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Self-Compassion for Parents

Parenting can be one of the most challenging jobs! It is a twenty-four seven role which comes with tons of pressure and few breaks. Most parents have felt many challenging emotions such as overwhelmed, frustrated, distressed, angry, guilty, sad, annoyed, bored and inadequate. It is normal for parenting to feel hard! When it does it is easy to judge, criticize or dismiss the experience. Unfortunately, that only makes the experience more challenging. In those moments of challenge or suffering it is helpful to offer yourself some compassion. Self-compassion can help parents feel regulated, calmer, optimistic and capable of solving problems. It can also reduce feelings of shame and isolation. It is one of the best strategies to use when feeling stressed or distressed.

Self-compassion has three major components: mindfulness, common humanity and kindness. Mindfulness means being aware of the present without judgement. It is easy to place judgements on our experience but when we judge or criticize our experience or ourselves, we activate our freeze, fight or flight stress response which then creates more distress and suffering. Mindfulness involves being aware of the present moment and evaluating it with curiosity and care. Our society is fast paced and future focused, so it often feels unnatural be aware of the present moment. Therefore, it may take some intentional practice to become more mindful. It can be as easy as stopping what you are doing, taking a breath, and taking note of what you see.

The next component of self-compassion is common humanity. Common humanity is understanding that everyone suffers. Someone else has probably experienced what you are experiencing. This does not mean that your experience is insignificant, it means that your experience is not exaggerated. It also means that you are normal and not alone in your suffering. For example, most parents have had to deal with their child screaming in the grocery store, refusing to do chores, feeling ashamed because they just yelled at their child or even feeling like they are not doing a good enough job. When hard feelings bubble up around parenting remember that there are many other people who feel the same!

The last aspect of self-compassion is kindness. When you are feeling distressed in is important to talk and treat yourself kindly. There many be many reasons why it can be uncomfortable to be kind to ourselves but as we practice being kind it will get easier. It can be helpful to think about how you would treat or talk to a friend who was going through the same thing and then respond to yourself in the same way. We often treat others better than ourselves, but we have the same value as everyone else.

One way of remembering to give yourself self-compassion when you are struggling with parenting is by remembering the acronym R.A.I.N ( Branch, 2013).

Recognize: Be aware of your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations you are feeling. It is helpful to name these feelings out loud. This helps your brain and body to regulate and helps your child to regulate and understand what is happening. Often, they will be having similar experiences.

Allow: Accept and allow the thoughts, emotions, and body sensations to just be there without avoiding or fixing them. Accept the emotion or sensation without judgement. Keep in mind the emotions or sensation are just neutral signals trying to tell us something.

Investigate: Get curious about what the signal is telling you. It is important to use curiosity instead of judgement because judgement will cause you more suffering. Curiosity will allow you to discover and problem solve.

Nurture: Explore what you might need to sooth or protect yourself. Do you need to; breathe, have time by yourself, set up a boundary or ask for help? Only you know best what you need in these moments. It may be helpful to prepares some ideas of how to care for yourself before these situations arise so that when they do happen you know what to do.

It is also important to remember that children will model the behavior of their parents. When you are able to pause and offer yourself self-compassion in distressing parenting situations, your children will learn how to be self-compassionate in distressing situations. A helpful phrase to remember is to act how you would like you children to act.

Last, as you are learning self-compassion it is important to remember that you will not do it perfectly. Try to have self-compassion for yourself as you learn and grow.

Here is a link to Dr. Kristin Neff whose work focuses on Self-Compassion

Self-Compassion Exercises Kristin Neff:


About the author of the article:

Adriana Schmidt, MA, Registered Provisional Psychologist

Adriana is a registered provisional psychologist in Alberta who currently works for the Airdrie Counselling Centre. If you would like to see Adriana’s profile or book an appointment with her, please click on the link below.

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