you start spending more time on your front lawn comparing your house to the other houses, is what you describe.
And then you say, “When it comes to our bodies, most of us are living on the front lawn.”
What coaxes a child to want to leave their home or to live on the front lawn?
HM – Yeah. I would say that all of us likely know what that experience is like. And maybe the poignancy of thinking about it in childhood is that we coax people out of the home of their bodies and onto the front lawn. Particularly in experiences in education and experiences with peers, as people get access to more gender role socialization, as they encounter more of the discourse around how to belong in certain peer groups, we see that kids who are born knowing how to be inside the home of their bodies find more and more reasons to leave.
And those reasons could be, you know, the feeling in the body is intolerable, right? Fear is a really hard thing to be with. Sadness is a really hard thing to be with. And we need safe and present and steady adults to support us, to navigate the intensity of those sensations, and to know that they have an arc where the intensity will come up and it will come down and it will end.
But when we don’t have the experience of containment, of attunement, of relational safety and warmth to help us with those things, sometimes it can feel like being inside the house is intolerable. Maybe it even feels like it’s haunted in a way. And so we learn through early experiences how to leave our body, and live just outside of our bodies in this kind of shut down, dissociated, you know, perhaps observing, maybe even objectifying way. And we have lots of research to show that that happens really, really young for girls and for boys in particular who are just navigating different elements of the social world around them.
RC – Mmm, so hard.
HM – But we see this as adults all the time when we become fixated on how our body looks. It’s like we’re sitting on the outside of our bodies, observing what we look like from the outside and thinking of that as the primary means of connecting with ourselves as bodies, just just how we look. And the reality is that how we look is a part of what it means to be a body. And that includes all of the joyful parts about it, too, like style and expression and creativity and, playfulness with dress and texture and color. But there is so much more to being a body. And children are this beautiful invitation to remember the experiences of our bodies when we were younger. When we’re with children, it often reminds us, Oh, I knew how to live inside the house too, at one point where I could play and sense and experience and move through the world with a focus on what is it like to to be here, to be sensing, to be in this body before we ever learned that we to have to leave the inside of our bodies to be on the outside?
RC – That is absolutely one of the incredible joys that you feel in watching kids. I think that’s why we’re often drawn to do that. For myself as an early child educator, I still revel in that. Just watching children be so free and say what they want to say and express like they want to express and cry like they want to cry and wear clothes like they want to wear clothes. And its kind of a bittersweet joy knowing that way of being is hard to hold onto.
You wrote in the book that up to 90% of us in Western culture, including men and women, loathe their bodies, which is so sad and such a disturbing statistic. And I know that in your book, you share about your eating disorder that started in your early adolescence. Is that right? Is that when it started?
HM- That’s correct. Yes.
RC – Yeah. Would you be willing to talk about how that manifested? Because I think it’s hopeful to hear when so many of us struggle with mental health concerns, that we can struggle and still do so well as you have.
HM – Thank you. Yeah. In addition to an environment as a kid that was full of play and freedom and joyfulness, and in a way, this kind of like child sensuality of encountering the world through my senses, I also experienced the rigidity of my parents unprocessed trauma and some of their kind of cultural narratives around what bodies were good and how to be. And it makes a lot of sense to me now, some of the things that they did because of the way that I know that they were raised and what they went through and the things that they were feeling in their bodies. If I’m feeling free in my body and that’s not something that I’ve experienced, it might feel uncomfortable and scary for them and they might have the inclination to restrict or control what I’m doing because it feels unsafe for them in some way.
There were early experiences that I had of challenges with food that later made a little bit more sense when I got diagnosed with all sorts of allergies and I could understand why my body was starting to develop a kind of an unhealthy relationship with the experience of eating, because often I would eat things and it would be really scary for me and I would have these big reactions and my body would be communicating, “Eating, or this food does not feel good, this does not feel safe.”
And we didn’t have the language around that yet until I got diagnosed with a number of allergies when I was, say late childhood. But there were these experiences that I remember having as my body was changing in puberty that started to affirm again that my body was unsafe. Right? It wasn’t that my body in childhood chronically needed to be controlled, right? There was complexity to it. There was a variety of experiences on the spectrum where I felt freedom and at times restricted and controlled. But as my body started to change, it seems like I didn’t really have the context within which to orient myself within those changes. I didn’t have space, it didn’t feel like there was relationships around me where I knew that I could talk about how scary that felt for me, and what it was like to have my body all of a sudden be different and somehow be outside of my control. Somehow my body was doing the thing my body knew how to do, but I wasn’t choosing it and it made me feel othered from myself. And that coincided with a number of experiences relationally that were happening in our home in terms of people who were coming in and out of our family life. And I often remember feeling displaced in a way, both inside and outside of me.
And because there was also safety in my home and relational attunement to some degree, when my parents saw that I was sick, they did the very best that they knew how. And so my suffering did not go unnoticed. But I think what was tricky for me at that point was, and this is not unusual for many individuals who have experiences of eating disorders, when my parents tried to intervene to try to help me heal, to get the care that I needed, to rescue me, so to speak, it left me feeling more controlled, which was the thing that birthed the eating disorder in the first place. It was like my body was starting to feel unsafe. My body was feeling foreign to me, and my response to that was to control. My response to that was to have some sort of boundaries around what I let myself experience as a means of feeling like, “Okay, my body is now mine again. I can now re-inhabit it. It is under my rule.”
And when my parents and all sorts of treatment providers tried their best to help me in the ways that they knew how, it felt like I was losing that control again.
RC – Wow, what a challenge for your parents to try to figure out how to support you. So complicated.
HM – Yeah. And that’s where the complexity of the eating disorder for me starts to become a little bit more interesting; is that I was being supported at that time. I was getting the care that I needed, but I was not ready to receive it and I was not ready to hand over the control to the people who were trying to help me, to let them help me in the way that they needed to. And so much of the work that I do as a psychologist now is to think about agency, to think about how I can meet people where they’re at instead of coming in with my agenda of what their healing should look like. But to be with them in their experience as they’re having it and to accompany them in whatever is happening inside that has been unaccompanied up in to that point.
Musical interlude #2
If you’re enjoying famiily360, we would be so grateful if you would rate and review us from the listening platform of your choice. It takes less than two minutes and we’d love to read what you have to say. Regular reviews help new listeners find their way to us and they keep us going.
And if you’d like a written transcript of this conversation, with Dr. Hillary McBride, find links at family360podcast.com. It’s all there waiting for you.
RC – Oh, as you describe that, it sounds so complex and a little overwhelming from the mind of a parent. I listen to that, every parent wants the best for their child. And as I listen to you speak, I sense that you believe that of your parents with you as well.
HM – Oh yes, very much so.
RC – But the very challenging reality for parents, which you document, and I’m just going to find it and read it, you wrote, “Culture has ideas about bodies – what is considered a body to prize and what is considered a body to change – and the ideas are communicated through 3 primary sources of influence, parents, media and peers.
Noting that parents were first on that list – and hearing your story Hillary – raising kids can feel like walking a minefield of hidden hazards. And we’re just waiting to find out where we’re messed our kids up. Even though that’s the last thing we want to do.
You recently wrote a post on social media about the parenting research of James Dobson and you got so much feedback on this. Many parents thought his teaching was golden information 30 years ago, but times have changed and we now see much of what he taught as very detrimental.
So, a section of your book I found really interesting and helpful was where you compiled a list of well documented hazards – you call them untruths. There are 10 of them and we don’t have time to look at them all, but I’m wondering if we can talk about a few?
HM – Yes. And maybe a way to summarize everything that I think is so scary about parenting and what to do about it has to do with parent emotion regulation.
RC – What’s that about? Parent emotion regulation?
HM – So, when we as parents have the awareness of what is our feeling as opposed to what is the situation and what is true and you know what is going on in someone else’s body, when we can notice emotions in our body and we can tend to them in a curious and loving, experiential, attuned way, I think that we can tolerate the sadness of our mistakes. I think we can tolerate the fear of what it’s like to raise a child in the world and know that you’re doing the best and know that you’ll still make mistakes but not know what those are for another 20 years. I think that we can tolerate the anger that we have around systems that are meant to be supportive for us, meant to be resources that end up hurting us and hurting our kids.
And it’s when we cannot tolerate our own sadness in particular and our own fear that we start to do all sorts of things as a parent, like try to explain away our behavior to our kids instead of asking them about their experience.
One of the most healing things that I experienced in the entirety of my relationship with my mother is a conversation from a couple of years ago where we started talking about something that had happened in our relationship and how it had hurt me. And she said, “I had no idea.”
And I think that that’s a not unusual or not uncommon thing for many parents to say. But what she said next was so different. She said, “Tell me how else I’ve hurt you.”
And for a parent to be that in-tune with what is important in that moment, I imagine that she had to be holding herself so tenderly and the parts of herself that said, “But I gave you everything,” and the parts of her that said, “But I didn’t know,” and the parts of her that said, “I was just doing what I was told,” for her to be able to go, “That’s not important right now. What’s important is that I get to hear. Because my daughter and I have such safety in our relationship, I get to hear about what hurt her.”
And that to me creates the absolute, unshakable foundation of safety in our relationship, which means no matter what happens, I can talk to her about it. It’s when, as parents, we get dysregulated and we feel like we just want to defend ourselves. We just want to protect our image. We just want to show our kids, “Do you know how much I did for you?”,
that we stop being able to hear how they’re feeling. And the irony is that when they can’t tell us how they’re feeling is actually when the injury has already occurred.
So I will answer your original question by talking about some of these original untruths or some of these stories that we have the tendency to pass on. And then some of the things that I think we can do about them in parenting.
RC – Thanks for starting with that explanation about ‘parent emotion regulation’ first though, because even knowing this important list of untruths, we’re still going to have to have conversations with our kids like the one you had with your Mom.
HM – It’s true.
RC – And I’m so glad we have that recorded because I’m going to go back and write your Mom’s words down because they were lovely.
I’m not sure how many of the 10 untruths we will have time to cover, but can we start with the first one, which is You Are Not Your Body, right?
HM – Right, there is this idea that we have culturally that our bodies are actually these things that carry around our minds and our minds are our self. And when we perpetuate that story to our kids and within us, we miss out on the joy and the fullness and the beauty of what it means to be a body, what it means to be a human in a more full way. But it also sets us up to be adversarial towards our body and what our body is saying.
So our bodies are constantly communicating, and it’s our job as a full-integrated human to figure out what those messages are and what to do about them. And sometimes the messages are a bout old things, and sometimes the messages are about right now things, and sometimes the messages are about things that we want, but we can’t have. And that’s okay, too. But being able to figure out what those messages are saying as a means of staying connected to ourselves can only happen if we believe that our body has something to say. That our body is us.
And so one of the things that we might be able to do about that as parents is to encourage our children to listen to the messages they have as bodies. And instead of like referring to our bodies as ‘it’ referring to our bodies as ‘you’ or ‘she’ or ‘he’, or some way of preserving the kind of personhood of the whole self. It sounds like you were going to say something there.
RC – Well, thank you. No, I’m just listening and my mind is just going to, “Okay, well, what about in this situation?
So can I maybe give you a situation then?
I know in conversations like this, sometimes parents can feel unsure about how they can listen to what is been said while still providing boundaries for their kids, and I know you can address that with such wisdom, so I want to provide the space for that.
So say your child’s saying, “I don’t want to go in the tub.”
So their body is not wanting to go in the tub. That’s what they’re feeling. Or they’re saying to you, “I’m hungry. I want something right now.”
And you’re like, “Well, dinner’s going to be ready in 10 minutes.” What would be the response that acknowledges this is what ‘he’ or ‘she,’ their body, is saying, but also holds the boundary, you do have to get in the tub?
HM – Yes. Oh, I love the question.
RC – Okay, good.
HM – So let’s start with dinner, because that’s an easiest one in a way. To be able to say, “Wow, you are so good at knowing when you’re hungry. I’m so glad that your body is communicating about when you’re hungry. Thank you for telling me.”
It means, you know, all the things that we could say around that. “It means so much to me that you’re telling me you’re hungry. Wow. What is hungry Feel like inside? Oh, it’s so hard to be with hungry, isn’t it? What’s it like to know that dinner’s going to be 10 minutes from now and you’re to feel that pit in your stomach? Oh, I feel that pit in my stomach, too.”
Right. I think that there’s a way to allow the sensation to be there and to honor that the sensation is emerging without it necessarily having free reign and total control over what’s happening around us. Does that make sense to start?
RC – I love that. I love it because as I listen to that, I think it’s so easy to go, “Stop complaining. It’s going to be 10 minutes. Just wait.”
But it takes the same amount of time to say what you just said.
HM – Right? Right.
RC – Yeah, it’ll get a similar result perhaps, like it might still be sobbing and crying.
HM – Right.
RC – But the way that you described it, I feel so good. Like it almost makes me want to cry when I hear you say that. Like, I just feel like, oh, to be seen and understood and validated like that. It just, it feels acknowledging.
HM – Yeah, it does, hey? Like it can keep that child connected to their bodily knowing while also helping them recognize they can’t have the thing that they want. But I think it’s the ability to do both that most of us are missing as parents. We want to do one or the other. We say, “Shut that down,” or, “Have whatever you want.”
And it takes something a little more whooh, right? We’ve got to work hard as parents to do this, just to walk that middle path and be able to say. “Let’s hang out with both of these experiences; that you want something, and that’s a bodily knowing, and it’s good and you can’t have the thing that you want. And I’m going to be right here with you as you feel angry about that. And you know what? You might feel angry. I want to know what angry feels like in your body. You’re hungry and angry. Ooh, Let’s feel them both. Like it’s okay for all of that to be here.”
And maybe where it gets tricky is that we as parents have a bodily reaction too. We’re making dinner. Kids are, “ah, I want dinner,” right? And they’re, like, freaking out about it and they need it and it’s urgent, it’s chaotic, and we’re trying to, like, get something out of the oven and it’s hot. You’ve got kids screaming at us. There’s a lot of things that are happening. It’s easy for us to lose connection with our bodies in that moment and realize that something happens in us when the kid says, “I need dinner right now. I can’t wait. I’m so hungry.”
There’s probably a reaction that we have. And when we can pay more attention to that reaction as well, we can slow it down and we can go, “Okay, that tightness that I felt in my body, that aggravation that shows up in my neck, the energy in my jaw, that makes me want to clench my jaw, that’s my body saying, ‘Oh, I feel misunderstood and I feel tired and I feel hungry, too. And I right now would just love a break and to not have people yelling at me demanding things I can’t give them.’” Right?
That is our body saying something about our experience. But when we can be with that, “Of course I’m tired. It’s the end of the day. The oven is hot. The food is taking longer, the kids are upset,” then it makes a little bit more space for us to also do the same for them.
Like, “Of course, my body’s feeling that. And of course your body’s feeling that too,”while also holding the capacity to be the adult in the room who knows, ‘and dinner’s going to be ready in 10 minutes.’
And I think the example of the bath is a little more sophisticated because many of us as parents are also wanting to preserve body boundaries and respect body boundaries and help kids know that people shouldn’t touch their bodies when they don’t want them to. And so when we are actually kind of going against that fundamental rule that we’re trying to ingrain in our children, it can be a little more complicated and tricky. And sometimes you can resort to the stories that our parents used, like, “Well, you have to. Yeah, you just. You have to.
RC – “Because I said so.”
HM – And that’s the only thing we can come up with.
But I, I’m trying to language this already. I’m not perfect at it and I don’t know if anyone is or has to be, but even with my daughter, who’s 16 months, I’m trying to say things like that too. When she doesn’t really like to have her diaper changed right now. And obviously she needs to have her diaper changed. It would be abusive and neglectful if I didn’t change her diaper just because she has a hard time with it. Right. So there’s an awareness inside of me like, yes, this is something that needs to happen. But what I try to say to her about it is similar to what I might say to her if she has a similar feeling about the bath later, which is, “Yeah, you’re doing such a good job communicating to me, ‘This doesn’t feel good right now. You don’t want this.’ And I’m so glad you’re telling me there’s something about this that doesn’t feel comfortable, hey,’
Or I might even ask some questions like, “Yeah, there’s something about this that’s different than what you want. Or I’m noticing that it doesn’t feel good in your body to be laying on your back. You want to be up moving around.”
And to be able to then say things like, “And we’re going to be able to do that in just a second. And until you’re able to care for your body in this way, I’m going to help you care for your body. Because when you care for your body, then you can do more of that stuff that you love to do, like run around and play in the world.”
So there are more shorthand ways of saying that. And then I think with older kids who have a bit more sophisticated language capacity, we can say things like that about the bath, like, “It is hard to have a bath when you don’t want to. And I know that you’re feeling upset and angry about that with me. And I’m so okay for you to be angry with me about that. And I want for you to know that we’re having a bath because your body is so worth caring for. And one of the ways we care for your body is to clean your body. So we’re going to clean your body, and then there can be lots more healthy playing when the bath is done,” or whatever it is.
RC – What I love about this is you are clear with your boundary, but you’re expressing it with validation and empathy so that you stay connected. There is so much more. I would love to ask you about this one untruth, that ‘you are not your body,’ but could we look at the untruth, ‘you need to subdue and control your body because it’s dangerous?’ I think that continues to build on what you’ve just been saying.
HM – Absolutely. Yeah. I think that many of us who come from family or religious contexts or social contexts of high bodily control have been told that our bodies will lead us into dangerous places. That our bodies somehow are the problem.
RC – Like it’s our body’s fault if people look at ‘her,’ to use your helpful term of reference, or try to access her based on their own judgments or wants.
HM – Absolutely. And I think that that’s reinforced in particular as women age and are sexualized and then are blamed for how they are experiencing sexual objectification or sexual violence. Right. We hear all the time that our bodies as women in particular, are the problem. And if we only dress differently or, you know, held ourselves differently or didn’t put ourselves in that situation, then we wouldn’t have been in danger.
And so what I’m trying to crack with this story here is that our bodies are not actually bad, but the stories that we tell about our bodies and the ways that we culturally construct our bodies needs some adjustment.
But it’s a really scary thing to be a body that is trying to navigate some of the things that we’re talking about related to bath time. Like what does it mean to be connected to my wants and then not be able to have them? What does it mean for me to be able to feel my pain and realize I’m alone in it? Right? There’s nobody here with me right now. And I think that it’s easy for us to tell the story both socially and individually, that our body is bad because our bodies carry so much of the intense experiences in life, like trauma and death. And what happens is that we then look at our bodies for those experiences as proof as if our bodies actually are bad. Instead of seeing that all of that is part of being human, all of that is part of life, and that it’s not our bodies that have been bad, but the stories that we tell about them.
Musical interlude #3
Thanks for listening to family360 and our conversation with Dr. Hillary McBride. There is more to come.
Our next episode explores the healing power of movement with dance director and author of the book, Bare – The Misplaced Art of Grieving and Dance, Sandy Rosen. North American society notoriously gears us up to power-through important messages from our bodies – sensations that should signal need for attention, but we ignore. When our body can’t get our attention, they store its messages, holding onto them until we’re ready to receive them. When messages are left unaddressed for prolonged periods of time, chronic ailments and mentally illness can result. Movement is a powerful method for paying attention, discovering the messages, and finding rest and healing. I invite you to this thought and movement-provoking conversation. Join us!
And now back to our conversation with Hillary, another untruth about our bodies, and her poignant conclusion about grief.
RC – I’d love to ask another parenting question because I think examples are so helpful.
HM – Sure.
RC – And I think this example blurs into another untruth that you share, which is that ‘our bodies have to be behaving based on the gender script that we’ve been handed’ or else we’re not good enough, or we’re unsafe in some way.
Ok, so say your seventh-grade daughter is watching her brothers run around in their tank tops or on the school soccer field with their shirts off, and she wants to go to school in this really cute little belly shirt. And you’re looking at it thinking, “Wow, that’s a very short belly-shirt.” What would your response be?”
HM – Well, I think before my daughter is even in grade seven, we’re going to be having lots of conversations about how what we’re wearing supports us to both feel comfort in our bodies throughout the day, to meet our bodily needs in that way. And then second, to face the tasks of what we’re doing in front of us. And third, to help us feel like we have some sort of expression or some sort of knowing of our self.
So I think that when we’re dressing and when we’re teaching kids about how they dress, the question needs to start even before then, like, “Why do we put the clothes that we put on our body? And how does it make us feel about ourselves? And what is it that we get from dressing in that way? And is this bathing suit, even if it’s one that feels like the cutest version, maybe it doesn’t allow me to play in the pool in the way that I want to play in the pool because I’m worried about the straps coming off and I’m worried about, you know, that that piece of elastic riding up on our butt. But what is it that we are doing when we’re selecting the clothes that we’re selecting?
And I hope that if she was wearing a belly shirt at grade seven, that I would have had all sorts of conversations leading up to that point that would have given me the sense of why she’s making the decisions she’s making. That would give her the language to articulate, you know, “This feels really good. And I like how my belly feels. And I love being able to see my belly. That feels really good for me. And this, like, matches the kind of mood that I’m in. But it also helps me accomplish the tasks that I want to through the day.”
And I, I think if we could be having critical conversations about that and she could articulate that in a way that I thought was both sound and reasonable and, you know, it was something that made sense based on the context she was in. Then I would say, “Great, enjoy your belly shirt.” I don’t know.
RC – What do you mean you don’t know? That was a great answer. And this is why we need you to write a book on parenting. Right.
HM – Ok.
RC – So if you can start on that soon.
HM – Okay. You got it.
RC – Because it does really need to start from when they’re so young.
Hillary, I know that we’re going to start to run at a time. And these untruths are so profound and so good to dig into. I’m wondering if we can end with you talking about treating your body like a friend. Because I felt like this, too, was something that we can start right from when they’re a baby. And I love the way that you articulate it.
HM – Thank you so much. Most of us, if we’re listening to this podcast, understand that building a friendship requires time, shared experience, relational repair when there are ruptures, and generally a sense of being for the person, for their development, wanting to see good things for them. And when we think about friendship again, most of us have that body memory, that map inside of us, of how to do that.
When we’re thinking about developing a relationship with our bodies, we can use relational templates that we have in other spheres of our life to build that with our bodies. And so we can think about all the kinds of things that we do in friendship and do them for ourselves. Right.
So I think one of the first things that I said in that list that I rattled off is that building friendship requires time, requires shared experiences. And most of us don’t slow down enough to notice, like, what am I feeling in my body and what is it like? And then to hang out there even just a little bit longer to see, well, what happens next? And I think that it’s important for us to be creating spaces in our lives where we can get to know ourselves as a body. And that’s the way that we build a friendship. We communicate, we check in, we talk, or maybe we spend time doing activities for hours on end, or maybe we just send a quick text. And I think all of those avenues of building, connection and friendship can be applied to how we connect with ourselves.
So maybe it’s, you know, planning a day, should the circumstances allow, should we have the privilege of child care and the resources to do this? Think about what brings me pleasure? What brings me pleasure and can I do that as a way of being with myself and experiencing the goodness and the fullness of being a body in this pleasurable and sensual way. And maybe that means lighting the candle that smells good and drinking the tea that has that favorite flavor that we like in it. And then luxuriating. Maybe we spend some time in the bath or maybe we go for a walk and we feel our feet on the ground. We do the things that bring our senses alive and bring us into awareness that we are a bodily self.
But on the other end of the spectrum is equivalent to the quick text where maybe we put our hands on our bodies after a big meal and we go, “Mm, yeah, right.”
We feel the gratitude, we feel the pleasure of being satiated and we enjoy that for a moment.
Or maybe it’s a way of recognizing how hard our bodies work to move us through the day. So if we have been lifting kids and breastfeeding or, you know, moving things around the house or, running errands, one after the other, maybe we can stop for a moment and put our hands on our body and just say, “thank you.”
And I appreciate everything that we’re doing here. You’re doing a lot. It just has a way of extending some gratitude to how hard we’re working as bodily selves.
And I think when we think about embodiment and being a body, it can sound like this totally abstract thing. But when we think about friendship, like, oh, you know, maybe I could do that. And the way that we do friendship with anyone else is the way that we can do friendship with ourselves.
RC – I love all of this and I can’t resist this last question because I know we have time. At this point in your body, with all you’ve studied and with all you’re learning, what would be a gift of friendship you would want to give your body as you experience the relative newness of being a parent?
HM – Oh, my mind is flooded. Flooded with all of the things. I think it’s not the most ubiquitously useful piece of advice, but it was the one that mattered the most to me in my experience of parenting, and that was to stay connected to the grief.
RC – The grief? What do you mean by that?
HM – Yeah. My experience of motherhood has been filled with so much sadness in a way that is so beautiful. And it is this like the other side of the coin of the love that every moment I’m in with my daughter, I’m aware it’s going to end.
Right. And I feel in that moment, this incredible joy and pain of ‘this version of her, I’ll never know again.’ And I think my tendency and I think the tendency of so many of us is to not feel that pain, but to not feel that pain, I think, makes it harder for us to be present. It makes it harder for us to actually be enjoying what’s happening.
That has been helpful for me. It’s reminded me that I’m allowed to feel the loss of all the versions of her that I’m falling in love with that are also walking out the door every single day that I won’t ever get to meet again. And it in no way takes away from my ability to be experiencing the joy of each moment. It feels like it enhances it. So again, perhaps not ubiquitously useful, but useful for me.
RC – Useful for me too! “Stay connected to the grief.” That is not how I envisioned this episode ending but I love it. Ob viously there is so much more we could talk about and maybe we can chat again, but for your time today, I thank you so much.
HM – It’s such a joy to be with you. Thank you for your thoughtful questions and for making this space. I appreciate it.
RC – Thank you!
HM – We did it!
RC – We did.
HM – I hope it’s not long until we meet again. And enjoy your conversation with Sandy.
HM – Okay. Thanks so much Hillary. Bye bye.