When was the last time you looked yourself in the eye (in the mirror, of course) and said, “Gosh, I love you!”
Probably not recently – or ever, for that matter.
Yeah. Me neither (it’s usually something closer to, “Wow you look tired!” and “Really, thighs? Really?)
Yet I find myself wondering:
Why the hell not?
I don’t remember being a baby, but now that I have my own, I can tell you this: the amount of hugs, kisses and cuddles I have dosed out for my daughter is infinite (and downright ridiculous). And it won’t stop, as I’m sure it didn’t for me from my mother (until I learned how to speak and started talking back to her in sometimes not so nice ways. At that point I’m sure she wasn’t keen on giving me so many kisses and cuddles until I changed my attitude. Makes sense.)
You might call me your typical new and proud mama. I grow more and more in love with my daughter with every passing day (it may or may not have something to do with the fact that she’s sleeping through the night now, just saying).
BM (Before Madison), I kept my mushy side to myself (aka I cried at Hallmark commercials in the comfort of my own living room, thank you very much), was uncomfortable with using any words like sweetheart, honey, or darling (I affectionately call my husband dude – need I say more?), and fully expected to call Madison by her nickname, Maddie.
AM (After Madison), all that seems to come out of my mouth when I talk to her is hunny bunny, love bug, sweetness and a whole slew of other mushy expressions I never knew existed before I uttered them.
And the kisses, oh the kisses. She grabs my face and I let her slobber all over it (not something I ever thought I’d let happen either. Kids? Drool? Let’s keep it in your mouth and away from mine, mmmkay? Mmmkay).
In return, at least five times a day (ok, more like twenty), I lay my daughter on the floor or the bed and give her plenty of kisses in return (gotta get those in before she tells me to stop). And I tell her how cute, sweet, and lovable she is.
Yet every time I tell her how lovable she is, I always feel compelled to follow it up with, “But you don’t need to do or be anything in order to be lovable. You just are. I love you because you’re you!!”
As I tend to do when I encounter a feeling, I started digging a little and found myself asking:
At what point in my life did I put a condition on the love I had for myself? At what point in my life did I decide that I needed to be or do something special – beyond just being me – that gave me permission to love myself? To look myself in the mirror each day and say those magic words, “Gosh, I love you!” without feeling like a narcissist who may or may not need to be on medication.
I will venture to guess that many of us who find ourselves in our therapist’s office are all trying to answer that question to varying degrees. As babies, if we were lucky, we were the center of the universe, the great receiver of all things mushy, loving, and cuddly. Yet somewhere along the way, we became “big boys” or “big girls” who no longer “needed” or wanted to be kissed, cuddled and squeezed all the time. And further down the line, we somehow got that confused and decided that we were no longer worthy of it.
Ok, maybe not all of us – and maybe not to that degree – but I’m willing to bet that most of us have trouble in the self love department.
And here I am, parenting my daughter at the very beginning of her life (desperately trying not to screw it up), and I have the privilege of seeing her before she understands love as a concept and just feels love in its purest form: energy, touch, kisses, smiles, cuddles. This is love – before she’s decided to put a condition on it. She’s just her. Glorious her. Cooing, smiling, giggling, sucking on her fingers and toes, crying when she wants something, content when she doesn’t, squealing with delight as she discovers the range of her vocal chords. Her.
How can I, as her mama, help her to cultivate this incredible lightness of being as her neurons start firing and she starts questioning why she should love herself just because? Can I save her from that existential question that so many of us seem to ask ourselves at some point in our lives (“Who am I?”) without turning her into a spoiled narcissist? Can I save her from ever feeling like she needs to do something besides just exist as herself in order to be loved?
Probably not. But I’m hoping that awareness is enough to at least start the conversation when and if it comes up.
But this conversation brings up the question, “Who am I?”
I myself have asked that question many a time over the course of my life, and I’m sure to ask it again (in fact, I was asking it just last week. And this morning. And I’ll probably ask it again later tonight too.).
I think we get confused because we think that in order to answer the question, we have to be something special. We have to have made it in something, or shine in some special way. Be on the honor roll. Be a great musician. Be good at a particular sport.
So when we tell someone to just “be who they are” and they will be loved, the problem is that they don’t actually know who they are. “Just be yourself,” isn’t good advice anymore because frankly, most of us have lost our way. We’re wandered so far away from ourselves that we wouldn’t even recognize the first step to get back to it. We’ve lost the innocence of our childhoods that allowed us to feel joy/pain/hurt/exhilaration – whatever the moment made us feel – as a reflex and not as a concept that we’ve had to think our way through. We’ve lost the awareness that simply to be alive is to be. And to be alive is as perfect and as much as we’ll ever need to be.
To be alive is enough to be worthy of love.
Everyone told me that your kids are born with the personality they’re going to have forever. And boy, is Madison ever feisty. She’s also very curious about the world around her. She’s very opinionated. She’s thoughtful. She’s goofy. She’s so many things already.
That’s who she is. And I believe that’s who she’ll always be. Those personality traits will serve her for the best throughout her life (and sometimes for the worst too). But that’s who she is. And though I know other personality traits will come out as she experiences things and adds new notches into her personality, her fundamental being will remain the same.
She’s not Madison the doctor. Madison the future president of the United States. Madison the scientist who saves the world (though that’s what I’m secretly and now not-so-secretly hoping for!).
She’s just Madison.
My job as her mother is to help her to cultivate her curiosity, her personality, her lightness of just being, and to help her understand that she doesn’t have to be anything or anyone that she isn’t already. Sure, she will strive to achieve certain things. But failing to achieve any of those things will not make her any less lovable, or any less of who she already is.
So I ask you today to love yourself. Not sure who you are? Reflect back on your childhood. If your parents are alive, ask them how you were as a baby, a toddler, a tween. Were you curious? Shy? Funny? Pensive? Thoughtful? Hopeful? Wild? Did you scare the crap out of them because you were convinced you could fly and tested out your wings by launching yourself off the couch and giving yourself a concussion and a trip to the ER? Were you so shy and quiet that your parents had to check on you while you were playing to make sure you were alive or hadn’t snuck out of the house?
Try to recall your first memory. Then try to recall other memories from your childhood. What were you doing? What were you feeling? What made you happy? What made you sad?
Then try to identify the moments when you started putting conditions on who you had to be in order to be loved. When you find them, make peace with them, politely tell yourself that you were wrong, and move along.
The only answer you ever need to the question, “who am I?” can be found in who you were as a child. That’s who you are. Everything you became after that is just an expression of who you’ve always been. It’s all decoration. Strip it all down and you will find your true north. That is who are. And no matter what you find – you are lovable. You always have been. You always will be. It’s up to you to decide to be.
Peace be with you, lovable one.
Love, love, love,