Kindness: It's for Kids and Parents too!
Updated: May 24, 2019
There's no doubt, parenting isn't for the faint of heart. While it's certainly never been easy to raise healthy and happy children, it turns out that we're asking more of ourselves as parents than ever before. New York Times writer Claire Cain Miller explains that, "over just a couple of generations, parents have greatly increased the amount of time, attention and money they put into raising children. Mothers who juggle jobs outside the home spend just as much time tending their children as stay-at-home mothers did in the 1970s." Attachment parenting, sleep training, social emotional learning, organic foods, music education, and outdoor play dates...it's a lot to manage! Even when things are going well, parenting gives us plenty of opportunities to be frustrated, self-critical and even concerned that we might be negatively impacting our kids. However, amid mounting expectations and social pressure to do it "right" as a parent, there is good news. As it turns out, the painful moments of parenting also provide us with a chance to grow, learn and become more of the person we want to be for ourselves and our kids.
Dr.Kristin Neff, Associate Professor Human Development and Culture, Educational Psychology Department, University of Texas at Austin, is championing a revolution that in way that we take care of our children and ourselves. Her secret formula: self-compassion.
What is self compassion? Neff has a three-fold definition.
1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment.
"This entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals."
2. Common humanity vs. Isolation.
"The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone."
3. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification.
By"taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated", we can then learn to connect our "personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective." Neff recommends that we learn to "observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness." Called mindfulness meditation, this practice helps us shift our natural inclination to be “over-identified with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity."
This skill of noting our difficult emotions, recognizing that everyone suffers and compassionate with ourselves is something than anyone can learn to do. And parenting givens us plenty of opportunity. You step on a Lego, you’re changing a super stinky diaper only to find that it was the last one in the house, the baby starts crying the moment you finally get to lay down…there are so many moments when some kindness could come in handy.
One practice Neff suggests is called The Self Compassion Break...and I've adapted it for parents.
Envision a classic parenting experience: you’re standing at the sink washing another bottle for what feels like the millionth time, at 3AM. Your eyes are burning and you might be feeling overwhelmed, sad, or even angry. You could keep washing the bottle just as you are, or, you could take a breath and say to yourself, “This is a moment of suffering.”By naming your feeling, no matter what it is, you are giving yourself the gift of your own attention. As the saying goes, “If you can name it, you can tame it.” This is the first step in caring for ourselves - recognizing and honoring that we’re suffering.
The final step, is give yourself some kindness. Try talking to yourself in a kind voice, the one that you use with your child or your partner, if you have one. Extend some gentle appreciation to yourself, for how much you’re doing for your kid or kids. You are working so hard. You can say something like, “May I be kind to myself,” or, “I can love myself as I love my child.” Anything you can say or do to recognize that you deserve compassion and kindness is a big deal.
This is a revolutionary practice and it can increase your compassion with yourself, and your ability to be kind and compassionate with your kids too.
The more we are kind to ourselves, the more kindness we can extend to others, no matter what is going around you or within you. Our kids are not the only ones who can be learning new things each day, so can we. Try a Self Compassion Break or any of the other practices that Neff has for free on her website, and get in touch with me to schedule a session so that we can tailor these practices to fit you and your family.