Abby and I were driving home from school a couple days ago. She had gotten sick at school, so I left work early to pick her up and bring her back. I suspected that she had gotten a little carsick on the drive to school because she was nauseated when she got to school, and threw up shortly after arriving, but was fine the rest of the day.
Somehow we had gotten back onto the subject of self love, as she had said “I love my family the most” a few days previously. I had been ruminating on that for a while, so I asked her to elaborate what that meant to her. I know how difficult it can be to describe love, so I adore hearing my children’s explanations, it comes from such a sweet, simplified view of the world, and yet the things they say can stop me in my tracks with profundity and depth sometimes.
So back to the conversation. I told her I wanted her to learn how to love herself the most, first. She was like “NO WAY! I love my family so much, I will always love them first.” What I wanted her to understand, what took me YEARS to realize myself was that self love has to come first.
So here is how I explained it to her:
“Imagine that inside your heart, you have a cup. And every day that cup needs to get filled up with love. When you are a little kid, you have so many people in your life that try to make sure your cup of love is full: moms and dads and sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles and grandparents and teachers and therapists and counselors and friends. Each one of them is putting some love into your cup so it is feeling nice and full and you can go about your day happy.
But when you start to grow up, some of these people might not interact with you every day because you get more independence, and they aren’t putting so much love in your cup. You can either walk around with a half empty cup of love, or you can start to figure out what you can do for yourself to keep your cup full.
I am a grown up, and my day doesn’t have many people in it that want to put some love in my cup. My boyfriend does, and my mom and sisters when we talk to each other, but that’s about it. You and your sisters put love into my cup too, but because I’m your mom, I’m usually working really hard to make sure YOUR cups are full, so I’m giving you a lot of what is in my cup.
When your love cup is full or overflowing, you have love to share with other people without feeling tired or frustrated or resentful. Then you have love to give. Remember when I was frustrated all the time and yelled a lot? My love cup was always very empty because I was waiting for other people to help make it feel full, instead of doing the things I needed to do for myself so it wasn’t empty.
So when you are having a bad, sad, or angry time, do you think your love cup is really full, or do you think it might be feeling kind of empty? Maybe something happened that caused your cup that was full a moment ago to tip over and spill out? Self love is about seeing that our cup is empty and finding ways to fill it up again. Can you think of some things that fill your cup up again?”
She sits and thinks for a moment and then said “hugs! and kisses!” So I prompted her “what else? What if no one is around to give you a hug right away? What about drawing? or painting? or singing a song? or playing with your toys?”
One of my jobs as a parent is to learn how to love myself enough that I can model healthy self love to my children. Yes, it feels selfish at first, and it can be easy to confuse selfishness with self love. But the more I practice, the more I am aware that these little people I love so much are watching and learning from my actions more than from my words, the easier it is to fill my own cup of love so I have more to share.