Sneak peek: What does it mean to have self-compassion in parenting? Does it make us too “soft” on ourselves? Research offers us insight into how self-compassion may impact our parenting.
Who’s experienced this scenario? You do something in your parenting life that you are not proud of such as yelling at your child. You realize your error and spend the next hours if not days, beating yourself up internally about it.
“How could I have made such a mistake? Why am I so impatient with my kids? I’m a horrible parent, etc, etc.”
I think it’s common for many of us to feel that if harshly criticize our parenting that somehow that will make us less likely to do it again. It’s like we feel we need to punish ourselves. Many of us get into this reflex mental habit without really thinking about it.
Over the years I’ve become familiar with the work of Kristin Neff who does groundbreaking work on the topic of self-compassion. One of many insights her work presents is that being compassionate with yourself might actually be the better option, even though it’s harder in many ways. In regards to parenting, what her research finds is that instead of beating ourselves up about our mistakes, self-compassion gives us the emotional resources to be more patient and kind with our kids.
Self-compassion can help our parenting
This seems obvious in some ways, but it’s so hard to practice in daily life. It forces us to consider what are the mental habits that may or may not serve us and our families well. Although we may feel we “deserve” to criticize our own parenting, this may not serve us or our children the best. Instead, giving ourselves compassion, realizing that we’re only human and we make mistakes may be just the model we need to offer our kids. This example of self-compassion may help us get out of a negative spiral of self-criticism. Beyond that, it offers our children a model of how to be kind to themselves when they make mistakes as well.
So, what does this look like in daily life? I think one approach and one practice to try to incorporate into our life is changing the way that we talk to ourselves.
- Be mindful of how you speak to yourself, your internal dialogue. Try replacing negative self-talk with more positive framing.
- Actively practice self-compassion through mental exercises. Dr. Neff offers several of these on her website. There are different strategies but the main goal is to reframe and learn to think about the situation and yourself differently. For example, one exercise guides you to think about yourself in the same way you’d like about a good friend. What would you say to them in this situation, etc. These can be a powerful way to change your mental habits.
- Focus on mindfulness. According to Dr. Neff, this is a key component of self-compassion. It helps you focus on the present moment and accept your feelings (even the difficult ones) from a stance of openness while not over-identifying with them either.
I hope this self-compassionate approach to parenting opens up new insight for you. For many of us, the notion that we don’t have to beat ourselves up for our parenting mistakes can be a huge change. I’d love to hear what you think and if you’ve seen a change after trying to be more self-compassionate.