Can self-love ever really be taught? Or is it always earned?
Updated: Mar 26
After finally being comfortable in my own skin at 36, I'm left wondering: Is life and living a requirement to reach a certain level of self-acceptance? Or is this something I can teach my children more of to give them a head start out the gate?!
Let me preface this whole post by stating now, I come to NO magical conclusion at the end of this thing. Even now, months after I've had this initial thought, I'm still left wondering what the answer really is. But I feel like this is an important question; one that I wanted to share with you all as I work it out, and to also see if anyone has some meaningful insight into this question?
So let's keep it short and sweet, but go back to the beginning so you can understand the basis to my question:
As a young girl who was painfully shy at school, I struggled immensely with self-confidence. It didn't help that I got teased on a consistent basis for being 9 with a mustache (yay). Even as I got older and finally graduated from school, leaving behind a large majority of my tormentors, I still struggled with self-confidence when I was teased as an adult, although admittedly not as much because I wasn't confronted with the same assholes on the daily.
But then the tides started to change. As I floundered through my 20's, gained some weight, embraced motherhood (god what an amazing mindset shift that was!), and started parenting my ageing parents, I eventually began laying the shaky foundation for loving my curves and "imperfections" as a badge of honor. One that would differentiate me from the stereotypical mold I thought I had to fit into to.
However, through all of these seasons of life, I never fully understood the concept of not allowing another's negative opinions to define me, or who I wanted to be. Until I made a colossal, yet monumental, mistake in my early 30's that set me on a path to self-healing (some may even call it enlightenment - I just call it learning from my mistakes and gaining perspective on this journey we call 'life'). I began therapy, reading inspirational quotes to help me survive my day, learning about letting go of guilt, and beginning to truly forgive myself and accept good things that came my way; to learn that I am not the sum of my mistakes.
Along this journey, I also began to realize that my loving mother struggled (and I think still struggles) with truly loving herself. While she always provided unconditional love and respect to me and my sisters and told us wonderful things, there was never any foundation to build these words onto. I know my mom thinks I'm beautiful, but what do I do with those words when other's don't think the same?
Teaching my kids
Now that I realize what an impact words have on our lives and perceptions, I make an effort to instill in my young children that foundation; to tell them directly how important it is to always love yourself and never believe the bad things people may say about you. I try to tell them this in many ways, whether its stating thoughts such as, "sometimes mean people are just hurt people", "in the end it's only between you and god", "you are loved and have a place on this earth full of people (your family) who love you exactly as you are", etc.
But I also try to show them how to build the foundation of self-love through example too. I consciously choose not to criticize my looks or my weight in front of the ever-watchful eyes of my 7 year old daughter (although sometimes I admittedly get off my game for a sec on that), and constantly remind my 9 year old son how ALL humans are beautiful and how sad he would feel if others ever put him down (thank God he has a heart of gold and is sincerely the sweetest boy I know, but you know how 9 year old boys tend to repeat some stupid comments thinking it's funny). I want to not only tell them, but show my kids that you cannot make rude comments about another's looks just because they aren't appealing to you. What you may find unattractive, someone else may move heaven and earth for. Not to mention real beauty comes from within.
So with that, I am left wondering (as I do with all my motherhood decisions), is any of this talk and action actually making a difference in their minds? Is this foundation really being poured or is it just washing away? Will they really use these words and memories as their own foundations when challenged? Or is it falling on deaf ears? Lord knows my own mother never really made sense until I became a mom myself.
So there it is. Do you need to walk through life's trials before you can really appreciate your true beauty, or can you teach this thought and build upon it - allowing our kids to start out at a higher level than we ever did?
Yes, I know they will sometimes fall, or struggle, and need to learn about life first-hand to gain more confidence. But does that struggle have to be as large as someone else who sadly wasn't given a good foundation?
I remember my mom in her 40's saying "she would never go back to her teens and 20's. When you reach your 40's you just simply don't care about what others think any more Marie." She would say this with a crazy smile and simple flip of her hand, and I knew she finally meant it. Now in my 30's, while the struggle never really ends, it has subsided. And I feel like I am where she always hoped I would get to. I don't pay much mind to the opinions of others. And when I do, I remind myself (through some more thought), not to do so. Maybe her foundation was laid but I didn't stand upon it until I was able to process my life lessons to date?
What do you think? Can building confidence really start at a young age, or do we need to build our confidence along the way? Any thoughts? Because apparently I have no clue here!