One of my girlfriends, a mother of two young children, asked me over coffee the other day, “How can I be more present with my kids in the morning?”
At first I giggled and said, “Good luck!” Knowing full well that school mornings are filled with activity, and can be a difficult time to give your attention to just one thing, let alone be fully present with kids.
Besides that, after listening to her talk, it was apparent she was already doing her best. Paying careful attention to what they wanted for breakfast, accommodating last-minute requests for lunch, stopping mid-bite to find a lost shoe or break-up a fight.
My immediate response was, “Do you see everything you’re already doing… the way you carefully attend to their needs and go out of your way to make them happy?”
“That’s worth something, isn’t it!”
She paused for a minute and smiled.
Addressing Modern-Day Parenting Pressures
Over the years, I’ve seen many parents, myself included, create added stress by expecting themselves to do the impossible: Stay perfectly present in spite of distractions or fatigue, not get triggered during chaotic, uncertain situations, and the list goes on.
I’ve also seen many parents get upset with themselves when they fall short of achieving perfection. Stewing over mistakes, thinking something’s wrong with their parenting – or worth – when they can’t do it right, all the time.
Where do we get the idea that we should be superhuman? Is it possible to care as much as we do without expecting perfection? Is it doable to let go of the societal – and internal – pressures to mold a certain kind of child – one that’s not only bright, but also always happy, successful, well-adjusted, etc. (No surprise, what we expect of ourselves tends to get projected onto our children!).
How Parents can Incorporate Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is a wonderful antidote to the demands and pressures of modern-day parenting. Here are a few practices to help you find more ease, joy, and forgiveness in everyday life.
Don’t confuse your self-worth with how much you get done or how perfectly you do it. For starters, you’re worth more than the sum of your accomplishments. Secondly, making mistakes doesn’t make you less worthy or capable; it makes you human! Feeling badly about making a mistake simply means you care, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Knowing that each of us – not only our children – are still learning and growing. Of course, we can own when we mess up, and let our children know we’re genuinely sorry. Let them know we’re committed to doing better next time. It’s important to remember that mistakes, handled well, are a vital opportunity for building our resilience and strengthening, rather than worsening, our relationships.
Don’t try to do it all alone. Mindfulness is widely discussed as a skill that’s helpful for individuals. Learning the skill for yourself is a great starting point, but it’s also important to consider relational and cultural factors that can squander – or support – your ability to be an attentive, caring parent. For example, if you tend to (or have to) do everything on your own, without the support you need and deserve, it may feel like an uphill battle to be fully present. Is it possible for others, including neighbors, family friends, or grandparents to share their loving presence with your kiddos in order to lighten the burden you may feel to do/be/teach it all? Finding creative ways to get support and share the load is a crucial piece of cultivating self-compassion!
Take mistakes less personally. I hear a number of parents beat themselves up about not being present, calm, or patient enough – as if they’re supposed to be a certain way all the time! Holding yourself to an impossible standard, or thinking “if only I’d tried harder, learned faster, or practiced more” can wear your spirit down more than you think. Maybe it’s true that you have more to learn, but can you give yourself grace in the meantime? Remember, parenting is hard for everyone, not just you. Use mistakes as an opportunity to connect with our shared humanity, rather than feel more alone and defeated.
Don’t force yourself to be present or calm – or, frankly, anything you’re not! – when you’re emotionally exhausted. Remember, presence ebbs and flows. Rather than asking yourself to give more to your kids when you’re depleted, get curious about times or situations that naturally inspire presence and connection, such as while reading a bedtime story or when you sit down to eat. Please remember to enjoy what’s working and, as best as you can, stop over-focusing on what’s not!
Trust your innate ability to be present. I’ve yet to meet a parent who doesn’t intrinsically understand the importance of being present with their children. Maybe it’s happening less than you’d like. But there’s also a good chance you’re present more than you think. Start to catch these little wins and celebrate them. Remember, children are filled up by moments – not hours – of our presence at a time.
If you’d like to experience greater peace of mind & fewer conflicts in your parenting, please reach out to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult!