Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me when I’ve got nothing but my aching soul?
What a raw, powerful song it is – and to me, it asks for unconditional love, enduring love, love for love’s sake – responding to someone else’s needs regardless of what they have done, who they are, simply because they are human and you have committed to loving them.
Which got me to thinking about unconditional love and how little it is practised. When my children were born, I was told I would experience unconditional love (as though it’s something that happens to you magically). I felt quite guilty when this didn’t happen. I loved them from my very core, to be sure, but more if they were compliant, slept through the night, weren’t oppositional, didn’t whinge, etc etc. I got angry at my very small children for the slightest demeanour. Part of this was a constant fear that if I didn’t “rein them in” there would be horrid behaviour forever. But at one stage my little girl was saying to me “Mummy I don’t like it when you yell at me!” quite a lot. And yet, my children continue to love (need?) me unconditionally – no matter how grumpy I have been or how loudly I have shouted at them. This humbled me, and I wanted to be able to reciprocate with my whole heart.
I realised I often yelled when I was already feeling stressed or cross about something else in my life. Something had gone wrong at work, and I was stewing over it, feeling guilty and inadequate and hating that feeling. I was feeling rushed and descending into a negative spiral of resenting everything that took me away from my research. I had had a disagreement with someone close to me and it was playing on my mind. Etc etc. So, in my already moody state, a little child might spill a drink or refuse breakfast, and I would lose it. Blow my top. I didn’t like it but for a while I didn’t know how to stop it. I was stuck in a cycle of anger and frustration, then guilt, then more anger and frustration.
I read a couple of parenting books which helped a bit – the “1-2-3″ technique helped me calm down and go through a robotic sequence, which worked – we rarely got past “2”. Another book, Peaceful Parent, contained way too many creative ways to deal with behaviour problems, which I couldn’t put into practice in an agitated state (I just needed something simple!)
But the real change came when I began to examine myself, my motives, my thoughts and my inner critic. I became a lot more self-aware over time, and discovered that I had not only an inner critic, but an inner defender. I had one voice that said “How awful! What a terrible mother/person/wife you are!” and another that jumped in and said “Don’t listen to that voice. You’re wonderful. Look at how much you sacrifice for the family/your work.” But none of this dialogue was helpful as I was simply vaccillating between beating myself up and falsely pumping up my ego and building resentment. I was becoming a martyr.
So I forgave myself. I recognised that I was not perfect, despite what I thought of myself (there’s that ego again!) Once I had acknowledged my human-ness, I started to look at what I could change and how I could do it. “What could you do better? You can do it! You can master your emotions. Go for it,” a third, rational, loving voice said to me. This voice didn’t chastise me if I made a mistake. It simply said “Perhaps you could do it better next time. Let’s try again. It’s ok. Now what can you do differently next time?” I started looking after myself a bit better. More sleep. Less pressure. More exercise. More protected time at work. Less cooking.
Slowly I became less reactive and more responsible. And I stopped yelling. I just didn’t need to. My daughter accidentally flung her entire dinner onto the floor last night. Immediately, with very large eyes, she said to me “I’m so sorry Mummy. It was an accident”. I calmly and lovingly cleaned it up and said “Perhaps you could try sitting still next time. I’ll get you more dinner”. I wasn’t suppressing any anger and simply glossing over it, while it bubbled over inside. I didn’t feel any anger.
The old me, with the two voices, would have yelled at her, put her in time-out, stomped around and huffed away in the kitchen while a frightened little girl cried in the corner. But I had started loving myself unconditionally, so I could love others in this way too. No amount of behavioural techniques could have given me the peace and resolve that I feel now. You have to change your very core before you could make any outside changes. Anything else is simply superficial, a band-aid solution. You have to start from the inside out.
This doesn’t mean I exalt myself continuously. Far from it. I’ve become more honest with myself. I am recognising where I am deficient (Organised Housewife I am not) and accepting this with humour and love, and then looking for a way to improve myself (Organise those kitchen cupboards over Easter weekend). And I still do lose it occasionally. It’s a work in progress. But I pick myself up and aim to be a better person every single day.
Now I can start to truly love my family unconditionally. To accept their human-ness and love them regardless. I’ve come to realise just how important family is. Friends may come and go, but family is bonded to you always. For better or for worse, no matter what they do. And with true love and understanding, it will be better and not worse. Love is a verb, not a feeling. And it starts within, from a very private place, and then it can radiate outwards. It can create years and years of happy memories instead of memories of anger, bitterness and resentment.
So the Working Mummy Mindset for me this week: I’m quoting the late great Whitney Houston. “Learning to looooooove yourseeeelf is the greeeeatest loooooooooooove of all“. God I love Whitney!! Amen!
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