Teaching sense of self to your kids and 5 ways you can lead by example

Tuesday, February 13

Tonight I was laying in bed with Isla, winding down before putting her to sleep, and I asked her what her favorite part of herself was. She was quiet while she thought about it for a minute, and then she said, "I love my mama." At first I thought maybe she didn't understand the question, but then I suddenly remembered one of the most crucial things I've ever learned about child development, and how before the age of 6, kids don't cognitively differentiate having separate identities from their parents. It's wild, but that's how their brains are wired. They are mirrors. My happiness is her happiness. My sadness is her sadness. And to her, her love for herself IS her love for me.

It was the smallest, most profound reminder of exactly how important this time of my children's lives are. Not only for them, but for me ... BECAUSE of them. The foundation on which they will build the remainder of their adolescence and subsequently, their entire adulthood, is being created right now, in these six years. And we, their parents, are the people they are basing that sense of self and personal identity on. 

So that's fine.

When you think about it like THAT, it feels like an impossibly high-pressure situation. But ultimately the key to raising these babies into healthy, happy, emotionally-confident adults is simple. If you give yourself permission to be you and love you and take the time to know you, it gives your children permission to be themselves, and love themselves, and take the time to know themselves. 
Which is of course, what we all want for them. So we have to want it for us too.

The execution of that, can feel a little less simple.
But as you may have noticed throughout this last year, I've made my own self development a higher priority than I ever have in my life, and it's changing. everything.

So here are 5 ways that I'm making sense-of-self a priority in my life and by default, showing my children how to do the same.

01. Read, write, pray, and meditate

 The entire point of making daily, dedicated time for doing each of these things every day is to honor the part of you that needs to express and the part of you that needs to listen. It's the clearing and refreshing of your mind that is just as vital as taking a shower, but is typically given significantly lower priority. I had a girlfriend text me the other day about doing these things, and she basically said, "OK. So the routine that you're doing is great, but literally WHEN. And like, HOW." And I feel that. Because truly it feels like I'm burning the candle at both ends most of the time, and there's never enough of me to go around. But generally, my approach to making this time for myself is simple: my routine is also a part of my children't routine. Meaning, it's set up as an expectation in their daily lives, and so are the rules around it (which is essentially just one rule: Mom gets some quiet time too. And that's why I birthed two of you and also bought 1 million toys for you to play with). I know everybody's household and the needs of that household are set up so differently. And I know I'm in an age-phase right now that I can have this luxury, cause this probably wouldn't have totally worked even a year ago. And it may phase out for a while if we have another baby. But times and seasons, you know. And right now I'm taking full advantage. 

02. Exercise

Here's the thing about exercise. There's nothing I could tell you here that you don't already know. We all know. We all know all the things. And we know that exercise is one of the biggest parts of getting to know yourself and loving yourself. But the profound thing I've noticed about the difference between when I've worked out alone and when I've worked out with my children around me (which is usually the only way I can get it in), is how they intrinsically know the real reason behind why I'm doing what I'm doing. Because when they mimic me, the focus for them is never on transformation. It's not on before and after. It's not on what they are not. It's about what they are. It's about what they CAN do, and being super pumped about that, and actually quite impressed with themselves. It's about joy. It's about finding ability in your own body. It's about showing yourself your own strength. And knowing that trying, and not QUITE making it, is not disappointing or discouraging, it's literally whatever. Who cares. Try again. Look, I've almost got it.
And that, in and of itself, is enough reason for me to make the time for it. So that the REAL reason, is always fresh in the forefront of my mind and especially theirs.

03. Redefine your emotions

I know that's a little ambiguous, but here's what I mean. Basically our society is set up with this emotional culture (based, by default, on parenting culture) that praises and rewards some emotions and shames and punishes other emotions. This entire concept was brought (devastatingly) to my attention one day when Isla was in the middle of a full-blown melt down. She was overly-tired and I had poured her milk in the wrong cup. This escalated into this moment in which, through her sobs, she started saying, "but I'm bad! I'm bad!" I rushed to question her on why she would say such a thing and reassure her that she was absolutely never, ever bad. She argued back with me, by saying that she was bad because she was crying and she was angry at me. 

I swear it was like getting punched in the stomach. 

Suddenly all these memories rushed into my brain. All the times that I had told her what a good girl she was for doing something that was scary and being so brave for not crying. All the times that I told her what a good girl she was for being so happy and sweet and kind. All the times I told her about her goodness and based that goodness on a very small range of emotions. I continuously complimented her on her pleasantness. And the thing is, I'd thought I was actually doing a decent job with this stuff. I've always made a point to listen to her anger and help her work through it. I've always mirrored and empathized with whatever sadness or frustration she felt. But up until that point, I'd also never associated "good" with those things either. I'd never emphasized how awesome it is to have a good cry. I'd never applauded her well-expressed anger. And so subconsciously, she had associated them as "not good."

How I looked at everything changed in that instant. And I realized it had to start with me. The perspective that I had unintentionally passed onto Isla, had been the exact perspective I'd had on myself. I was struck with the memory of feeling so guilty about the sadness I'd experienced in my motherhood for the entirety of a year. I felt guilty because I viewed that sadness as a representation of my personal worth and worthiness. Not being wholly and totally fulfilled in your motherhood especially was not ok and allowed. And therefore I was not ok and not allowed. 

I imagined the generosity of feeling that I wanted to bestow on my babies. Each emotion that I wanted them to know was good and allowed and a necessary part of being human. And the grace that I wanted to give them so they could give it to themselves. I started by attempting to honor myself in the same way. Because unfortunately or fortunately that's how it works. We cannot give others what we don't have ourselves.

We have to begin to understand on a conscious and subconscious level that no emotions are bad or good. They are just emotions. Some feel better than others. But there is no level of worth associated with any of them. We are not defined or measured by them. And if we aren't, our children won't be either. 

04. Give yourself permission to explore and experiment and refuse the mom-guilt

This one is simple. When you look at your child, you can easily see the multi-dimensional, dynamic, talented, wondrous human that they are. You can see how many different directions their life could go. You can see them light up with their various passions and opinions and interests. Observing those things gives you LIFE. And that's because it IS life. And it is crucial for them to witness it in you, because you are the foundation that they are building their sense of self on. Teach your child to honor their multi-faceted nature, by exploring yours. Teach your child to respect their individuality by respecting your own. Teach them that they are important by showing them that you are important. Teach them to create big things for themselves by creating big things for yourself. This is the most life-sustaining, life-perpetuating work you can do. And guilt does not and cannot live in that place. 

05. Listen to yourself

Rest when you need to rest. Eat when you need to eat. Pee when you need to pee haha. This one may seem glaringly obvious, but the more observant and conscious I've been of my daily patterns, the more I've realized how many terrible habits I've developed that have prevented me from honoring myself and receiving the things my body told me I need in that moment. And if we can't listen to the powerful, basic instincts of our human bodies, how in the world are we going to be able to listen to the still, inner whisperings of our intuition. Stop pushing. Start listening. Start becoming the bestower and receiver of care and love from yourself and for yourself and then watch your intuition and sense of self blossom.

All clothing worn in the post are from Old Navy in collaboration with their #HiFive initiative.


Monica said...

I love this so much <3 :') SOOOOOO much. Thank you.

Unknown said...

This was exactly what I needed to read. So refreshing and spot on. Thank you thank you!

Emily Parry said...

Yes! This is so important. I've always said, "You feel how you feel." We shouldn't feel ashamed by that. Our actions that follow those emotions are the important thing.

Stephanie Vainer said...

I LOVE this post!
Ive been obsessed with self care and wellness lately, and as a soon-to-be momma thanks for putting into perspective just how essential it really is to take care of our selfs for our children's sake.

Im not sure why I've been having such a hard time loading your blog lately? Im not sure if I'm the only one who's experiencing it?


Kelley said...

You don't know how much I needed this post today. Seeing you and your beautiful little girl having fun together give some hope that someday I'll be good friends with my daughter too. Right now she's just a year old and while I love her, spending time with her right now can be really boring. She's mostly interested in waddling around, pointing at mailboxes and putting rocks in her mouth. Maybe someday we can do yoga together and take cute pictures like you and Isla!

Unknown said...

Excellent advice))) It was very interesting to read) and your post looks like a breath of fresh air;)


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