Me to my child: “I love you.”
Me: “Do you know why I love you?”
Me: “Because you are you.”
This was a common conversation with all of my children and one I still have today with my grandchildren. It was taken from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and used often in my home. I have a great love and respect for Fred Rogers; his words of encouragement and philosophy of kindness to others was consistent and sincere: certainly a philosophy we can all learn from and apply to our lives.
Using his own words, below are five ways Mister Rogers teaches us to love ourselves “just the way we are”:
1. “I think that those who would try to make you feel less than who you are . . . that’s the greatest [harm].” --Fred Rogers
For me, it started in the fourth grade: an awareness of whom the “popular girls” were. It then became a quest to figure out how to get into that group. I tried to wear the clothes they were wearing, arrange my hair like theirs, talk like they did, and on and on it went. By the time I was in the sixth grade, I had part-time status in their group and I put all my efforts into becoming a full-time member. My quest came to an unfortunate end when a fashion choice of mine was deemed “not cool.” I was “cut” from the group—no one would sit by me, talk to me, or send me a note—nothing for a whole month! I would love to say I learned my lesson, wrote them off, and found my one true friend and was happy and comfortable in my own skin forever more. Sadly, that’s not what happened.
From these types of experiences, we get it into our head that we are not enough. We are not cool enough, hip enough, smart enough, or pretty enough. And now, with the rise of social media, we look multiple times a day at what would seemingly be “the cool crowd,” with their vacations, homes, children, husbands, clothes, latest gadgets; the list goes on. And once again, we feel we are “not enough.” We have to remember that no one’s life is as perfect as their social media feed would suggest. Even those cool girls whom I emulated had very hard and imperfect lives. One of them ran away with her sisters to get out of a bad home situation, others also faced life challenges with mothers who drank too much, absent fathers, etc.
The saying goes, “enough is enough.” No one is perfect or has the perfect life and we can realize that our enough is enough. We are one of the greatest creations of God. We are divine spirits with gifts that we are under obligation to develop and use. We have a beauty that surpasses any magazine cover or all the airbrushing that goes into creating it.
I always examined my children’s friendships very carefully; I tried to guide them away from friends who did not have a positive influence on their choices or how they looked at themselves. Let us put the same care into our friendships. Do our friends feed our souls? Is there an equal appreciation for what the other has and an equal amount of encouragement to help the other achieve their goals? Do we have conversations that uplift and create positive feelings about ourselves?
It wasn’t in the sixth grade, but a day came when I decided I was done trying to fit in. Making that decision helped me find my people and friendships that have lasted decades. Your people are out there; they are looking for you. But they can’t find you if you are trying to be someone else. I will leave you with what I would say to my kids, “don’t forget who you are.” Surround yourself with people who get you, love you and are kind to you, starting with yourself.
2. “The most important learning is the ability to accept and expect mistakes and deal with the disappointment they bring.” --Fred Rogers
My youngest daughter, Caroline, has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. She was not diagnosed until she was 12. Before then, we had no idea of her internal daily struggles. With each new revelation of what she was struggling through and in trying to learn how to best help her, I realized during her early years, I was not much help at all.
For example: Starting at a young age, when it was time for bed, she would “lose it” if she had to leave something unfinished: a drawing, a project, or playing a game. I was tired; I just wanted children in bed. “It will be here in the morning,” I would say as I picked her up while she screamed and squirmed her way to bed.
One of the things we eventually learned about OCD is the mental toll it takes on a person with OCD to leave anything “unfinished.” With this realization, I immediately went back to those nights when I would physically separate her from the unfinished projects or play. Why didn’t I know this? What was wrong with my mother’s intuition? If this was so painful for her, why didn’t the spirit give me a heads-up? I felt awful. In the light of this information it became clear the various strategies that would have helped Caroline make this bedtime transition easier. I could have given a five-minute warning, helped her manage what time she started something, discussed what would be a good stopping point at the onset of a project. As I ticked off all these ideas on my list of things I could have done to make bedtime smoother for Caroline, I felt regret as I allowed this negative thinking to form into one false “fact:” that I was responsible for my child’s trauma.
Concentrating on mistakes, missteps and actions we regret does not allow for the light of positive thinking. Disappointment swallows our faith and disables our abilities and opportunities for improvement.
Mister Rogers said, “There is one thing that evil cannot stand and that is forgiveness.” Instead of clinging to our disappointment, we can turn and cling to the Savior. Mistakes and regret will always be a part of life. We can never be perfect on our own, but when we embrace the Savior with our disappointment and defeat, He can perfect us. He can comfort us, tell us what we need to do to become better, and then help us do it. He does this out of pure love, no guilt attached.
3. “It’s not easy to quiet a doubt.” --Fred Rogers
“Little by little we human beings are confronted with situations that give us more and more clues that we are not perfect” (Fred Rogers). Our self-doubts don’t define who we really are, but left unchecked, they can keep us from being who we are meant to be and doing what we are meant to do. Self-doubt stops progress and dampens the courage it takes to try. Love for ourselves begins to fade; doubts and unkind thoughts become the voices in our heads. How do we quiet those doubts and let love in?
Here are two ideas:
a. Accept compliments.
“If we can receive what someone gives us in a graceful way, we’ve given that person a wonderful gift” (Fred Rogers).
When I would give my friend Sherilyn a compliment, she would say “thank you.” That was it! She didn’t put herself down or try to find reasons why my compliment might not be true. The first few times, it seemed so unusual; I was fascinated by it! It is hard when one gives a compliment for the other to qualify our words; it diminishes the meaning of what was said. I loved that Sherilyn freely accepted the kindness I had offered her. Words matter! We so easily hang on to the negative words that support our doubts and fears, and so easily dismiss the kind ones that more accurately draw a picture of who we really are. I began trying to be the one to just say “thank you.” Accepting the words offered created a feeling between myself and the person who had been kind. Not only that, but the words of love that were offered stayed with me longer. When doubts would creep in, those same words helped give me the courage to rise above my self-doubt.
b. Don’t let your doubts cloud your perception of success.
Sometimes, I think we look at the relationship between our successes or failures in the wrong way, setting up the scenario in which the only thing that gets credit is failure.
Success can’t always be defined by the result. Even failures bring about success. Lessons learned in this way become valuable growing experiences.
Certainly, mothering can’t always be defined by results. When our children do something we didn’t teach them to do, our doubts go into overdrive and we think of nothing but the things we did think we did wrong. Like most things in life, there is no one way to mother. We have to adapt, change and learn as we go, but don’t let your doubts cause you to be uncertain. With mothering, or anything else you are trying to accomplish, success comes when we focus harder on our goal than we do on our doubts. The ability to rise above and keep going—regardless of the outcome—is true success.
4. “There are three ways to ultimate success. The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” --Fred Rogers
Soon after Rich and I began dating, I met his siblings: three sisters and a brother. I instantly fell in love with them and recognized in them one of the things I love about Rich most of all: they are all the genuine, I-really-care-about-you kind of people. Kindness and the ability to love others is hardwired into their souls. I thought, “I want to be like that,” and began what continues to be a 40-some-odd-year journey to learn to do what comes so naturally to them.
This isn’t always easy for me, especially when it comes to being kind to myself. I have found that kindness must be cultivated and practiced. I have also discovered that the deeper the love we have for ourselves, the greater our capacity is to love others.
Mister Rogers would, on occasion, when accepting an award or making a speech, talk about all the people that “brought him into being” and then would ask for a ten-second moment of silence while everyone there thought about the people who helped them “become who they are.” Using this powerful tool of thought, set your timer for ten seconds. In silence, think only kind thoughts about yourself. Do this every day, throughout the day. Do this as you fall asleep at night and when you first wake up in the morning. Pray that the spirit can help you in your thoughts to see yourself as the Lord sees you. There will not be an unkind word looking from His viewpoint, only His love.
5. "The toughest thing is to love somebody who has done something mean to you. Especially when that somebody has been yourself." --Fred Rogers
Mister Rogers left a legacy of phrases and songs that emphasize the power of unconditional love and acceptance. Not only did he encourage us to love others unconditionally, but he encouraged us all to love ourselves with the same kind of kindness. “When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong along with the fearful, the true mixed in with the façade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way” (Fred Rogers).
Mister Rogers’ ability to love others came from his ability to look past the imperfections of a person and love them for who they are, deep in their soul. Let us shed away the desires to conform, rate our successes by others and our failures as a sign of defeat and choose to believe that where it counts—in the very creation of God himself—lies a person worth our love. This was Fred Rogers’ life-long message. And although his TV show was directed to children, his message is universal to us all: we all have worth; we are all loveable “just the way we are.”
Fred Rogers took great care for the children of this world, weighing every word used on his show, judging the impact and message that would be sent to the children who watched him.
He not only used this great gift of love with the words he spoke, but the actions he took. His message was both heard and felt: we are all special and unique. He backed up his words by living his life in such a way that his message of love and acceptance has touched the life of millions. To learn more about Fred Rogers, his remarkable career and life, check out his website: https://www.misterrogers.org/about-fred-rogers/.
Documentary: The World According to Mister Rogers
Episode 1665 of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
Interview between Fred Rogers and Charlie Rose (1994/1997)
Independent Lens: Won’t You Be My Neighbor