I’m paraphrasing from a book I read a few years ago that I forget the name of:
“Think of the person or people you love most in the world. Really picture them and think about the depth of love and caring and compassion you have for them. See their faces in your mind. Feel the completeness of that love in your heart and soul – how you glow when you think about them…
Now, turn that around and shine a little bit of that light on yourself.”
When I first read that, it had such a profound effect on me that it brought me to tears. Why? Because I didn’t do that at all – it’s a large part of what was missing for me. We grow up focused on how we’re deficient, how we could always be better. Just one example is how we’re bombarded with photo-shopped images of the ideal body that we’re too young and naïve to know are photo-shopped. So, we grow up loathing bodies that are perfect, normal and healthy. When we’re older, we’re pressured to be and do everything as working wives and mothers. We’re so hard on ourselves when we don’t measure up to these expectations without thinking that they’re impossible for anyone to meet. We blame ourselves for even the smallest thing that goes wrong.
How do we escape these expectations? Just don’t accept them as your own. Who’s judging your life? You. You get to decide what your life will look like. Okay, not entirely – life happens. You don’t get to decide what happens a lot of the time but you do get to decide your reaction to it. You can choose to adapt. For instance, my husband had brain surgery 4 years after we were married and almost died. He is medically disabled from the Air Force. Alright. Was this what I expected? No. Am I so grateful every day that he is here with us? Yes. It’s been 12 years – we’ve slowly adapted and come to know a new normal.
I think if we’re all doing this right, we figure out somewhere in our thirties what really matters. By the time I was thirty-three I’d been through a pretty ugly divorce and been very nearly widowed. That’s probably why it happens in our thirties: by that time we’ve all had some trauma shake us to our core. If we let go of fear, take time for introspection and walk the stages of grief, we come out on the other side stronger, more compassionate, more honest and more filled with love than we ever were before. We all know people who’ve gone through traumas unsuccessfully and come out bitter and hateful; people who spend the rest of their lives lashing out at an unjust world.
I never want to be that person. I want to teach my children how to cope when life is unfair – how to always look to the future with hope in their hearts and kindness in their eyes. To love and care for themselves, so they can in turn care for others. In order to do that, I need to live my life as an example they can witness.