I like to look back through journals every year, just to see where I have been. As I looked at entries from a year or so ago, I saw that there were a lot of entries about wanting to be better, feeling unworthy, trying to figure out how to overcome weaknesses and improve myself.
I have a lot of parenting and self-improvement books lining my shelves and I generally reach for those rather than novels when I have a minute to read. In the past, I spent a lot of time looking for the next great idea that would propel me to success as a mom, and wondering if I would ever reach it. I had a picture in my mind of what success looked like, but real life often looked quite different.
I realized as I read through my journal entries that even on a good day when I did many things well, there was always something more to be done, or something I wished I’d done better. I was refusing to be happy with myself until I had done those things, or until I had earned the right to be happy.
While wanting to improve isn’t bad in itself, it was bad because I thought my happiness should be conditional on being better. I was withholding love and acceptance from myself and postponing joy until I could be perfect.
I have decided to do things differently from now on. This year I am giving myself a gift. I’m letting myself be happy BEFORE I’ve earned it. That’s right. I’m committed to loving myself, dirty dish piles, unfinished to-do lists, imperfect parenting, and everything else. I’m sure it will take a little practice, but I have decided I’m fed up with waiting around to be happy.
I’m kidding myself if I really think I can get to a point of never messing up with the kids or always getting everything done in an orderly manner. Not that I am going to stop working on it, but I want to have some joy along the way! I love my kids even though they certainly don’t do everything perfect, so why can’t I do the same for myself?
I’m not putting any qualifications on it anymore. Got up late and messed up the whole schedule? I love and forgive myself! Burned dinner? It doesn’t mean I’m a failure. I love myself! My gift to me is really is a gift to my children, too, because they deserve a happy mom. Maybe happiness is better than perfection.
So how can a mom who has spent so many years beating herself up about imperfection make the switch to happiness without conditions? For me, it has taken more than just making a resolution to be happy. It’s a process of changing habits and changing the way I look at certain things. Here are four key thought-habits that I’m learning to practice:
1. Separate your identity from your circumstances. When it feels like evidence of failure is mounting and you are feeling panic or hopelessness over not being good enough, repeat this mantra: “It’s not who I am.” That messy room, or the issues your kids are having, they’re not your identity. They don’t mean anything about your worth, and looking to your house or your kids for validation is always going to be a futile exercise. You’ve got to know your worth regardless of how your surroundings look or how the kids act.
2. Appreciate the good. Acknowledge the good in yourself, in your kids, your home, your life and your day. It can be easy to focus on the negatives and all that didn’t get done. Be on the lookout for the good and beautiful things in each moment and let yourself take a minute to enjoy them. Take a breath and smile! Be your own cheerleader and celebrate when you do something well. This past Thanksgiving, when I asked my kids what they were thankful for, my four-year-old daughter answered, “Myself!’”
I think it is great thing to appreciate who you are and what you are learning and becoming each day. If you have a gratitude journal, which I recommend, make sure to include some things you appreciate about the gifts you’ve been given and recognize the good inside you. This won’t make you complacent or prideful; it will inspire you to want to magnify your virtues further and give you hope to keep improving.
3. Forgive yourself. We are often much quicker to excuse others’ mistakes than we are to forgive our own. In fact, sometimes the things we won’t forgive about ourselves are the ones that are beyond our control. These could include ways we fall short despite our best efforts, the things our children choose despite our teaching them well or choices we made when we didn’t know better. Consider how you would feel about another person having the same shortcoming you are feeling guilty about. Would you be as hard on them? Probably not. Offer yourself the same kindness.
If you need to apologize to someone, make it right and then start fresh and forget it. Likely, you are doing the best you know how, so acknowledge that. I have found this practice really helps me to have more patience and forgiveness toward my children as well!
4. Look Deeper. If all of the things that make up your identity were suddenly taken away, who would you be? Imagine if you were in an accident and became paralyzed. You couldn’t talk, clean, teach, work, or even move. Who would you be inside? Would you still be worth something? What do you find when you look deep below the surface, beyond doings, to the heart of you? That is the beautiful identity that you can always hold to no matter what happens around you. Being true to that identity and purpose is real success.
My new happiness is all about believing that, deep down, apart from anything I accomplish, I am worth something just by being me. It is valuing the gifts I have and the good desires in my heart to love and care for my children and make a happy home. If I know who I really am and what I really care about, then even when the outward signs don’t manifest all of that goodness, I can still trust that it is in there.
That’s really what I have been waiting for. If you honestly look at yourself and your heart and not just the things you didn’t do or the ways that you could have done better, you’ll see someone who is certainly good enough to be loved in you. That’s what I found when I looked deeper than the surface. I believe you can find it too. So, love that person! Let her be happy! Let your kids have a mommy who smiles and feels good about herself no matter what.
QUESTION: How do you feel about yourself? Can you say that you love and accept yourself? What would have to happen before you could?
CHALLENGE: Write down as many good things about yourself as you can think of. (Look at qualities, not just accomplishments, and give yourself credit even for little things!) Then, pick one of the four thought-habits to start practicing.