Thursday, March 31, 2011

Do You Love Your Neighbor?

Going back to some of my deeper thoughts of the last month, I often struggle to find a healthy level of self-esteem. Maybe it ties into my hang-ups with mommy stereotypes, but I often fall into feeling like I need to be perfect or AMAZING or at least really great at something. I have a terrible habit of being really hard on myself, even if I am honestly trying my best.

I have recently pondered the scriptural admonition to "Love thy neighbor as thyself." I think I have always unconsciously twisted that scripture into "Love thy neighbor MORE THAN thyself," which-- at least at first glance-- sounds like it would be more noble and less selfish than loving yourself and neighbors equally. But loving yourself isn't always as simple as it looks.

Most of the time I think I am a reasonable "neighbor" or friend to the people I come in contact with. Let's picture a friend coming up to me and saying, "I'm having a really hard day today. I feel awful about myself because still haven't lost my baby weight. My house is a mess and I feel like a terrible mother. My kids fight and I am never on time." How would I respond? I would probably tell her, "Don't be so hard on yourself! It's totally not reasonable to expect to look like a supermodel when you have a baby and multiple other kids to take care of. Your kids will remember the time you spent with them, not how your house looked. You're a great mother! Everyone's kids fight sometimes and being late sometimes is not the end of the world!" At least I hope that I would say something like that. I know I would at least say, "You know, you are trying your best and that's all we can do. You don't need to be perfect. Just don't give up!" And I expect that most decent friends would say something along these same lines.

Let's change this up a bit now. Let's say that I am having a hard day and think to myself this same thing: "I'm having a really hard day today. I feel awful about myself because still haven't lost my baby weight. My house is a mess and I feel like a terrible mother. My kids fight and I am never on time." How do I respond to myself? I tell myself (as any *reasonable* person would): "But you ARE a terrible mother. That's why you are having such a hard time. And you are SO FAT. Your kids fight because you are such a terrible mother. Maybe if you weren't so lazy and didn't let them watch so much TV they wouldn't fight so much. And if you just got off your duff and exercised or put down that box of cookies your baby weight would have been gone months ago! And anyone can keep their house clean. It's not rocket science. Sheesh."

Because I wouldn't want to be one of those selfish, self-absorbed, self-loving people, right? And I'm just being honest with myself about my shortcomings, right? That's a *virtue*. So if I'm following the biblical injunction to "love my neighbor as thyself," does that mean that I should tell all of my friends that they are fatties, bad mothers, pathetic for not keeping their house cleaner and at fault for all of their kids' tantrums? Um, yeah.

The funny thing is that I've found that when I'm in that negative place of hating and being hard on myself I don't have much charity or goodwill left to extend to other people. And frankly, I don't think that I'm being very honest with myself in the above example either. Somehow it seems okay to equate being negative with being honest-- at least concerning yourself-- rather than really aiming for a balanced analysis. Does losing your temper occasionally or letting your kids watch TV when you need a break really make you a BAD mother? Really, Karen?

So how do you "love" yourself without becoming selfish or self-absorbed? Maybe the answer comes from that scripture: loving myself as I love my neighbor. Seeing myself as just another person, no more or less important than any others, no more or less perfect than any other bumbling human being trying to make their way through life as best they can. So the next time I have that bad day and start to rag on myself because it's noon and I haven't showered, my kids are watching TV and I'm writing a blog post instead of doing my dishes (I plead the fifth-- although I am dressed and the TV is off-- at least for the moment), I'm going to respond differently: "You're just having a hard day, Karen. You may not look like a supermodel (who does?) but you look really good-- especially for having had four kids. You totally wiped the counters today-- that counts doesn't it? You sanitize your bathrooms at least every other month. (Germs are good for kids' immune systems, right?)  And a kid like Jackson could put any person in the loony bin!" (Hmmmm, I may need some practice at this....)

Let's try this again: "Karen, you are a good mom. You are not a perfect mom and probably never will be, but you are good enough. You love your kids, spend time with them and do your best. You look just fine. Your house is just fine. It isn't perfectly clean but it is clean enough. You are doing what matters -- not perfectly-- but well enough. So give yourself a break. You know, you are trying your best and that's all we can do. You don't need to be perfect. Just don't give up!"

1 comment:

Ranell said...

Sounds like someone is benefiting from either therapy or self-help books, or both! (Both of which I am a huge fan of, BTW, so I'm not mocking!) Self-talk is HUGE in relation to feeling good about yourself, and, as you mentioned, feeling good toward others as well. I've been doing better at this for a while now (thank you therapy!) and it's amazing how much more pleasant I am to be with (and since I'm 'with myself' all the time, that's a good thing for everyone!) Also, I'm able to 'let things go' ... I have tons of things I'm interested in, but I know now is not the time in my life when I'm going to get to do most of them. So I carefully pick and choose how to spend my time and I let the rest of it go! I don't feel guilty and I don't feel sad about it. Right now I'm a mom with really young children (and I'm so lucky to have them and be home with them!), but in a few years that will change and I'll get to reinvent myself! I'm enjoying the 'now' and also looking forward to and planning for the future. But, it's a conscious, daily effort to not let those negative thoughts come back and beat me up and make me feel bad about myself all over again.

Good for you, Karen! I love to see you growing and overcoming and feeling better about yourself because you are amazing!