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We learn about love starting from the time we are children. But as we become young adults, sometimes our views on love are skewed either by our own perceptions and ideals, by cultural conversation, by our own expectations or by our own experiences. We start to place conditions on love, trying to put it in a box of what we think it is supposed to look like. Or we confuse it for one thing or another. We forget that love is all around us, love is within us. In our friendships. In our romantic partnerships. In our jobs. In everything.

I was thinking about this recently, as I mentioned to a friend of mine that since having children I feel like I wear my heart on my sleeve for all to see. A love that is unconditional, that is protective, that is nurturing. A mother’s love. A love that is different than how we love our partners or how we love our friends.

I remember watching Good Morning America after the death of my dog, Hercules. They were doing a piece on why people sometimes grieve the loss of a pet more than they do the loss of a human being. The reason was that our pets rarely disappoint us. They are loyal, and aside from chewing on our favorite pair of shoes as a puppy or a few accidents around the house, the level of those things don’t cut us in emotionally deep ways.

As humans, we carry the ability to hurt one another. We disappoint one another. While unintentional (unless you are a sociopath) that hurt is profound. Yet, we grow up with this idea of fairy tale endings and think it is okay to carry that false ideal on to our children.

“And they all lived happily ever after.”

Umm. No, they didn’t.

Anyone who has listened to me read a bedtime story to my children has likely had a bit of an eyebrow raise and a chuckle as they hear me change the ending of every fairy tale. In my home, “the Prince swept her off her feet and they lived happily ever after” has been replaced with, “because they respect one another and understand and accept one another as whole individuals, they are choosing to be equal partners and create a life together.”

True story.

I wish I had a photo of my mother’s face the first time she heard me change up the ending of a book. It was priceless. Cinderella didn’t get whisked away to some castle because the damn shoe fit. She decided the prince was worth it and made a choice to be with him!

But if love is meant to challenge another person to grow, is hurt not inevitable? Are we not challenged to grow through that hurt, through that struggle? Why feed our children this idea that love equals happily ever after and can be found in the form of the handsome princess or beautiful princess? Nobody can live up to that standard.

I want someone to write a children’s book about Suzie and Sam – equal partners who create a home where they often challenge one another in a loving and respectful way, where disagreements lead to growth, feelings unintentionally get hurt, sometimes one wants to give up on the other – but through it all they are growing. They are choosing that person. To love them through the difficult moments. To accept the good, the bad, and the ugly that we all have within each of us. They have chosen to do life together, which sometimes means sifting through the garbage and accepting the baggage we all carry with us.

Baggage simply means you are well-traveled, don’t let it stand in the way of your happiness.

Love isn’t about holding on for dear life, it is about letting go. It is about allowing another person to be free in who they are. It isn’t about what they can give to you, but what you learn about yourself through giving to them. Sometimes it is letting go of your own false perceptions and expectation that you are supposed to be something else, something more, something different.

Love is also about allowing others to love you, especially during times of struggle.

But, love can be challenging as it can bring up things within yourself that you were previously unwilling to see. Our friendships and relationships serve as a mirror, reflecting back to us the lessons we still have yet to learn. This creates that internal struggle – to run or to lean in. Whether you listen to your head or your heart. And only you can decide for yourself which you choose. One based in ego. The other based in truth and purpose.

Modern ideals have skewed our idea of what love is supposed to be and as a parent, I find myself challenged to do better for my children so they have a healthy view on what love really is, not some fleeting storybook version of blissful perfection.

The blissful moments of love are coming back together after a disagreement, after a stumble and learning to work through it together. Moments of continued growth.

Love is also about the way you love yourself. Taking the time to figure out what makes you happy, setting boundaries, having the courage to love yourself. When you allow the time and space to do that, you understand the capacity you have to love others. You also understand that love doesn’t need labels or boxes, it transcends all those things.

As a mother, I find myself wanting to empower my children and teach them that love is a two-way street and when one of the lanes is blocked it makes it impossible to flow – just like traffic. Unless they have learned to love themselves first, there will always be a road block. There will always be something standing in the way.

When we allow ourselves to remove the road blocks and let love flow through everything we do, that is when we open ourselves to the possibility of knowing love without conditions and living our life without limits.

This week, let’s all take some time to love ourselves first. Whether you are a mom who is feeling the pressure of managing it all, a businessperson who has spent far too many late nights at the office, or you are simply in need of refilling your cup. Challenge yourself to take the time you need.

For me, that time came a few weeks ago sitting in a hotel room for two days all by myself with no alarm clocks, no schedules, and the ability to write, reflect, and simply take some time for me. I may have purchased a new pair of shoes as well. And guess what – I deserved it!! And so do you.

Cheers to a new week and creating space in your life to love yourself.

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