Updated: Oct 3, 2019
Once I heard someone described that being a mum is like “having a piece of your heart in another human being that is out there in the big wide world.” Every-time that human being cries, gets injured, rejected, disappointed or whatever struggle they are facing at the time, your heart breaks a little. Every time I find motherhood hard and I wonder why, I think back to this quote and give myself a little break. No wonder being a mum can be hard and emotionally exhausting. It’s hard enough to face your own fears, challenges and set-backs in life, but to experience it through your child or children over and over again as they go through their lives, can take its tolls on mothers.
I have been interested in self-compassion for the past few years and have talked about this with many of my clients. Self-compassion is an easy concept to understand but difficult to practise. Essentially, it is being kind to yourself, acknowledge when you experience some kind of pain and suffering, and give yourself the same treatment as you would to your best friend. It does not mean self-pity or wallowing in your negative emotions. Self-compassion is also about connecting to the common humanity – we all feel pain and suffering, and we are all in this boat together.
Here is a story to illustrate this:
Melissa is a divorced mum of two who decided to go on a first date with someone she met online. She was understandably nervous but excited at the same time and had put a lot of effort into her hair and make-up, no small feat given that she had just put her young kids to bed. Melissa waited for her date. And waited. And waited. And waited. Her date did not pick up his phone when she called. With heaviness in her stomach, Melissa realised that she had been stood up. Immediately she called her best-friend, Anna, and cried on the phone. Anna said “Well, what did you expect? Have you seen yourself in the mirror lately? Who would want to spend an evening with someone like you? No wonder he didn’t come!”.
What’s your first reaction when you read that? When I first read that story, I felt quite angry at this “best-friend”. What kind of a friend would say something like that? Here’s the twist to the story though – that was not her best-friend saying those unsupportive, judgemental and critical comments. It was Melissa herself saying those nasty, mean comments to herself. Now, what is your thought on that? Is it more acceptable that Melissa is saying these comments to herself? Of course not. Yet most of us, especially mothers, are prone to being very hard on ourselves. Mothers, especially those who have perfectionist tendencies, need self-compassion the most.
Personally, I still have a long way to go in practising self-compassion. As a new mum, I found myself being critical and harsh with myself when things go “wrong” or when I have two babies crying and needing me at the same time. I am constantly asking myself whether I am doing “enough” as a mum. I know a lot of mums have these thoughts as well and the phenomenon of “mum guilt” is nothing new. Besides the energy that is required to take care of two babies, I found myself getting tired with the constant self-criticism. It’s like having someone negative following me around, sucking the energy and positivity out of my day. I decided to practise what I have been preaching with my clients, and practise self-compassion.
This does not involve more time and money (i.e. getting a massage – although that can be a very nice gesture of self-compassion), but quick acts such as acknowledging when I am having a hard day and saying nice things to myself such as “It’s been hard. I’m doing the best that I can right now. Everyone feels like this sometimes.”
The science of self-compassion is growing, and the evidence for its benefits is pretty compelling. Self-compassion is linked to less anxiety and depression, and those who are more self-compassionate are more resilient in the face of life’s challenges. Self-compassion is also linked with higher life satisfaction and feelings of social connectedness – a key component of well-being. Now who doesn’t want to be more resilient and satisfied with their life? I know I need to be more resilient as a Mum, especially in the upcoming challenge of twin toddler tantrums!
Want to learn more about self-compassion and how to practise it in your daily life? Glad you are on the same page! As mothers we are all in this parenting journey together. At EmpowerMums, let’s learn and practise one of the most important skills which will help you thrive in motherhood. Come and join us at one of our workshops: https://www.empowermums.co.nz/upcomingevents