“There are moments in your life that change everything you once knew. For me, that moment was at 4:27 a.m. on December 22, 2019. That was the first moment I held my daughter, whom I had waited almost 39 years for. That was the moment I knew I needed to be the change.
I grew up the way so many kids and families do. I have two sisters who I have loved and hated at different points in my life. I have a brother who is way too similar to myself. I was raised by parents who would give you the shirt off their back. I was surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends who have shaped me into the person I am. Looking back on all that ‘normalness,’ I now have the maturity to be able to say I had some incredible challenges I wish I had the courage to change sooner in my life.
As a child, I was painfully shy. I had extreme anxiety about being separated from the ones I loved. The anxiety was so extreme I would hide (dramatically) when someone would enter our home. Making eye contact with someone was unheard of. And don’t get me started with the panic of even having to talk to someone. The insane fear that happened within me is hard to put into words in a way that will make sense. That didn’t end with childhood. Even as an adult, I’ve struggled to walk into a room by myself for fear of the unknown and what I might encounter. Look at a stranger or make eye contact? Don’t even think about it. You start with shyness and anxiety. Then start to add on some compulsive tendencies of perfection. It quickly became a recipe for disaster.
There was one day in my early school years where my strive for perfection was so strong. So strong that one day, I received an F on a paper. I don’t know if you know, but F stands for failure. I was a mess for days. My parents couldn’t figure out why I was so upset. When my mother finally coaxed it out of me, I told her I received a failing mark on a paper. She asked to see it. I showed it to her. My mother very lovingly told me the teacher had given me the paper of another student in the class. It wasn’t even my paper. I had later been given my paper with superior marks.
I wish I could tell you this stopped suddenly in college or high school, but it didn’t. My strive for perfection and panicked anxiety only got worse. Worse in high school, worse in college, even worse in my young professional life. People in my life may have not even known it was an issue, but my immediate family could very easily tell you I lacked the emotional intelligence in most day-to-day interactions. It was then I decided I had a lot of self-improvement I needed to work on.
I don’t want to paint the picture I was an awful person or I was miserable. I was the person who lacked self-love and self-confidence. I was the person who would do anything to help anyone, usually at my own expense. Eventually, I had the maturity to look in the mirror and realize I wanted something different. I wanted to love the person I saw in the mirror and the person I was, day in and day out. I finally decided to make that change.
2014 was the year I decided I needed to be better in a lot of areas of life. I needed to be more confident and stronger in who I was. I needed to be able to set boundaries. I needed to be able to live life comfortably and confidently. I had a great career, I was successful, I had great friends and family. But there was also this voice in my head that had quite the opposite to say. Nothing I could ever do was good enough for myself. I was never proud or satisfied with what I was doing. I was always looking for better things to do, to prove myself more, to validate I was worth it. Worth it. It sounds weird to say it out loud but I can honestly say I never felt I was enough for most people, myself included. I think that’s why I would over-extend myself to help others.
From 2014 to 2019 I made progress in a lot of areas of my life. I began therapy (again), I worked through relationships, I built businesses, I was successful in my career, I settled down and bought a home. But still, there was this ‘thing’ that kept nagging at my heart and soul. That nag I just couldn’t ever feel like I was enough. I won’t ever say I was emotionally abusive or destructive to myself, but I also didn’t affirm to myself I was doing the right things.
Again, I can tell you that moment changed for me. It was that moment that clicked for me that Savvy (short for Savannah) needed me to be better. There is that moment where you realize you’re going to be responsible for molding her into the person she’s going to become. I wanted her to have the very best of me and the very best of Jon in her. I wanted her to have my brains and her dad’s wit. I wanted her to have my drive and her dad’s confidence. I wanted her to have my heart and her dad’s ability to act quickly under pressure. I did NOT want her to have my anxiety, my poor self-esteem, my need to be a perpetual people pleaser, my lack of confidence, and to hear the ugly words I had once told myself. It was at that moment I decided it was going to be different. In order to be different for her, I needed to be different for me.
Different doesn’t happen overnight but it does come with the decision to change. The decision to start. The decision to try. The decision knowing you’re going to fail, but you can fail forward and try again. It comes with constant reinforcement we are moving towards a better sense of self, despite the urge to fight it. I was like most post-partum moms and had huge struggles. I had gained 70 pounds during my pregnancy. I was under the unrealistic expectation that things were going to ‘bounce back.’ And they didn’t. Instead of looking at myself in the mirror and saying I was gross and disgusting, I was able to actively work to flip the script. ‘Good job momma, you birthed a baby’ or ‘You kept a human alive today.’
Instead of focusing on the imperfections I saw in the mirror, I started focusing on the good I felt in my heart and soul. I had waited 39 years to be a mom. I wasn’t going to waste a single moment saying anything negative. I was going to enjoy every moment, even if I felt blah. I didn’t realize these little milestones were going to add up quickly.
Again, there are those moments that sit with you that make you never forget how you felt in a moment. I had yet another one when Savvy was just a few months old. I sat having a conversation with someone who was beating herself up with every little negative thing she could come up with. Instead of participating in that (like I had done in the past), I simply asked her, ‘How would you feel if someone said those things to your son?’ There was a long pause. There were tears soon after, from both her and myself. Somewhere along the way, I realized if I didn’t want it said to my daughter or about my daughter, it didn’t need to be said. That’s where the negative self-talk ended. And that is really where the self-love started.
As parents, we need to realize it starts with us. Everything starts with us. What we say is absorbed by them. What we do will be mimicked by them. Be the person that shows up, does, and says the right things when they’re around. But also make sure you act the same way when they’re not around. You are what you do and that means being the same role model, no matter if they can hear or see you. Be the person to show them the way and to explain the hard things. Be the person that shows them love is always the answer and a smile can change the world. Be the person that shows them daily affirmations are powerful: I am enough. I am kind. I am strong. I am worthy. I am blessed.
Be the person that shows them that perfection doesn’t exist and that life is intended to be lived based on the love in our hearts and the gifts we have for the world. The world needs all sorts of gifts so don’t be afraid if your gifts aren’t the same as the person next to you. Be the person that shows them we are all different, yet we all stem from the same love of all mankind. Be the person that teaches your kid to smile at strangers and wave at the car next to you. Be the person that reminds your child you need to be happy and love yourself FIRST. Be the person that helps your child see we all have different strengths. Share the ones you have, ask for help from others when you don’t. Be the person that you needed when you were a kid.
Be the person you needed when you were a kid. Yes, I’ll say it a little louder (again) for those in the back. I had a wonderful family; I still do. I’m not saying Savvy will have the same struggles I did. However, if I arm her with the tools to be ready, then she’ll be ready. If I don’t, she may not know how to respond in the event that those situations do arise. How many times have we heard, ‘Better to be safe than sorry?’ Well, that doesn’t just apply to having a spare tire or a snack in the car. It pertains to making sure we’re mentally and emotionally ready to respond to what the world is going to throw at us.
My quest for Savvy’s self-love stemmed from the fact I didn’t love myself for a good chunk of my life. I can honestly say that. I spent a lot of time hating myself for all I wasn’t, instead of loving all that I was. This is not because I didn’t have great friends or family. It was because it was a lesson I needed to learn and unfortunately, I didn’t learn it until later in life. Instead of focusing on the time I had lost hating myself, I have now focused on what impact I can have. Now. I started with me. I started with Savvy. If those are the only two lives I change and influence with self-love, I can die a happy person.
I think sometimes we confuse self-love for looking at just a small piece of it. Self-love isn’t just loving who you are. It’s about speaking to yourself and others in a constructive way. It’s setting healthy boundaries. It’s having the emotional intelligence to know what we have control over and what we do not. It’s loving our bodies, blemishes and all. It’s about being strong and confident and powerful in whatever you choose to channel that into. It’s about being kind. It’s about being able to acknowledge where you need to put in the work. It’s about being the person we needed our younger selves to be.
Do I teach this to my 14-month-old toddler? Absolutely.
I may not be able to speak to her or teach something that an adult to grasp, but there are so many things I can do to shape her into the person she needs to have these skills. I can clap when she’s done something right. I can teach her new things, and not scold her when she does them wrong. We can go on play dates with our friends and teach each other ‘nice hands’ and how to get along with others. We can weather the storm of temper tantrums by talking about emotions and acknowledging she’s feeling some big emotions she may not be able to control.
Have you ever sat down with a 14-month old that’s throwing a temper tantrum and asked her to breathe with you? Put your hand on your heart and do the same for her. Start taking deep breaths. Ask them if they’re feeling better. Acknowledge they just passed some big feelings and soon they’ll be able to better compartmentalize their feelings. Try it. I guarantee you’ll see your child is more mature than we give them credit for. We just have to listen and be the person we needed when we were a kid.
I started a self-love journey with Savvy because it’s selfishly what I needed. I also knew she was going to need it. Was it so hard for me to look in the mirror and acknowledge I had some issues I needed to work on? Absolutely. But do you know what was scarier? Realizing down the road, Savvy could have the same obstacles. I wasn’t willing to set her up the same way. It’s scary to change, it’s also scary not to. And that is the definition of self-love. When you can look at something so scary it terrifies you to your core, but you are willing to change because you fear the alternative, THAT is when you know you’re making the right choice.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by SarahRuth Hoverson from Spokane, WA. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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