I used to think motherhood was about putting everyone else first all the time. Which meant, obviously, putting myself last. It took me a while to recognise that when you put yourself last all the time you become a martyr. You get resentful. You burn out. Slowly, slowly, I started to see that loving myself was just as important as loving other people. The more I cared for myself the better I could care for others.
But self-love isn’t always the easiest route. It’s not just about bubble baths and face masks. It’s about self respect, boundaries, giving yourself a break. Learning how to step away and hunker down when you need to, just as much as learning when it’s time to put yourself forward. Learning how to stand up for yourself and challenge people who want to push you down.
There’s this idea that self-love is an easy thing to achieve. You just paint your nails, maybe book a lunch in with friends, take a bit of time for yourself away from the kids. But it’s not. Really, truly getting the self-love thing right takes time, it takes work, it takes a shift in mindset. And when you’re a parent, with a million and one things to do this is often really, really hard.
For example, if you’re a natural “yes” person, like I am, it can be about learning when it’s actually best to say no. And then having the confidence to follow that through. This might be turning down a work opportunity that’s not right for you, or explaining why you can’t volunteer for something. There are so many occasions in the past when I’ve said “yes” but felt resentful. And it was only ever my own fault really, for not having the confidence to say no, for putting someone else’s priorities above my own.
As a mum it is really, terribly easy to put yourself last. There’s always someone who needs something, there’s always something which needs doing right now. And because of this constant stream of To Do’s, it’s also easy to feel like you’re never doing enough. There are always other mums doing a better job. There’s always a reason to feel that familiar pang of mum guilt. What’s much, much harder is to put yourself first. Carve out some space. Learn how to be a bit kinder to yourself. Give up the mum guilt.
For me, it started with the realisation that I was simply not a super hero. I could not physically do all the things I wanted to do in the time I had to do them. But that didn’t make me a failure – it just made me human. And the brilliant thing about us humans is that we are beautiful, complex beings who regularly mess up and continue to learn through our experiences. Once I learned to give myself a break, to stop holding myself up to this unrealistic level of perfection, I felt so much better about myself.
And I fought hard with myself, to keep this perspective in check. I would have to actively be kinder to myself when I felt my inner critic start to chirp up. Sometimes I’d have to step away from social media because it could trigger those feelings of unworthiness or being not good enough.
It’s a work in progress. No one is ever “done”. You don’t get to “be your best self” and just stay that way. Life is messy, we are always learning, always living. There’s always room for error and mistakes. But recognising that and not beating ourselves up when we don’t get it right all the time is kind of the secret to self-love. It’s about oh so much more than lighting an incense stick and doing some yoga.
But here’s the thing. It might be hard work (old habits die hard). It might seem like an easier option to just continue as you’ve done before. But ask yourself this – when did anything worth doing ever come easily? All the best things take work. This is no different.
And the final result? Showing your kids a great example, that you are worthy of love too. That sometimes the best love comes from within. That they can always count on themselves. That loving yourself puts you in a calmer, happier, solid place from which to love others fully and whole-heartedly. That self-love isn’t selfish.
When you think about it, that’s a pretty awesome argument to give it a go, don’t you think?