As parents, we hear a lot about the importance of self-care. We know we’re supposed to take care of ourselves so we can take better care of others. Problems arise when we look at self-care as one more thing to add to our “To-Do List”. Lord knows we don’t need more to do! Or more to feel guilty about when we don’t do it!
That’s why I’ve come to view my self-care as something more like self-compassion. I don’t need to schedule self-compassion or ask anyone else’s permission to get it. Self-compassion is there for me no matter what…even when I really need a break for self-care but it’s just not possible for whatever reason. I can notice the need for a break without judging that need. Then I can simply soothe and comfort myself in that moment.
Too often we judge our own needs harshly. We say to ourselves, “Why is this so hard for me?” or “I have no right to complain.” This kind of self-talk shuts us down by disconnecting us from our feelings. I’m not suggesting we whine or wallow in our struggles, merely that we acknowledge them in a non-dramatic way; take a moment to just notice what we are feeling and what we are saying to ourselves about those feelings. A great analogy I heard about this was from Teresa Graham Brett. She says, when we need a drink, we don’t judge our body for being thirsty. So, when you feel like you need a break or you’re at your limit with something, why judge that need? Treat it like you would your thirst. If you’re thirsty, you get a drink. If you need a break, you give yourself a break. By acknowledging what you need, you can then give yourself some self-care or self-love. It’s about taking responsibility for meeting your own needs in a mature and gentle way.
Teresa Graham Brett describes this other dimension to self-care so perfectly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxMt_kPRPe0
The truth is, we can’t always get what we need when we need it. But we can always take care of ourselves by accepting what our needs and limitations are. I call it Mothering Myself. I recognize those times when I have to nurture and take care of that child/person inside me who is kicking, screaming, scared, hiding, sad and/or resistant. There is an aspect of visualization to it for me. I actually see and hear a mother-self who speaks gently and reassuringly to me. I think this technique works so well because it offers a witness to my struggles. Since I do the bulk of my parenting at home with no other adult there with me, it can feel extremely isolating at times. There are times that I desperately want to turn to someone and say, “You see? You see what I’m dealing with? How hard this is!” My ‘witness’ to these difficult moments is the wise mother-self who is not attached to my anger, frustration, or sadness. She is there to calmly perceive the whole situation and to offer her clarity, calmness, and centeredness. The idea of a ‘Witness Self’ is common in many religions, though for me at this point in my life, its purpose is more functional.
I may use this technique whilst in the middle of a major toddler melt-dowm. I hear the voice telling me, “This is really hard right now. It’s going to be okay. You’ll get through this.”
I may use it at the end of a long, exhausting day when all I want to do is run away. I hear the voice telling me, “Everyone has days like this; you’re not a terrible mom for thinking this way.”
Somehow – and I don’t quite understand it – that ability to notice my own feelings and give myself comfort expands my capacity to respond to the needs of my children in calm, comforting ways – without judgment, impatience, resistance, or urgency.
It is the single biggest thing that has helped me as a parent.
If your inner-voice leans toward the self-critical or if you just need to be a little gentler with yourself, I urge you to try self-compassion. There’s a simple explanation of it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tyl6YXp1Y6M