By: Emma Johnston
I’ve seen a quote splattered throughout social media and on signs and posters everywhere that says something to the effect of “Love yourself first, then others will love you too” and though I am a very significant advocate for self esteem, recognizing your own worth and not looking for fulfillment from others, I have consistently struggled with this saying.
I struggle with this quote because in my life it’s absolutely untrue.
Last week my son was given his first ever prescription for glasses. Having a very carefully calculated ‘sporty’ style, glasses were a devastating blow to his self esteem. From the moment the doctor mentioned them on the Friday, until Monday morning when I dropped him off at school, we had tears. It wasn’t that the glasses were ugly, in fact I found him beyond adorable in them, but that’s not the point. He hated them. He hated the way he looked in them. He hated the way they jostled on his face when he ran. He dreaded what his friends would say and whether his glasses would clash with his baseball hat. On several occasions he asked me ‘what he did wrong’ at the vision test and multiple times put himself down for ‘not being smarter’ so that he could ‘pass the test.’ I tried to explain that it isn’t a test you get right or wrong, I tried to explain that it’s not a matter of being smarter, it’s just the way his eyes work. But as the only person in the house who has to wear glasses, he felt, in everyway, like a failure. His usual strong self confidence and ‘go get’em’ attitude had taken a very serious hit. He didn’t like himself that weekend. He didn’t like the way he looked or felt. His new reality had hit him pretty hard.
Yet, on Monday morning when I held my son on my lap and he sobbed into my shoulder I was overwhelmed by how much I loved him.
It occurred to me that, though I love it when my children are confident and love themselves and are full of motivation and self esteem, I also love them when they are not. In fact, how my children think about themselves does not change how much I care about them or how much I love them. I’d love them to love themselves first, to see their worth and know that they are truly unique, special and incredible people, but even when they don’t, even when they feel like failures or feel ugly or want the world to disappear around them, I still love them. They absolutely do not need to love themselves first (I want them to) but I will love them regardless. I will teach them and show them that they are loved – unconditionally. I will remind them that they are unique and special and here on purpose and that despite what people think or say or do, that my children are truly and unconditionally loved. That from the moment I knew they were on their way, until I say my final farewell, I’m going to love them. And my hope as a parent, is that through knowing they are worthy of being loved they will in turn, learn to love themselves. That being loved will bolster their own self worth. That, in fact, life works better when it is the exact opposite of the quote I mentioned. If they know that they are already loved, with glasses or without, confident or shy, skinny or fat, focused or scatter-brained, no matter what, they are loved, then their own self love, self esteem, self acceptance will flourish, because they have seen and know their value.
I am so saddened by this quote because loving yourself can be hard, even as an adult. There can be days (weeks, months) when we don’t see ourselves as shining stars. Days when we feel like failures, when we are ashamed of things we did or said, when we are embarrassed, or afraid or just not living up to our full potential. Days when loving ourselves just doesn’t come easily. And on those days I am so thankful that there are people in my life who love me anyway. People who see my value and worth, even when I struggle to. To me, that is a huge blessing. I want to ensure my children have that experience too.
I want my children to love who they are, to marvel at their uniqueness and grow in their understanding of themselves, but for those days when the don’t feel like the amazing people I know they are, I will be there loving them anyway, no matter what!