The Most Important Lesson for All Mothers

7 steps to infuse self-compassion into your parenting.

KEY POINTS

  • There are no prescribed ways to mother based on the complexity of our role and the different needs our children have.
  • Inevitably, a plethora of complicated thoughts and feelings get evoked in regard to our perceived role as mother.
  • There are many benefits derived in ourselves and in our mothering when we intentionally infuse self-compassion into our parenting.
Ivan Samkov, Pexels

As mothers, we’re expected to be copiously informed and highly skilled. In most other jobs, there’s a large margin of error. In parenting, these mistakes could lead to severe consequences for the well-being of our children. The mounting pressure to do an exceptional job can’t be underestimated and often leads us to perpetual feelings of worry, fear, guilt, and shame, among many other uncomfortable and negative emotions.

How could it not? We’re expected to do and be everything for our children. It’s required that we have the plethora of skills necessary to effectively serve as our children’s protectors, teachers, coaches, etc. We’re also supposed to have the wherewithal to model, teach, and correct their behavior.

Critical self-judgment

We experience enduring self-judgment as well as judging others. We say it ourselves about others: “Look at Peter; his parents must have neglected to ____.” We say it about ourselves: “If only I had been more attentive, then Peter wouldn’t be as ____ as he is.” We’re our own harshest critics. Our mind sets us up to feel inadequate, as we often compare ourselves to other, more put together, well-adjusted, and outstanding mothers and their families.

It can often feel daunting as if we have the weight of the world on our shoulders as we strive to or worry about whether we raised functional, moral, and successful children. With other jobs, there’s a termination date. As a parent, the roles we take on and worries we internalize last a lifetime throughout our children’s development. We make a lifelong commitment to parent, to carry on these roles, and to process all the feelings that often get evoked because we care.

Factors that influence our self-perception

Societally there are inferences about the way we ought to be and the way our children should be if we did a good enough job raising them. It makes it challenging to cultivate self-love and self-compassion when we’re so highly critical of how we must be, especially during the moments we feel we fall short.

As mothers, we’ll experience disappointment and feelings of inadequacy because we’re bound to sometimes falter as we’re facing tough parenting challenges. As human beings, we’re perfectly imperfect. We’ll misjudge, make mistakes, and carry regrets. All of this is intrinsic to being a mother; we willingly take this on when we venture into motherhood.

As mothers and human beings, we are all born worthy of forgiveness and love. The flaws and mistakes in our parenting are inevitable. They can be pivotal learning moments. They can be prime opportunities to gain more self-awareness and improve ourselves going into the future.

Cultivating a self-compassion practice

Self-compassion involves treating yourself the way you would treat someone you love who is having a hard time or is an imperfect human living in an imperfect world, as we all are. Cultivating self-compassion is a worthwhile endeavor, as we have devoted ourselves to one of the most challenging jobs in the world─being a mother.

Science has shown the remarkable benefits associated with self-compassion. According to Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research and author of the books Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself and Fierce Self-Compassion: How Women Can Harness Kindness to Speak Up, Claim Their Power and Thrive, there’s data supporting the fact that self-compassion is associated with less depression, more optimism, greater happiness, and more life satisfaction. In parenting, it is vital as it helps us to honor and accept all of ourselves, including our shortcomings, our mistakes, and our complex thoughts and feelings.

If we saturate in our guilt, shame, and hopelessness, it can adversely impact our parenting. Residing in self-blame and self-condemnation is harmful to our physical and emotional health and can spill over into our ability to be proactive, attuned, and present mothers. On the other hand, sadness, disappointment, and regret can motivate us toward greater self-awareness, learning from our past mistakes, and compel us to initiate change. Great healing is possible through personal insight, self-forgiveness, and facilitating a deeper self-connection.

Resentment toward ourselves keeps us stuck. When we forgive ourselves and practice self-compassion, we feel freer and more empowered. This also directly lends to our being more accepting and compassionate toward our children, whom we love so dearly.

7 steps to infuse self-compassion into your parenting:

1. When you’re feeling frustrated, angry, exasperated, or any other feeling regarding parenting, do you acknowledge or deny it? In the moment, take the time to notice how you’re thinking and feeling and the bodily sensations that you’re experiencing.

2. While you’re noticing everything from number one, also be aware if you’re judging or criticizing yourself for the thoughts, feelings, and/or sensations. If you are, summarize and label what you’re doing. For example, express, “Right now I’m judging myself as an awful mother for getting frustrated with Kate and yelling at her.”

3. Tap into your parenting value and identify why what you said or did or what you didn’t say or do was out of alignment with who you are or want to be as a mother. Thank your negative feelings for showing up, as they remind you how truly important your parenting values are to you. Also, express appreciation for yourself, as you hold your parenting values in such high regard, and you would never want to be any other way.

4. Take an intentional self-compassion moment. Validate your feelings and reactions (this doesn’t mean that you need to excuse the behavior). For example, “When Kate speaks disrespectfully to me, it triggers my anger. It’s considerably challenging for me to control my anger and impulses when I’m feeling so deeply hurt and rejected.”

5. Show yourself compassion by displaying a gesture of self-love and self-compassion, such as crossing your arms around yourself and giving yourself a hug, cupping your hands on your heart, rubbing your temples, or doing anything else you find nurturing and soothing. As you’re doing it, communicate your authentic feelings. “I struggle when I feel hurt and rejected. I want to do better next time and express how I feel rather than acting out on my feelings. I will always strive to be a better parent because it’s critically important to me.”

6. Decide how you want to react and behave in that moment and in the future based on your parenting values. For example, you may apologize to Kate for screaming at her, open a discussion regarding how she felt, how you felt, and reinforce the need for mutual respect, acting mindfully, and how things can meaningfully change in your relationship going forward.

7. We always strive to be heard, validated, acknowledged, and attended to. Do you focus on your shortcomings and deny or take for granted your positive contributions to your parenting? Take intentional moments at the end of each day to take an inventory of your strengths and accomplishments, including the smaller ones and larger ones, your loving qualities, acts of courage, and your desire to give, love, and grow in your parenting.

The challenging moments and painful thoughts and feelings connected to parenting are inevitable. Layering on judgment, criticism, and condemnation leads to additional suffering. Engaging in self-compassion in our parenting increases our self-confidence and empowers us to move forward more lovingly toward ourselves and in our parenting, like we all deserve, as we try to be the best mothers that we possibly can be.

Here is a Mother’s Day Mindful Guided Meditation led by me. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel for more interviews and guided meditations.

Originally published at https://www.psychologytoday.com.

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Michelle P. Maidenberg, Ph.D., MPH, LCSW-R works with children age 8 and above, adolescents, teens, and adults. Michelle is the Co-Founder of “Thru My Eyes”

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Dr. Michelle Maidenberg

Dr. Michelle Maidenberg

Michelle P. Maidenberg, Ph.D., MPH, LCSW-R works with children age 8 and above, adolescents, teens, and adults. Michelle is the Co-Founder of “Thru My Eyes”

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