Motherhood has been the greatest gift of my life as I always suspected it would be. What I didn’t expect was the way motherhood taught me to love myself.
We often sit on the sidelines as moms. We work hard to build a safe home, feather the nest, launch our little people, strong and confident, into the world. And some of us lose ourselves along the way.
After years of raising these people we love most, we aren’t sure that we have more to offer the world. That we are also complete, interesting human beings, beyond the beautiful walls of motherhood.
We pour ourselves extravagantly into helping our families feel loved and nourished and if we are not careful we end up empty and unsure of our own worth.
Photos courtesy of Stephanie Michaelis Photography
Many years back, thick into my time as a homeschooling mama of three, I read that one of the best gifts I could offer my kids was to model curiosity, what it looks like to be a life-long learner, a whole person with dreams and strengths and weaknesses of my own.
I began to understand that to be a loving parent and an effective homeschooler, I didn’t have to immerse myself in all my kids’ interests; I could help them gather the resources they required but then go off and dive into passions of my own.
I needed to learn that I matter too
I realized that when my kids watched me, I wanted them to see a woman who was joyful and not resentful. Someone who was engaged with life and unwilling to simply subsist through her children’s accomplishments. A mom who delighted in her kids but didn’t give them everything she had. She reserved a little for herself.
I knew that one day they might look back on my example as a picture of motherhood and family life and decide for themselves if building a family was worth it. I want them to know it was worth it.
We can grow and learn and become more fully ourselves even as our kids grow and learn and become.
And if I go deeper and get a little more honest, my kids watched me live with anxiety. They loved me as I walked through a season of pain and depression. And I think they understood that I would not survive or thrive if I did not begin to value my own person a little more.
I needed to learn that I matter too. That unless I could come to the place of loving myself, I would be incapable of offering my family the tenderness and support and companionship that they wanted and needed from me.
I purposefully set out to learn to love myself more deeply
1. I deepened self-awareness and invited my kids into the process.
Personality tests, love languages, spiritual gifting inventories, these all helped me begin to get clearer on who I am. I asked my dad for a letter, before he died, expressing some of the strengths and weaknesses he saw in me. I began to listen and notice that fear was so often at the root of my anger or decision making. I became aware that when I don’t have a learning curve in my life I tip back into depression. I realized that honoring my need for quiet time each day served both me and my family, even if they didn’t like it in the moment.
2. I honed my inner circle.
Slowly I released relationships that always left me feeling discouraged or depleted. I stopped feeling like I had to make excuses for my introversion and realized I like who I am. I acknowledged that the women I permit into my inner circle need to be strong, thinkers, go-against-the-grain types; women who challenge and inspire but also accept the real me. I began to treat my husband as my best friend by practicing vulnerability and offering him the very same grace and acceptance that I needed. I stopped saying yes out of obligation when that meant saying no to my family.
3. I began using my voice.
I’ve never enjoyed conflict and since childhood struggled with self-worth. I needed to learn to use my voice. Instead of waiting for an emotional outburst I began speaking up more clearly and calmly about what I needed. I became more honest about my fears, more comfortable owning my mistakes without shame. I spoke up when I was on the precipice of breakdown and knew I needed help. Eventually using my voice meant stepping out into writing and teaching beyond the walls of home and family.
4. I nourished myself well.
My self-care was no longer optional. Getting adequate sleep and hydration, time to walk and read and putter were essential to my well being. I did the work to break sugar cravings and learned to listen in when my body was depleted and I needed to shift my eating habits or lay on the couch and read for a weekend. I swore off dieting and made the life-giving decision to love my body in any condition and at any size – scars, limp, cellulite and all.
5. I began challenging my thoughts.
I don’t know if it is possible to live joyfully without learning to be the boss of one’s own thoughts. Refusing to allow any old thought that enters the mind to take up residence. This was very hard for me but I practiced replacing negative self-talk or hopelessness with truth and life, sometimes 18 or more times a day. I came to understand that thought leads to emotion which leads to action and that regardless of circumstance I can, by choosing to shift my thoughts, choose who and how I want to be in life.
There was more, of course, to learning to love myself. I needed to forgive all my past “failure” and struggle and practice sitting with painful emotion. To stop all the running and numbing. I learned that I was stronger than I had ever realized.
Motherhood Taught Me to Love Myself
This has been a process and the work continues. But today I can laugh more easily at myself and at the years to come. 21 years in I have learned to relax more into parenting and to honor my own needs all at once.
Motherhood has been the greatest gift of my life as I always suspected it would be. What I didn’t expect was that motherhood would also teach me how to love myself.