My three year old, Gracie, has a superior grasp on emotional health than most grownups… by a long shot. She lets herself feel her emotions and knows how to comfort herself. She’s so good, she proves we don’t need things like booze, pot, or sugar to feel better. She just need a blankie and a hug. Even if I’m the one who upset her (usually because she didn’t get what she wanted), she’ll start crying, get her blankie, and then want me to pick her up to hold her – when’s the last time you wanted your spouse to give you a hug when they upset you? After a few minutes of being held, my daughter will be good to go about her day. Her ability to have an emotion and recover is incredible. There’s no over thinking or beating herself up; she just gets over it – when’s the last time your spouse got over you upsetting them that quickly? We adults – the so-called more mature people – suck at this. We second guess everything, stress about things we don’t need to stress about, hold onto hurt for unnecessarily long times (sometimes for life), or we bury feelings with things like booze, pot, or sugar that come back to haunt us later – sound familiar? The next time someone tells you to act like a grown up, tell them you want to act like a three year old because they’re emotionally healthier and then start to suck your thumb and ask them for a hug. I can’t promise it’ll reduce the fight, but it’ll be hilarious… at least to me.
The best lesson Gracie has taught me is how simple it is to have self esteem. I mean it’s insane how easy it is considering so few people have any. (Some people confuse self esteem with being an entitled jerk – they suck.) My three year old is a genius at her ability to love and accept it in return. If we could all be like her, the world would be a better place.
The other day I was carrying Gracie down the stairs for breakfast, and this was the moment I got what self esteem looks like:
- Gracie: I love you, Daddy.
- Me: And I love you, Gracie.
- Gracie: You love me, and Mommy loves me.
- Me: That’s right.
Gracie: And Blankie loves me; and Lucy (her sister) loves me; and Nanny Meow-Meow loves me; and Auntie Lori loves me; and Nanny Woof-Woof loves me; and Tucker (the dog) loves me; and (continues for a bit) and Nanny Mike loves me (I taught her to call her uncle “nanny” because I think I’m hilarious); and (continues her list).
Isn’t that incredible? There’s no questioning of any kind. The people she’s listed are supposed to love her, so why would she second guess that? This past month these conversations have become an almost daily occurrence where she’ll share a list of who loves her or who she loves. They’re the same list, so it’s nice she’s consistent. Even if Gracie’s had a bad day with getting in trouble, she’ll have a moment where she talks about how much she loves people and how much we all love her. That’s impressive self esteem: You love others and accept that others love you. Self esteem is so simple a three year old has mastered it, so why do adults suck at it?
There seems to be a moment in childhood where something flips because the majority of teenagers I talk to have moments like “I don’t like myself,” or “There’s something wrong with me,” or “I feel like I don’t belong.” I once talked to a teenager who said his parents must be crazy for loving him because he was such a screw up. That’s a far cry from being like my three year old: “You love me, and Mommy loves me…” This inability to be self accepting doesn’t get any better for most adult who say things like “I’m not happy,” “I don’t know if I’m good enough,” or “How can people like me if I’m not perfect and everything in my life isn’t in order?” We start off so well and then it goes downhill from there.
On the opposite side of things is a moment that still baffles me. I always loved my Nana who had a reputation for driving like a Nascar driver and eating butter like it was its own food group. She was incredibly generous and ready to help those in need. She was so feisty, when my sister was two years old and a little girl bit her, my Nana bit the girl, made her cry, and then scolded her saying, “You’re not going to that again, are you?” That’s feisty. This is why a situation when my Nana was 85 was so surprising. I was in my late 20s and for her 85th birthday I gave her a movie called Penelope with the idea that my girlfriend and I would have a movie night with her. This was back when you could buy used movies for $6.99 at Blockbuster (I miss those days). It was the cleanest movie for sale when I was looking and my girlfriend was in love with James McAvoy, so it was an obvious choice… or so I thought. My Nana had a slight cleft pallet. I didn’t even know what that was until this situation happened. When we put the movie on I thought I was doing something special – a grownup grandson choosing to spend a Saturday night with his Nana, but she eventually ran out of the room weeping because the movie was so triggering for her. I always saw her as a confident and strong woman who couldn’t be held down, but… I was wrong. It turned out she had a crushing insecurity about her lip that I never gave a second thought to before. I loved her and any lip issue was just part of who she was, but for some reason, she saw it as a reason to be ashamed and feel terrible about herself. She was the total opposite of my three year old who just loved and accepted love.
That was a very sad day for me because it made me realize that my Nana didn’t love herself as much as I loved her. What’s crazy is we all have our own “cleft pallet” issue that makes us feel terrible while others who love us don’t give it a second thought. Sure, there’s a risk some jerk or self absorbed person having a bad day will make fun of it, but why do we give power to such mean and random people? Why can’t we see ourselves the way those who love us do? Why can’t we see ourselves the way my three year old does.
When I was younger trying to be good enough for people to love me, I was struggling to accept what my Nana already accepted about me – I was worth loving just for being me. I was worried about things that no one else cared about, which actually made me a harder person to love because who’s easier to love, someone who’s always down on themselves and you have to watch what you say around them or the three year old who simply loves you and accepts that you love them?
In cartoons, they’ll use the idea of an angel on one shoulder a devil on the other. Maybe as we get older the devil gets louder (or the angel gets lazy) because we let his voice be the one to control us. If I had told my Nana about my insecurities, she would’ve said I was crazy because I was perfect the way I was to her just like I thought she was crazy for not thinking she was perfect the way she was. What she would’ve wanted was for me to love myself as much as she loved me just like all my parents really wanted was for me to love myself as much as they loved me. Similarly, all my sister, brother, and close friends would want is for me to love myself as much as they loved me because otherwise I’m essentially saying they’re dumb for loving me. Sure, we all have things we can improve on and it’s important we try our best to be healthy, but we still need to love ourselves for where we are at because proper change never comes through self hate. I’m fortunately much nicer to myself than I used to be and I try to help others be nicer to themselves, but what I need to be doing as a therapist is help people be more like my three year old: You love me, and Mommy loves me, and Lucy loves me; and…
This week may you try to start loving yourself as much as those around you do. And if you don’t have people who love you, you either need to make some changes in how you treat others or you really need to find some better people to be in your life.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)