Hopefully last week you got a chance to check out the first blog post of my parents essential series for February, on the top 6 parenting principles. If not, check it out here: Top 6 Principles of Parenting. A lot is covered in last weeks blog post, so I want to spend some time breaking down some important points.
Let’s talk about some of what’s behind your frustration with not feeling like you’re more consistently being the parent that you really want to be. Self-compassion is a buzzword in some circles, and some people talk about it like it’s fluffy and easy. While the concept may seem simple, it really is not easy- like most things, it takes practice! If you are often feeling resentful, irritated, or inadequate as a parent, a lack of self-compassion is likely one of the major things you are forgetting to include in your life practices.
Many people I work with describe being a parent as part of who they are. They may view it as a role and a responsibility, but some also view parenting as part of their being. That puts a whole heck of a lot of pressure on parents to do and be their best. Although they do not all realize it, all parents I work with also have different parts of themselves that are important to them. These important parts of them are their core value. Core values help us lead the life we want to lead, and help guide our decision making as a parent, and within other roles and responsibilities. Different people value different things, but examples are: career, partnership, creativity, helping, honesty, spirituality or personal development.
Everyone has different values in addition to parenting, and when there is an expectation of perfection across all of the roles and responsibilities that connect with your values, you experience stress. Perfection simply isn’t possible. When stressed, parents turn to fight, flight or freeze. You may behave in a way that is not consistent with your values, and wind up feeling bad for a mistake that you said or did while trying to parent. You displace your stress onto your child and feel crappy afterwards. You don’t realize you are missing the self-compassion piece, so you continue to engage in this cycle of feeling stressed and then making choices that aren’t congruent with your values as a person or a parent. Your child’s behavior and their relationship with you is impacted. Ugh, it sucks!
This is actually a common cycle for lots of struggling parents. Self-compassion seems like a simple thing so it is easily overlooked, but it actually takes practice to incorporate into your life on an ongoing basis. You will not regret taking the time to practice it!
So, what the heck is self-compassion and how does it help? Self-compassion is taking some mental space from your internal emotional experiences, and granting yourself some grace in order to do so. When you mess up (and you will… because we all do at some point), you take full accountability for your actions, without holding yourself captive by them. When you do not practice self-compassion, you get stuck. You constantly repeat the same pattern of ineffective behaviors that wind up creating a negative interaction between you and your child, and likely others you interact with regularly as well.
To gain the most out of a self-compassion practice as a parent, you need to apply it to your relationship with yourself across settings, not just at home with your kids. For example, what happens when if you mess up at work? Do you take it as an opportunity to learn, forgive yourself, and move forward? Or, do you hang onto the frustration, irritation, guilt or not good enough thoughts? If you hang onto it and offer no self-compassion, you probably find yourself more emotionally reactive with your children and/or your spouse. When you get home and your child’s a bit rowdy, do you snap? Do you place expectations on them that aren’t developmentally appropriate (“Just be quiet and sit down!”- kids need to connect with their parents and they need to move around, especially after sitting in school most of the day). Do you dive into your phone or computer and try to shut them out? If so, you probably notice that it’s not working out really well.
Instead, you can tell yourself “Okay, it sucks I messed up that project. I feel really upset about that silly mistake, but I made the mistake and I know I have to move forward. Maybe tomorrow I can talk to my team and try a different strategy. It’s time to leave, so I’m going to spend some fun time with my kids when I get home and focus on that. I will get back to work on the project when I am back at work tomorrow”. You are much more likely to have patience and practice compassion with your children when you get home and they’re jumping up and down screaming your name. In this example, you’re feeling what you feel but giving yourself some mental space from it, so your emotions don’t rule the roost. You are accepting you can’t change what happened, but you can try something different tomorrow, and in the meantime, you can enjoy something else that you value- quality time with the kids!
What if you told yourself: “Ugh, I am such a crappy project leader. I can’t believe I messed that up. That was so stupid. Great, now I have to deal with my kids screaming at me when I get home and they don’t listen when I tell them to knock it off anyway. This day sucks, nothing ever goes my way”. Not only would you feel crappier, but you would interact with your children in a much different and less engaging way than if you practiced self-compassion. You are not offering yourself any mental space from your difficult feelings, and you aren’t leaving yourself any chance to realize that messing up on one project doesn’t actually mean that you’re a bad leader or that you can’t enjoy some quality time with your kids.
When you practice compassion with yourself, you are better able to practice compassion with others.
Parents wear many hats. Parenting is a big role, a big responsibility, and a big part of plenty of people. If you’re stressed and holding yourself captive all too often, you owe it to yourself to give self-compassion a try. You, your children, and others you love, will benefit greatly. If you put forth a genuine effort to try it, even just once a day for the next 3 weeks, you’d be surprised how it impacts your quality of life. Go ahead, there’s no harm in trying.
If you want to work on this more, give me a call (215) 437-3414- Dr. Toni.