I’ve Given Myself Permission to Like Myself

Learning to like yourself.

Before our children went to sleep each night we would have them say, “I like myself” twenty times. At first they giggled and put us off, but eventually, they realized this requirement was not going away, and it became a nightly ritual. Somewhere along the line, we learned children need permission from their parents to like themselves – this would give them that permission.

It isn’t just kids who need permission to like themselves . . .

In my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s I often doubted my worth as a woman. I would see other mothers who had more patience and creativity. I would see women who volunteered in the community or were politically active, but at the end of my day, I often wondered what I had done that was worthwhile. I would compare myself to the thin, stylish women I’d see in the stores, at my children’s school, or in our church. I would look at myself and see someone who needed to lose 20-30 pounds, exercise more, dress better. I felt guilty because I wasn’t doing all the wonderful things I saw other women doing, but I really didn’t know why I wasn’t doing them. I didn’t really think I wanted to be like them, (OK, maybe thin and stylish), but by comparing myself to them, I didn’t often like myself. I thought I needed to be more. Do more. But what? Maybe I didn’t like myself because I didn’t know me; who was I really?

I was a pretty good mother – I made healthy lunches for the kids to take to school. I ground wheat and baked bread. We had fun family nights and special outings to museums and libraries. Don’t get me wrong – I loved every minute raising my five children – but in the busy-ness of the time, I didn’t have time to really be me. I was a wife, mom, Sunday school teacher, softball coach, and chauffeur. I liked who I was in the roles I played, but me? Who was I? Did I like myself?

It was easier to like myself as I started to find out who I am. 

As each child grew up and moved to a new phase of life, I slowly began to think about me and who I really was. I realized I was always going to be a mother, no matter where my children were, but my role in their lives would be more of support and less of responsibility. Realizing I was entering a new phase of life, I felt more independence than before I was married. I picked and chose what I did with my time. I found joy in learning about health and fitness. I happily tried new recipes because my husband and I were more open about what we ate than our children. I focused more on growing flowers and trees than a vegetable garden. I woke up in the morning and sat in front of the fire, reading or meditating. I began to learn who I am, what is important to me, and how to become what I wanted to be.

How do you find out who you are after years of being everything to others?

I hate change but found I like to try new things. I know, it seems like a paradox, but I think trying new things helps you find out about yourself. I always read romance novels while raising my children. My oldest daughter introduced me to some truly amazing non-romance novels. I found I prefer them. My husband talked me into going to his Yoga class. I went complaining to my first class,, reminding him he owed me big time,  but I experienced a way to move that changed my relationship with exercise. One winter a friend told me about a snowshoeing trip she and her husband took. Armed with my determination to try new things, I ordered my husband and me a set of snowshoes and discovered an amazing way to enjoy the cold winters of southern Idaho. I tried pottery but found that while I really liked the idea of being a potter, I didn’t have the patience or desire to do it enough to become one. Each new thing I tried told me a little more about myself.

This sounds like I’m running here and there, jumping from one new experience to another. Not so. Even as I’m discovering the things that help me “find myself,” I’ve slowly determined which things I’ve always done that are important to me, and I hold onto them, knowing they’re an integral part of who I have always been. I still love to watch romantic comedies. I appreciate a quiet walk through my small town early on a summer morning. I love to eat dinner on the patio with my husband and talk about our day. I cherish the times my children are home, especially if it happens to be all of them at the same time. I love baking for everyone and planning family activities. I still think being a mom is the best gift I ever received, and I hold the memories of those years close to my heart.

Learning to like myself frees me to enjoy your life.

Because I’m learning who I am, I’m also learning who I am not. I’m not a person who likes politics, so while I caucus and vote, I no longer experience guilt for not volunteering on a campaign. I’ve learned I don’t really enjoy New Year’s Eve parties, so I don’t plan a large gathering in order to be part of the celebration. I finally know my limits, so I have no trouble saying ‘no’ to someone who wants me to do something that requires more time and effort than I can give – and I do so without guilt or worry that I’m not doing enough.

It’s taken a few years for me to find myself and accept me for who I am. I no longer feel anxiety and inadequacy when looking at the beauty and accomplishments of other women. I can honestly say I like myself, so when I mentored a young, energetic, student teacher, I was able to say without reservation, “Not even for that body or amount of energy would I go back to that age.” I’m so happy to be where I am in life. I’ve finally given myself permission to like myself – and I don’t need to say “I like myself” 20 times to prove it!

What do you think? Have you found ways to learn about yourself? Share your opinions in the comments below.