Go Easy on Yourself: How to be a Self-Compassionate Parent
Many of us enter into parenthood with lofty expectations of infant snuggles, blissful stroller outings, and tapping into built-in parenting instincts. But in reality, the challenges of adapting to new parenthood are far greater than we ever imagined, and we end up feeling like total failures or concluding that we are, "just not cut out to be a parent." Looking back on my introduction to motherhood, I wish I had known that pretty much every parent struggles with feeding, loss of identity and freedom, questioning their competence as parents, and about a million other things.
So...this is your reminder that you are just learning, right alongside your baby. Even if your baby is now 14 years old, you are still learning how to parent your child in a way that feels comfortable for you. As parents, we are so hard on ourselves, as we have this enormous responsibility to raise children that live up to our expectations (which are shaped by society and the way we were parented once upon a time). But what if we cut ourselves some slack and remind ourselves that there is no such things as a perfect parent? We all make mistakes. We all have days that we feel like colossal failures. We may also have amazing days that feel triumphant and proud, but we don't need so much reassurance on those days.
By showing ourselves a little self-compassion we can invite gentleness and kindness into our attitude about our parenting competence. So what is self-compassion anyway? Think of if as treating yourself as you would your best friend. Ditching the self-criticism and offering support. Reassurance. Patience. Understanding. Sound good right?
Here's a self-compassion tool that you can use in those tough parenting moments when you are feeling down on yourself: (inspired by Kristen Neff, PhD, self-compassion guru)
Close your eyes gently (if this feels comfortable for you), and bring to mind a challenging parenting situation you encountered recently.
Say to yourself, "I am feeling stressed" or "I am having a hard time right now" or something similar that resonates for you. Just recognize your suffering.
Say, "All parents have hard days" or "All parents have difficulties" or simply, "others feel this way too." Acknowledge the shared humanity in your suffering.
Place your hands over your heart (if this feels okay), and feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch on your chest. Say to yourself, "May I give myself the kindness and compassion I need right now."
Offer yourself a phrase like, "I am strong" or "I can get through this" or "Everyone makes mistakes, and I am still a great parent." Something gentle and kind. And ask yourself what you need that will be comforting and nurturing: a warm cup of tea, a hug, a breath of fresh air, a snack, a shower.
Remember this practice when you need it...write it down, bookmark this page, make a note in your phone. I hope this helps you to find more self-compassion on those super difficult parenting days and encourages you to go easy on yourself.