Mothers. Moms. Mamas. We’re full of that thing they call “maternal instinct”. We’re in a constant state of nurturing, of picking up pieces and haphazardly gluing them back together with that half-dried glue stick we found under the couch.

We rejoice in our children’s successes. We feel the sting of their paper cuts and the gut punch of their heartbreaks. We breathe our life into their lungs because they are us—just the extended version, the remix. We worry about the country, the world, the universe for them. We realize that everything is beyond ourselves, death is a certainty, and suddenly that matters. So much.

We beg ourselves to be brave when inside we’re on fire—when our minds are just a pile of insecurities set ablaze. We pace and we falter. We check tasks off a never-ending list in search of some kind of deeper meaning. We inhale doubt and exhale promises.

But amidst the chaos, we are calm. We hold our babies close to our chests. We breathe in their scent as we blow up their life vests. Look at us, staying afloat.

Our identities, the ones we fought mercilessly for in our 20s, are now sinking beneath the mental load of motherhood. We naturally know how to care for our children. We pride ourselves in that. That “maternal instinct” remember? We comfort and nourish them without second guessing, we find them creative outlets and work tirelessly to grow their brains. We have this innate ability to love someone so deeply, to embrace their imperfections, to accept them as they are. Not only that, but we work at becoming better mothers. We read about it, we ask questions, we seek experts. We desperately call our own mothers. We search for soul sisters who have also dived headfirst into motherhood. We form mobs of sleepless Amazon Prime shoppers in yoga pants. We crave connection, we crave purpose, we crave tacos. We strive to be the best damn mothers we can be.

“You cannot pour from an empty cup” is the truest statement ever Pinterested. Moms, our cups are rapidly dwindling. We are the ultimate rock stars of compassion, of teaching, of understanding others. The queens of empathy. Multitasking superheroes. Why are we able to save everyone else from drowning, but it’s so hard to save ourselves?

What if (and bear with me here, this is crazy) instead of belittling and tearing ourselves apart, we just held ourselves still in one spot like we would for our children? And rocked ourselves? Gently, you know? Without judgment? What if we filled our cups with some of the encouragement we save for our children? Just some?

What if we took some time to ourselves each day, wrapped ourselves in the comforts of warm down comforters and soft music and just said—it’s OK. We’re OK. It will all be OK?

What if we were gentle with ourselves, but also determined to push ourselves full force towards our dreams? I know, I know. It’s insane. But, for just one day, I want to look in the mirror and see my daughter. I would see her skin (my skin) glowing beyond the dark circles, the way her eyes light up when she smiles. I would look right past her split ends, double chin and laugh lines and I would see radiance. I would never tear her apart. I would never tell her she’s less than.

If I loved myself like I love my daughter, I would reassure myself always. I would allow myself to make mistakes—even encourage them. I would feed myself more balanced meals and go to sleep on time every time. I’d explore outside more. I might even floss. (Probably not.)

The point is, I would experience pure happiness for the first time without thinking about what kind of horrible thing could happen next. I can’t even imagine looking my daughter in the eyes and reminding her of impending doom—but I do this to myself. Without hesitation. Every day.

If I loved myself like I love my daughter, I would have a renewed sense of pride in who I am. I would have a burning desire to see myself reach goals. I would strive for more and believe wholeheartedly that I could get there. I wouldn’t dwell on the little setbacks. I wouldn’t keep reminding myself of all of the socially awkward things I said in 2003. I would thrive in a life without fear.

When I was younger (and full of imagined wisdom), I told myself that my future children would never see me emotionally distraught. I planned to always be happy around them—body positive and totally sane. Well, well, well. What pre-motherhood me didn’t take into account was that I would have to fake it sometimes, and kids are pretty smart. They know when we’re pretending. They watch every move we make. We cannot fool them into thinking that we love and respect ourselves if truly we are barely above water.

I know this is a stretch, and I’m not sure if it’s wishful thinking. What I do know, moms, is that we have this whole heart full of compassion to pull from, and we’re giving ourselves none of it.

We deserve to be loved from the inside out. It’s starts with us. We’re so good at it. So, moms, instead of pretending, what if we actually started to love ourselves?

We don’t have to fill the whole cup at once, let’s not get crazy here. We can take one drop at a time.

Go grab one of those crusty old medicine droppers that you have lying around in your kitchen somewhere (that you definitely washed but is still sticky for some reason). Then suck up exactly 5 milliliters of love. No more, no less. Then, have two strong adults pin you down and force feed you the love medicine (because it’s disgusting and should have been bubble gum flavored but I digress). Only 2 milliliters will actually make it in; the rest will definitely stain your new footie pajamas BUT hey, that’s more love than you had before. You still with me?

Then, little by little, keep taking that love medicine. Soon it will seem natural. Soon you’ll have a whole cup full. Then when your children need a dose, you’ll have it to give. You’ll have more than enough. You can give endlessly like you’ve always done, but this time you’ll still have some left for you. Because you’re important, too. You deserve to be loved. You deserve to love yourself like a mother.

Originally published on the author’s blog

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Courtney Stackhouse

Courtney Stackhouse is a passionate teacher turned stay-at-home snack giver. She entered her 30s with a burning desire to give less effs. She lives for words, memory foam pillows, and all things breakfast-y. Her obsessions include spending time with her fiesty toddler Finley, coffee of any kind, tiny book shops, connecting with friends on a cosmic level and overanalyzing mostly everything.