There’s been a lot written over the last year regarding self-care for parents. But, honestly, screw the self-care. A massage does wonders for about an hour and then I’m back to wrangling a 20-lb infant and a boundary-pushing toddler while also trying to run a business.
What we need to be talking about is self-compassion. Self-compassion is the ability to show empathy and kindness towards oneself and, culturally, we are really terrible at this. We tend to have this “you only have yourself to blame” mentality when thinking of our own challenges or suffering. We think, “You should be the best. Try harder. Don’t cut yourself any slack, because the second you do, you’ll let all the dominoes fall.” Kristen Neff, the foremost thought leader on self-compassion said, “I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent. They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line.” Yikes. That’s harsh. And that’s exactly what we are to ourselves – harsh and critical.
Well then, what happens when a global pandemic occurs, you’re trying to manage Zoom calls, remote schooling, and have a toddler crying in the background? And you’re still trying to be a professional leading a team at work because you don’t feel you can let the chaos show, because you’re afraid you’ll get mom-tracked or perceived as not being able to handle it all?
Let me tell you what’s going to happen. You’re going to crack. No human can handle all that and a glass of wine after the kids go to sleep isn’t going to fix it. But, self-compassion can. Well, let me re-phrase that. Self-compassion can’t magically make all that go away, but it can help you manage the perception that you’re supposed to be this superhuman who does it all without fail. Because you will feel like you failed at some point, and self-critical talk is going to blame you, judge you, and make it really hard to get back up.
On the other hand, self-compassion will:
- Remind you you’re not alone. Self-critical talk is isolating. “You just failed under pressure.” Self-compassionate talk is inclusive. “We’re all going to fall down at some point.”
- Place challenges and suffering in a broader context. Self-critical talk is globalized. “You are a terrible parent.” Self-compassionate talk is localized. “You’re having a hard parenting moment.”
- Soothe the soul with kindness and acceptance. Self-critical talk motivates using fear. “Why aren’t you better at this?” Self-compassionate sees things simply as they are. “You are suffering right now and that’s hard.”
Now, sure, it’s easy to say all this now. It’s harder to put self-compassionate talk into action when things actually get tough. To build the self-compassion muscle, here’s an exercise for switching your self-critical talk for self-compassionate talk, adapted from Kristen Neff. Ask yourself what you would say to your child in the same situation. Would you berate them for not being enough or accept them with love and compassion? Actually say the words out loud. It just hits differently when you imagine the words being received by this human that holds your whole heart.
So yes, your toddler is screaming during your Zoom call. This is a really hard moment. You are frustrated and trying to hold it together the best you can. You are not alone in this struggle. In fact, others on your call may be on mute right now, because their toddlers are screaming. This does not mean you are a bad parent or a bad employee, it means you are having a hard moment right now. This moment will end and, thankfully, so does toddler-hood at some point. Take a deep breath. Give yourself a big, giant hug.
Foster love and empathy within yourself and for yourself. The benefits will far outlast any manicure. I promise.