My best day as a mother came about six months after my worst day as a mom. One of those random nights in January where we were picking up my 5-year-old daughter's room before bath time when she dropped a bombshell on me. I was asking her about her day when out of the blue I asked this:
Me: "What do you like most about yourself."
Lila: "What? I don't like anything about myself."
Me: "What do you mean you don't like anything about yourself? You have a beautiful smile and a kind heart. You draw lovely pictures and have the cutest laugh. And you are so much fun to be with!"
She was quiet, sad, and quite thoughtful for a bit when I decided to prompt her with what I loved about myself. I told her "I like my dimples. I can do lots of different things for work, and I have the silliest personality." Then I shocked her when I shrugged and said, "I love myself."
Quite honestly, I shocked myself too.
I'm not totally ready to say those words ... yet. But I'm close. I do love lots of things about myself, but positive self-talk has not always been easy for me, as I'm my worst critic and always too hard on myself. But in that moment I knew I needed to teach her by example.
Later that evening I was devastated about that conversation. Lila doesn't like anything about herself? Was I failing as a mom? Are we already having self-image issues and she hasn't even started Kindergarten?
We'd already talked about body issues when she asked me if her tummy was fat. (She had overheard me talking about trying to lose baby weight.) She'd even told me once not to eat a cupcake because "you need to lose weights mommy." This was something we needed to work on ... pronto. But how do you teach a child to have a healthy self-image?
Perhaps I need to have one too
I didn't buy a book, or google it, or read tons of blog posts on the subject. Instead I looked within. I decided to try to model better behavior and ask her a few times a week to tell me what she did that was special during her day. Not just activities, but things she did herself that she was proud of. I've asked her who loves her, and a few times I've even asked her to say, "I love me." She felt silly doing it though. (Quite honestly, so do I).
I've also stopped worrying about my weight and just started trying to be healthier. We've been exercising as a family, and focusing more on the positive. I didn't do anything magical. I didn't check out any books for her to read at the library. I just paid more attention to my words and actions and made sure she (and I) tried to look at the bright side.
That's when I was totally surprised last weekend when we were driving home from visiting some of our family when she said:
Lila: "Mommy there are lots of people that love me."
Me: "Yes you have cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents that love you very much."
Lila: "Yes Ryan, Laura, Stevie, Jack, Jilly, and Tommy love me."
Me: "And Nana, Papa, Heather, Eric, Susie, and Uncle Timmy love you."
Lila: "And I love me!"
I grinned. I was quiet. I was so completely happy. This could quite possibly be my best day as a mom, so far.
I'm not sure if at the age of five that she really understands what this statement means. But I hope that encouraging positive self-talk and self love will make a difference in her self-confidence as she grows older. I also hope that I can continue to be more positive with myself.
We all read stories about the trials and tribulations of motherhood. Our kids won't eat anything we cook, they throw tantrums, and we are utterly sleep deprived. But then there are those parenting moments like this that make it all worth while. The "aha" moments where we see them becoming little people, with a real understanding of the world. Hearing Lila say those words made me feel so completely proud.
It's amazing how quickly they absorb life lessons, and how much our children teach me every single day. I may not love me fully yet ... but for my daughters Lila and Emy, I will continue to work at it. Who knew three little words could have such a large impact. Can you say it?
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Mommy in Sports. It has been republished here with permission.
Kristen Hewitt is a two-time Emmy award winning sports television reporter in Miami, and writes the popular parenting blog mommyinsports.com. She loves to share her journey of balancing late nights at work - with even earlier mornings with the her two miracle daughters.