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I am kind of new to this self-love thing. I’m a child of divorce and have struggled with self-esteem and anxiety my entire life. I’m sure many people can relate.

I’ve heard it said before that having a kid won’t solve your problems, it will only magnify them. Meaning, if you were a jerk before kids, then you’ll still be a jerk after kids—and maybe you’ll become an even bigger jerk as you hover over your special snowflake at recess. If you were unhappy before kids, then you’ll still be unhappy after kids when you realize that they don’t actually make your life complete as all of your Facebook friends claim.

But there is a brighter side to this depressing picture, a new reality that I’m just figuring out for myself. When I became a mother, all of my issues got even bigger. I was even more anxious. I was even more insecure. I felt even guiltier about every little thing that I did or didn’t do for my new baby. I was even more terrified about screwing up this blank slate of a kid that had been given to me.

I have spent the past two years as a mother thinking about what I want to rub off on my kid. As a baby grows into a toddler and starts to mimic everything you do, it becomes evident that they are going to be influenced by your morals, your beliefs, and your attitude. Sure, your toddler will one day grow into adult and have to make decisions for himself, but until that day, you will be his number one example.

All of these ideas are nothing new in the parenting community: Teach by your actions and not by your words. But it’s not until you find yourself in the situation of watching a little person look up to you and scrutinize every move that you make that you realize—SHIT, I really am his role model.

I have to qualify this by saying that I don’t have daughters; I have two sons. But I don’t think that matters one bit when it comes to instilling self-confidence and self-worth in a kid. Men suffer from low self-esteem just as much as women, in my humble opinion. Women may make their issues more obvious in the way that they dress and personal struggles with body image. I know this firsthand because I have dealt with an eating disorder myself.

As I look at my son and see that he is looking up to me, I realize that my self-love is the most important thing. This sounds incredibly cheesy, but it must be said. It all goes back to the old example of putting on your own oxygen mask first during a plane crash before you attempt to help those around you—even small children.

I am working on loving myself so that I can become a better mother. I’m hardly there yet, but this is my number one commitment to my family. It’s so easy to get caught up in the guilt and self-blame of being a mom: Did I buy the right brand of organic food? Did I breast-feed long enough? Am I a bad mother for choosing to sleep train or for co-sleeping?

In the grand scheme of things, all of those questions are ridiculous. What really matters is the respect and value that you have for yourself as a mother and a person first of all. If you haven’t mastered self-love—and believe me when I tell you that I am more than familiar with years of self-hate and negative self-talk—it will be nearly impossible for you to freely love your children.

Self-love is complicated and has a different meaning for everyone. I’m not a psychologist, but I am in therapy, and I think that’s a great first step. Do what works for you, but do whatever it takes to make yourself feel loved and valued—before you love your kids. I can promise you that if you don’t, you’re in for a rude awakening when you realize that your kids really will suck all of the love and resources from you each and every day. If you’re not giving back to yourself, you won’t have anything else left to give.

You may argue with this, and you’re free to. Many women firmly believe that their children are their reason for breathing and that they love them more than life itself. I love my children an unimaginable amount, but I love myself more. You can’t convince me that I would have enough love to give to my kids if I didn’t love myself first.

Sticking up for yourself can be hard, especially when you feel like everyone in your family is pulling on you. But sometimes I think self-love can be so simple. When I think back to my own childhood, I know that if my mom had set aside more time for herself and went out with friends and did things that genuinely interested her from time to time, I would have felt safer. Her self-love would have made me believe I could love myself too.

(Image: Accord/Shutterstock)