Self-confidence is a beautiful thing. When you possess it, you feel comfortable in your own skin, strong, and unstoppable. But the tricky thing with confidence is, when you have trouble finding it or don’t possess much at all, it can be extremely depleting.

I have struggled with low self-esteem for much of my life. I’ve never quite identified the main source, but I have some idea that it came from a pressure to be perfect growing up. As the second child, my older brother made poor choices resulting in suspension from school, time spent in juvenile detention, and multiple DUI arrests.

When my parents were at a loss for what to do with him, they would turn to me for reassurance that they’d done something right. My brother and I were polar opposites. I loved school and learning whereas he dropped out of high school. I preferred a night home with a good book and for my brother, a party wasn’t a good time if it didn’t mean drugs, alcohol, and at least one fistfight.

I remember seeing my mother cry and hearing their fights. It broke my heart and without realizing it, I took it upon myself to make things right. It was my job to uphold the family standard and be the “good child.” This meant spending countless hours studying for tests in order to get straight A’s. It meant adopting an eating disorder in order to always be the “beautiful daughter” my father bragged about at work.

It also meant sacrificing my own personal desires and dreams to please others. I was slowly losing my own self-identity and I didn’t even realize it. Thankfully, as an adult, I recognize the issues that I’ve had and where they’ve stemmed from. I’ve identified the causes and am working every day to combat them. But I fear that my past tendencies of low self-esteem and lack of confidence might one day impact my son. I try very hard never to speak negatively about myself in his presence, but sometimes it happens.

After a big meal, I’ll say something like, “I feel so fat.” My son will immediately quip back with, “You are not fat mommy, you’re beautiful!” How did I get so lucky? Lucky, yes—but I still need to be careful. My son has grabbed his stomach once or twice and said, “Mommy, I’m fat.” Those three words were like a punch to the gut. How could this precious, beautiful, strong little boy ever think for even a moment that he was anything but amazing?

I watched his tiny hands stroke his pale, flat white stomach. The same stomach with the slight outie belly button (a result of a stubborn umbilical cord). The same stomach where I could see his ribs slightly poking from his skin. Fat? He was crazy! But then, I realized, he probably thought the same thing about me, when I uttered those same words.

Did he look at me and think, “If mommy thinks she’s fat, I must be fat”? I felt sick to my stomach: guilty, ashamed and disgusted.

Our children watch everything we say and do. I may not realize it, but my self-image is shaping my son’s. The way I speak about and to myself is the same way my son will learn to speak about and view himself.

So, I decided to make a change. I decided that instead of focusing on targeted fat loss, I would turn my attention to an overall healthier, more positive lifest‌yle and body image. I’ve always enjoyed exercising, but I started out as a cardio queen. I’d hop on the elliptical machine in our living room for hours at a time—literally. Never lifting a single weight, never altering my diet. I thought I could sweat my weight off and I’d feel like a new woman. I was wrong.

The number on the scale may have been going down but so were my energy levels. I wasn’t eating a balanced diet or adding resistance training to my workouts. There was no variety in my life and that meant no excitement. I soon became interested in completing obstacle courses, mud runs, and 5Ks.

My son began to cheer me on and even join me in some of my training programs. He loves to run and some of our favorite time is spent taking laps around our block. We stretch together and we spend time together at the playground, challenging ourselves on the rock climbing wall and monkey bars.

I want my son to view fitness and health as something fun, not a chore and not something we do because we hate our bodies but instead, something we do because we love them! We started cooking together, too.

Choosing healthier alternatives to some of our favorite recipes. Just the other day we made tiny carrot cake loaves and pumpkin pancakes. Greek yogurt has replaced sour cream in our house and whole wheat pasta is a family favorite.

We talk about the way certain foods make us feel. Proteins like chicken, fish, and lean meats give us energy, whole grain pasta, and rice help us feel satisfied, and fruit and vegetables help our body’s work best. We joke that fried foods are like “sludge” that slow us down and make us feel weak and tired.

We have fun with food. We don’t use the word “diet.” Diets don’t exist in our house. Only healthy food choices. Of course, I allow my son to indulge more than I might allow myself. He’s a kid and should enjoy all the flavors of life! But we discuss moderation as well.

Building confidence, self-esteem, and a positive body image for my son has become my mission. It has helped to elevate my own personal goals as well. I want my son to enter life confident in himself, his abilities, and his body. We have a little routine that we do at the end of each day. We hold up our muscles, stand tall and say, “We’re getting stronger, not skinnier!”

And then we hug and laugh. And I smile from the inside out, knowing I’m doing something positive for us both.

Featured Photo Courtesy: Ben White via Unsplash