I was a teenager when Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” catapulted to the top of the charts. And while I belted it out with the best of them, the message of the song always kind of rubbed me the wrong way. The greatest love of all is to love myself? Really? As a person of faith, I was confident God’s love was greater than a love of self, and even though I wasn’t a mother yet, I was pretty sure that type of sacrificial mother love trumped self-love as well.
There were others who felt like I did, and even took it one step further. They would contend that in order to love yourself, you needed to love others first. In essence, if you wanted to feel better about yourself, you should get out there and serve others. But that bugged me too because whenever I was feeling really low, the idea of filling up someone else’s well with my non-existent water was nothing short of overwhelming. There had to be something more sensible than either loving myself above all others or putting others first even when my well was empty.
I think I may have started to figure it out this past week.
The stars aligned for me to be able to attend a Power of Moms retreat in Los Angeles last weekend. It was held in the town I used to live in, so it was an extra treat to be able to see family and friends and even stop by my favorite local restaurant.
As happens after every Power of Moms event I have ever attended, I came home on cloud nine feeling like I could take on the world. Being with so many other like-minded women who are serious about being deliberate mothers has a way of doing that, and the time away by myself in a fun place with fun people didn’t hurt either.
At the end of every retreat we talk about something called post-retreat let-down syndrome. It sounds like a joke, but it really isn’t. I’ve been to enough of these events to know that I can’t expect too much of myself the first few days after getting home. All my inspirations and big ideas will need to wait for a day or two while I simply dig myself out of The-Weekend-Mom-Was-Away.
This time was no different, and I was actually hit with a double dose of let-down. There was the digging out to be sure, but I also found myself on the rough end of my cycle when I am low on energy and have lots of interrupted sleep. It wasn’t pretty, and I crashed pretty hard the day after I got home.
That’s when the negative self-talk started to kick in.
Look at this mess. You need to get moving and clean this place up. If you were a better homemaker, messes like this wouldn’t accumulate so fast. If you were a better mother, your children would be trained not to make the messes in the first place! You could at least make some phone calls or do some paper work. Why do you let yourself get so backed up? You really shouldn’t be a voice for mothers and motherhood because look at what a struggler you are!
On and on it went, adding insult to injury and an extra burden where I needed a little lift. I’ve been down this road many times before.
And then I remembered. I remembered what I have heard so many times during the “Taking Care of the Person Inside the Mom” segment of the retreat. I remembered what I myself have written and taught so many times over the past few years during my association with The Power of Moms. I remembered these questions: Would you talk to your best friend that way? Would you talk to your daughters that way? Would you want your best friend or your daughter to talk to themselves that way?
And I did it. I stopped the negative self-talk and started talking to myself like I was my own best friend or like the moms at the retreat would probably talk to me if they knew what I was saying to myself (maybe even like God would talk to me). I was kind, compassionate, even lenient. And what a difference it made.
You know, you just came off a pretty exhausting weekend, and you’re not 25 anymore. In fact, you’ve got some interesting health issues that don’t always allow you to be on top of your game like you would like. That’s OK. A day off here and there is not the end of the world, and your top priority isn’t always a spotless house. You’re a great mom. You love your kids, and you work hard to help them be the best they can be. You’re not perfect, but you’re doing your best and that’s all anyone can ask. Keep writing and speaking. Moms everywhere struggle, and they need to know they aren’t the only one.
See how much better that feels? See how I just went from being demoralized and depressed to being comforted and even motivated?
So here’s my new understanding of that old ’80s song. When we learn to treat ourselves the way those who love us best would treat us (like our mothers, or best friends, or if you are a religious person, God), then we are able to love ourselves. And when we are filled with this kind of love, we are then able to go out and offer it to those within our sphere of influence. Isn’t that beautiful?
So as we focus on The Power of Love this month, let’s not forget one of the greatest loves of all is the love of self. Because loving ourselves better means loving our children better. And the cycle goes on and on.
QUESTION: How do you treat yourself on a bad day? Do you talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend or your daughter? Do you love yourself? (Remembering that love is an action word.)
CHALLENGE: Catch yourself in the trap of negative self-talk and turn things around by treating yourself like those who love you best would treat you.