Thoughtful Parenting: Self-compassion |

Thoughtful Parenting: Self-compassion

Barbara Gueldner/For the Steamboat Today

In the last 24 hours parents everywhere have had a less-than-great parenting moment accompanied by, “I can’t believe I did that” or “I bet other mothers/fathers would deal with this situation better” or “I’m such a failure at this.” Swiftly follows the thought, “At least I’m not parenting like her/him.”

Feeling good about parenting is a moving target. One moment it seems like things are going great, and in a split second, things are in meltdown mode. It’s true that tackling a challenge we didn’t think we could accomplish and persevering when things got difficult, if not seemingly impossible, will help us feel good about ourselves.

Success feels great. But along the way, things are difficult. Failures happen. Feelings are hurt. We become discouraged.

We often compare ourselves with others to help us feel better. We come by this honestly — our society is highly competitive, and it is natural to reach for a higher rung on the ladder to avoid feeling we are at the bottom. This may temporarily help to pull us up and out of feelings of insecurity and shame. However, it’s exhausting to play the comparison game, which disconnects us from the people who are experiencing the same problems, and we inevitably land in another pile of shame again.

Practicing self-compassion may be an antidote. According to research scientist Kristen Neff, PhD, self-compassion involves paying attention to the times we feel discouraged, in a new way — with kindness toward ourselves and reassurance that other parents are coping with similar problems. We would treat ourselves much like we would a friend.

How do you show compassion when a friend is sharing something painful? You probably pay attention to what he or she is saying, say kind and compassionate words and give reassurance that you are there for them.

Self-compassion is about reframing our imperfections as part of being human, not a unique flaw that only you have. It’s about treating ourselves kindly, rather than releasing the harsh inner critic to do as it pleases. You probably wouldn’t say aloud to your friend, “I can’t believe you did that!” But we say it to ourselves all the time.

Instead, we can simply notice that we’re hurting and say to ourselves, “I’m in a really tough spot right now. This is more difficult that I thought it would be. I’m doing the best I can. There are other parents who feel frustrated, angry and worried too.”

Practicing self-compassion can show children another way to approach inevitable difficulties — with kindness instead of instant criticism. Everyday, we teach our children how to be kind and respectful to others. Imagine what it would be like if we practiced self-compassion and encouraged our children to do the same.

For more information visit Dr. Neff’s website at

Barbara Gueldner, PhD, is a licensed psychologist specializing in children and families. She is a member of First Impressions and the Early Childhood Council of Routt County. Find her at

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