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What do you think is the best thing you can do for your children? What is your duty as a parent?
Besides the obvious answers of feeding, clothing, and providing adequate shelter for our kids, I think the list of things that most parents truly believe is their “DUTY” is rather varied. In fact, it is extremely flawed in many ways. Some parents think they need to raise superstars, Olympic athletes, valedictorians, dance stars, or prodigies. They feel like they HAVE to give their kids an even better upbringing than they were given, and often go to extreme measures to become their child’s best friend. Some spend excessive amounts of money on their children, feeling it is their job to spoil them and give them their hearts desires. Others drive them all around the country to compete in big competitions in hopes to make it big. But is that what kids really need the most?
I’m sure you’d agree with me that NO, they don’t NEED any of those things.
What kids need most is LOVE.
And yet so many of us have a hard time with that simple word.
Love can be difficult to show, if we don’t really know how.
The thing is, not everyone feels love or shows love the same way. I learned this early on in my marriage, about 15 years ago. I wanted to hear words of praise and receive compliments from my husband, he wanted physical touch. I’d go out of my way to make a nice dinner, get dressed up or do something nice for my man, to find that instead of being told how wonderful I was, I was being hugged and kissed. Not that I didn’t enjoy getting hugs and kisses, but for a very long time, I felt like he didn’t really love me. I didn’t feel loved by physical touch, I just felt used. He on the other hand, didn’t see my efforts to serve him or dress up for him as me showing love. He saw them as nice, but they weren’t how he felt loved.
I read a great book that helped me to understand that learning to love others is like learning a foreign language. In his book, The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman explains that there are five main love languages and if you don’t speak the same one as someone you love, it would really help your relationship to learn how to love them in a way that they will feel loved. If you don’t, your partner, friend, or child could feel like you don’t really love them. It is like we each have a love tank inside us (similar to a gas tank on a car). If that tank goes unfilled for too long, we start to feel a void of love and it can feel very bad! I highly suggest buying The 5 Love Languages, and taking the test to find out what your love language is and those of your children and spouse or other loved ones. Learning to speak their love language is imperative to the health of your relationship! Dr. Chapman also has several versions of this book: one based on marriages, and one for kids as well. I think our relationships are the most important blessing we have in life and anything that will aid in making those relationships stronger is definitely worth the investment. Fifteen years have passed and I still think about that book and am so grateful for how it has made the difference in my marriage and my love for each of my children. Here a link for the children’s version…
Love Begins With ME
Another huge thing that we need to do as parents, is to love ourselves. I say this in all honesty–
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WE CAN DO FOR OUR KIDS IS TO LOVE OURSELVES!
This might sound weird to you, but hear me out.
We cannot share what we do not first possess ourselves. We can’t give our children food if we do not have food. We can’t give them money if we don’t have money, and we can’t give them love if we don’t have love first.
Many of us think that we love our children and others, yet pick on and find fault with ourselves all the time. We give others the benefit of the doubt, and yet beat ourselves up over and over about our apparent failings and wrongdoings. We give compliments to others while criticizing ourselves. When we do that to ourselves, our children see. They notice how we treat ourselves. They hear how we talk to and about ourselves. They absorb our feelings of self-disgust and insecurity. Whether we mean to or not, we are teaching our children to love themselves the same way we love ourselves.
I learned this after years of dieting and feeling bad about my body. I just couldn’t see myself as beautiful and I treated my body like I didn’t like it. I put it on diet after diet, in hopes to be happy, only to find that my weight did not have anything to do with my happiness! I would say things like, “I’m fat” or “I’m a failure” or “I’m just not a good mom.”
My children heard and felt what I was putting out into the universe. Having four daughters, I knew that I needed to be a much better role model of loving my body and myself than I was being. I didn’t want my daughters or my son to grow up feeling like they were fat or failures. I didn’t want them to feel like their body image, grades, or accomplishments determined their happiness or worth in life. I decided, for their sake’s, that I needed to learn to love myself NO MATTER WHAT MY SIZE, and to teach my girls by example how to feel comfortable in their own skin. I also needed to model kindness and compassion toward myself when I wasn’t doing everything I thought I should or had to.
I began a mission over two years ago to do just that: to love myself unconditionally.
Learn to Love Yourself Unconditionally
I have come to the point where I can honestly and sincerely look at myself and my body in the mirror and love every inch of it, even being heavier than I want to be. I can truly look myself in the eyes and say, “I LOVE YOU” and really believe it. I feel confident in who I am and now give myself credit for the daily things I do rather than ripping myself apart for not finishing everything on my to-do-list.
As a result, I have seen my children become much more self-confident and kind to themselves. I have raised daughters that while teenagers or tweens can say they love themselves and feel happy with who they are and what they can do. We are not the perfect family, in fact we are far from it. However, like all families we are a work in progress and constantly trying to make things better. Teaching my kids to accept their bodies and to have a growth mindset rather than fixed has been huge.
They proudly and unabashedly wear their swim suits and feel great in their own skin. (I’m still working on the swim suit thing, but make a conscious choice to NEVER say anything negative about my body in front of my children and am working on eliminating those critics in my mind for good.)
I honestly believe that the absolute BEST THING WE CAN DO FOR OUR CHILDREN is to LOVE OURSELVES. When we are filled with love for ourselves, we can more easily and fully and unconditionally love other people, especially our family.
Our children need us to be strong examples of confidence, love and self-belief. They need us to show them how to love and accept their bodies, their talents, their characteristics, and their flaws. If you need help knowing how to become that kind of parent or person; or knowing how to truly love yourself, the following articles could help:
How to Love Yourself in 5 Simple Steps
Mom, You Are Not Failing
Learning how to love yourself will be the best thing you do not only for your children, but for yourself!