We have all been there- those parenting moments that just fall short. Maybe your child is pushing your buttons and you can no longer keep your cool. Maybe you try to give advice to your child about how to handle a tricky social situation and it comes out all wrong. Perhaps you are trying to do it all and end up missing an important game or recital. It is in these moments that for most parents the self-talk begins. That voice that whispers (or sometimes shouts!) “you are failing as a parent”. We all know what that is like because parenthood is hard.
My clients who are raising children often share a deep desire to be a patient and compassionate parent. Many, however, confess that they often feel like they fall short- unable to practice compassion or patience towards their children or themselves. As a clinician, I am often asked by my clients for tools and tips to be better parents.
In both my professional work with families as well as in my own struggles as a parent, tools and tips are great, but I have seen these three powerful practices make the most positive, lasting changes.
These practices include: Self- Compassion, Loving- Kindness and the Growth Mindset.
I feel the word “practice” is fitting as these are ways of thinking and being. These are models to help us retrain our brains to perceive and react in healthier and more helpful ways each day.
You Can Create Self-Compassion
According to Kristin Neff, a leading researcher in self-compassion, engaging in a practice of self-compassion “provides an island of clam, a refuge from the stormy seas of endless positive and negative self-judgment”. Neff shares three main components to cultivating self-compassion, which can be done in times of need. Here are three steps you can take to bring more self-compassion into parenthood.
Cultivate Self- kindness. This is a practice of being gentle and kind to ourselves. The voice we want to cultivate is one of a close friend who offers us non-judgmental support and forgiveness. Ultimately, the goal is for this compassionate voice to start to speak more loudly than any internal harsh, critical voice.
Recognize Our Common Humanity. Just knowing there is another parent out there struggling with the same thing can make all the difference. Rather than feeling like you are the only one going through this, remind yourself that parenthood is hard and all parents are connected by these difficult feelings.
Finding Balance Through Mindfulness. It can be challenging to take a step back from an intense parenting moment. When possible, rather than dwelling on our painful feelings or pushing them away, mindfully observe the feelings without being consumed by them.
To listen to a brief guided meditation called the Self-Compassion Break, by Kristin Neff’s click here.
Bring on the Loving- Kindness
Born from Positive Psychology, the practice of loving- kindness is gentle and nurturing. Like the practice of self-compassion, it offers comfort and reassurance during challenging parenting moments.
One way to practice loving- kindness is to imagine someone close to you who you love. Now imagine sending love, happiness and well- wishes to that person. As you send out your loving vibes start to imagine that same kind of love and warmth coming back to you.
Just as you did when practicing self-compassion, start to imagine a community of people- maybe it is a community of parents, just like you. Send all those parents your love and kind wishes. Now allow yourself to become a receptacle for the love and kindness being sent to you from that community of parents.
The final step is to imagine the whole world. Sending love and compassion to every person on the planet. In turn, imagine receiving that same level of understanding and acceptance back from each person in the world.
Numerous studies, including one recent study conducted in Australia with parents, have shown that cultivating the practice of loving- kindness can help parents be less reactive and have more compassionate relationships with their children.
The Growth Mindset
One of the most effective ways to raise a child who is compassionate, kind and emotionally well- regulated is to model that behavior as a parent. The growth mindset also embraces mistakes as learning opportunities rather than shameful failures.
Great Parents Make Mistakes. Not only do great parents make mistakes- they make a lot of mistakes and they view them as opportunities to grow and learn. These parents also recognize that one mistake doesn’t define who they are as a parent. The most valuable thing we can do as parents is see our failings as chances to grow rather than label or beat ourselves up.
Be A Real Person. With the barrage of glossy social media posts about parenthood making raising children look effortless it can be nearly impossible to not compare yourself to an unrealistic ideal. The truth is, being a “perfect” parent means you are not taking chances or being challenged to grow. Staying in the safe zone gives to avoid failing gives children the message that trying new things is scary and bad. This can inhibit children for developing resiliency, welcoming a challenge and overcoming difficulties on their own.
Here are a couple ways you can adopt a growth mindset (and help your kids do this too!):
Rather than saying: “Maybe I’m just not good enough to do this”
Try: “This is hard and what I’m doing isn’t working. Let me see if I can try another strategy”.
Rather than judging yourself by thinking: “I am just not a good parent. There must be something wrong with me”
Try approaching it with curiosity: “I am really struggling, but what are some others ways I could try to solve this problem that I haven’t tried yet?”
Empowering yourself with self-compassion, loving- kindness and the growth mindset are three of the simplest and yet most effective ways you can immediately start to heal and quiet that inner parenting critic. We all strive to raise children who are understanding, kind and excited by the challenges of life and those qualities start with you!
To learn more about how Sage House Therapy can support your parenthood journey please reach out to us!
Kate is the Founder and Clinical Director of Sage House Counseling & Art Therapy. With nearly ten years of clinical experience, I partner with you to connect back to your authentic, true self. The self that desires happiness, abundance and greater self-compassion. I work with clients just like you because I believe we all have the innate ability to heal and grow when we are heard and supported.