Six Ways I Fall Short as a Parent (and how self-compassion helps)

Have you ever experienced “imposter syndrome”? Imposter syndrome is when you think that you are not “good enough” to share on a topic or do a particular task because you are imperfect, and your brain tells you the story that your imperfection and doubts make you inadequate, unworthy, a fraud, etc. Interestingly enough, when I consider sharing with parents strategies for helping kids become self-compassionate, I sometimes experience imposter syndrome. I think, “Who am I to share about parenting when I so often fall short?”

It’s true. I do fall short as a parent. And it’s also true that self-compassion helps. We will all fall short in any endeavor that is important to us. What is important to remember is that our imperfections do not negate our strengths, nor do they make us unable to do the important work that we have been called to do in the world.

Even a photo can trigger imposter syndrome in me. Somedays my daughters and I comb our hair and smile…other days, not so much 😉

As I gather courage to share tips for parents, I will challenge my imposter syndrome by sharing 6 ways that I fall short as a parent and six ways that self-compassion makes me strong.

Here’s a list of my parenting shortcomings (not exhaustive, and not even necessarily the most glaring offenders):
1) I sometimes struggle with housework. Ummm… really. We are talking about inside out underwear…which can actually be a great strategy when you are behind on laundry.
2) I am addicted to audio books. I have earbuds in my ears while listening to audiobooks a lot!
3) I can get impatient when my kids interrupt me. My brain tends to be mono-focused, and I don’t shift easily.
4) I have a really hard time listening when my kids talk about things that I consider to be trivial. Small talk in general is a growth edge for me.
5) I work too much (but I love my work, and it helps children!!)
6) I can get easily overwhelmed when life gets busy.

I’m giving myself compassion for numbers five and six, and even one through four. Self-compassion doesn’t mean that we pretend that our weaknesses are “fine” or that we don’t strive to grow and change. Self-compassion means that we meet ourselves with kindness and recognize that we, just like others, are imperfect human beings. Self-compassion both helps me try to grow and change, and also recognize that I’m still loveable when I fall short.

In addition to my weaknesses, I have strengths as a parent. Here are a few of my parenting strengths:
1) I usually show up well for my kids when they are upset.
2) I have awesome strategies for helping kids integrate difficult emotions.
3) I know how to say, “this is too much. I need help.” I can find affordable and/or creative solutions for parenting or household tasks that I find overwhelming (including my housework!!).
4) I let my kids know that I, too, am on the learning team.
5) I am very creative, and I have awesome, creative strategies for helping parents and kids grow mindfulness and self-compassion.
6) And I’m pretty good at loving myself and the other imperfect beings who live in my house.

Please know that when I share tips about how we can help our kids (and ourselves!) when we are struggling, I’m sharing them as a fellow struggling human – with strengths and weaknesses…just like you.

Thanks for accompanying me as we collectively learn to grow, stumble, and love together.

With love,
Jamie Lynn

The Power of Compassion: The Mountain that Loved a Bird

We live in a culture that encourages us to try to feel good all the time.  We hear the overt and covert messages: Be happy! Overcome struggles! Look on the bright side. What is the problem with such messages? First, it’s not possible to feel good all the time. Telling ourselves the story that we “should” feel happy when actually we feel worried, or sad or disappointed tends to compound difficult feelings. Instead of offering ourselves compassion and soothing ourselves for how difficult it is to struggle, we instead shame ourselves for not feeling good. “Shoulding” ourselves when we feel down is incredibly unhelpful. Another problem with consuming the message that we shouldn’t feel sad or lonely or disappointed, is that it directs us away from the healing power of self-compassion. One way to define compassion is holding sorrow or suffering (our own or another’s) in a tender, loving embrace. When challenging emotions are held with connection and love, our hearts and lives can be transformed in positive ways. There is a children’s story that beautifully illustrates the healing power of compassion: The Mountain that Loved a Bird. Although this touching story by Alice McLerran is now out of print, a small group of children and I have created a play of the story. I highly encourage you to set aside a little time to watch the play below and allow your heart to be transformed.

Four Steps to Help Kids Grow Self-Compassion

Father son pairHow many of us know someone – an adult, teen or child – who could benefit from the resource of self-compassion? We might think, Wow! That person really needs to be kinder to themselves and stop beating themselves up! 

But what is the best way to help another person to develop the resource of self-compassion? When I contemplate this question, I am reminded of the following quote by Albert Schweitzer: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”

While helping another individual develop self-compassion involves more than just our example, the power of example cannot be overstated. This is expecially true when it comes to children. The process of helping children grow self-compassion involves four steps, which are built upon the foundation of caregivers’ self-compassion.

Four Steps to Help Children Grow Self-Compassion

  1. Caregivers learn the skill of self-compassion either on their own or alongside their child.
  2. Model self-compassion in the presence of children.
  3. Be the external voice that you want children to internalize.
  4. Children learn and practice offering themselves self-compassion.

STEP 1: Caregivers learn self-compassion.

We can’t help children to acquire a skill that we do not possess. That’s why our first step as caregivers is to grow the personal resource of self-compassion. If, when you were a child, your parents modeled self-compassion and also consistently soothed you when you were struggling, lovingly encouraged you to own your mistakes, appreciated your strengths and supported you in becoming your most authentic self, then it’s likely that you already possess the resource of self-compassion. If you are like the rest of us who received parenting that was somewhat less ideal than the above description, you likely need to do some learning and practicing to acquire the skill of self-compassion. You can strengthen your self-compassionate voice by using adult resources such as Mindful Self-Compassion training and books such as the Mindful Self-Compassion workbook, and/or you can take a parent-child self-compassion class and learn alongside your child. 

STEP 2: Model self-compassion in the presence of children.

Modeling self-compassion as caregivers means that we appropriately name our struggles in the presence of children and model giving ourselves encouraging and/or tender support for our difficulties. This might look like giving ourselves a hug or audibly offering ourselves reassurance or support when we feel distressed. We might let kids know that we are going for a walk, calling a friend, or making ourselves a cup of tea as a kind response to our struggles. When we name and model compassionately responding to our struggles we create a bridge between children and ourselves. Our example lets kids know that it’s okay to struggle and that they can seek out support (including their own kindness) during difficult moments. Our self-compassionate example can then be internalized as a model for children to emulate when they struggle. As caregivers, we need to have our own self-compassion practice (step 1) in order to model self-compassion for children.

STEP 3: Be the external voice that you want children to internalize.

When you speak to children, ask yourself the question: Is this the voice that I want my child to internalize? Is this how I want children to talk to themselves in their own minds? Because children internalize the voice of their caregivers (including tone), as much as possible, we want our words to convey compassion – sometimes tenderly soothing and sometimes encouraging and motivating. When we are successful at speaking to a child in this way, our words contribute to the development of a child’s compassionate voice. When we fall short of this aspiration, as we all do, it becomes an opportunity to acknowledge our human imperfection and offer ourselves compassion. We can show children that just like them, we are on the learning team when it comes to treating ourselves and others with kindness.

STEP 4: Children learn and practice offering themselves self-compassion.

Explicitly teaching children self-compassion and scaffolding their practice can sometimes be tricky, especially when teaching our own children, but it is a vital step. Many caregivers find it helpful to use resources, such as self-compassion books or a parent-child self-compassion class to help children consciously learn and practice the skill of self-compassion. After children have learned self-compassion practices, caregivers can begin to gently and selectively encourage self-compassion practice. When a child is having a difficult moment, it usually works best if caregivers first provide the child with compassionate support, and then, if the child seems receptive, invite the child to offer compassion to themselves. It’s important not to push a child to practice self-compassion as this can have an adverse effect. If a child resists practicing self-compassion, it can be helpful to focus primarily on the first three steps described in this article (increase caregivers’ self-compassion, model self-compassion, and use a compassionate voice with children).

It’s important that we, as caregivers, have a long-term view of children’s self-compassion development. We can normalize and offer ourselves compassion when children develop the resource of self-compassion more slowly than we would wish. It’s important that children know that we are learning and practicing self-compassion along with them, and that it’s self-compassionate to allow ourselves to grow slowly over time.

She’s Going to be Okay

A few weeks ago, my ten year-old came home from her first field hockey practice with some news that touched my heart. She said that the first half of practice she had been practicing self-criticism and comparing herself to others, but then the second half of practice, she remembered self-compassion, and she began to repeat the kind wishes in her head that we’ve been practicing together for the last few years (May I be joyful…May I be the person I wish to be…May my heart be full of love and connection…). 

My heart leapt with joy at her compassionate inner voice, and I thought to myself, “She’s going to be okay!” This is the same thought that I had when my now fourteen year-old began to report that she had an inner voice that soothed and encouraged her when she felt “less than” in middle school. When a child develops an inner self-compassionate voice, I know they are going to be “okay.” They have an inner ally that will soothe them during difficult times and help them to grow and change in positive ways.

It is my deepest wish that all of us – adults and children – can develop an inner self-compassionate voice that helps us to know that we are “okay” and loved. As grown-ups, we can grow our self-compassionate voice by taking self-compassion training or learning about self-compassion, and then intentionally practicing our inner soothing and encouraging voice. We can also encourage the youth in our lives to take a self-compassion class or read self-compassion books to support them in learning and growing the compassionate voice that they have hopefully been hearing from the grown-ups around them.

My favoritie self-compassion program for families is the parent-child self-compassion class. I love it because it enables children and their grown-ups to learn self-compassion side-by-side. It is beautiful indeed when both caregivers and children encourage each other to remember to be self-compassionate during their difficult moments (see the below one-minute video).

Wishing you and the youth in your life the resource of self-compassion.

With love,
Jamie Lynn 

Creating Space for Grief

When I learned that school had been canceled due to the coronavirus, I was more than a little shocked.  My default coping mode was to get busy and stay positive.  I also knew that I had to move my body and spend time in nature each day. 

Simultaneously, I became less diligent about my daily meditation practice.  Unconsciously, I think that I knew that if I sat still for long, grief and despair would catch up with me.  Anxiety mounted as I tried to stay busy, positive, and focused on service to others.

This past Saturday morning, I awoke at 5am, unable to fall back asleep.  I decided to spend the next couple of hours journaling, meditating, and doing mindful yoga.  The discomfort was immense.  I had a strong urge to get on my computer and start DOING SOMETHING.  But I disciplined myself to stay present until 7am.

An hour later while I was making breakfast for my children, I suddenly broke down sobbing.  I was crying because I felt so much empathy for all of the people struggling.  This situation is somewhat challenging for me, and I offered myself compassion for that.  Additionally, I am aware that there are many, many others who are suffering in big and small ways: people who are living alone and completely isolated from human touch, people who don’t have enough savings to cover their bills, people that might not have enough money to buy food, and people who are dying from this virus. 

My children came into the kitchen to check on me, and I told them that I was crying because this situation is sad.  It is really, really sad.  The three of us hugged one another and mourned together in the kitchen for a period of time.   I cried for a bit more, and then I went back to making pancakes.  I noticed that I felt markedly less anxious after my tears. 

During this pandemic, I am reminded that in addition to practicing gratitude, noticing what is good and being of service to others, we also need to create space to acknowledge and hold ourselves while we grieve.  This situation is incredibly sad, and it is healthy and natural to mourn during these times of collective pain and social distancing.  We can remember that we are not alone in our distress.  We can both grieve and rise together.

While I Lie Awake at Night

The other night I lay in bed, unable to fall asleep.  I was feeling sadness about something that had happened earlier in the day, and I offered myself a little compassion for the difficulty.  I then went through my usual repertoire of things I do when I lay in bed: I thought about three good things that had happened that day, and then I did the 61 points meditation that so often lulls me to sleep.

I was still awake.  So, I repeated the sequence: three more “good things” and another round of 61 points.

Still awake.  Hmmm….  What now?  I wondered to myself.  Should I get up and do some mindful yoga?  Or stay in bed?  Then it flashed into my mind that I could offer myself kind wishes.  I felt compassion for my little sleepless self, and I began to offer myself kind phrases:  May I be safe.  May I be happy.  May I be healthy.  May I live with ease.  I repeated these phrases slowly and kindly in my mind, and it felt good.  Like an extra warm blanket covering me while I lay awake in bed.

At some point my mind dazed off, and eventually I fell asleep.  I feel so grateful for my self-compassion tools (and mindfulness and gratitude practices) that offer me comfort when I encounter the inevitable challenges of daily (and nightly) life.

Note: I have guided audios of 61 points and loving kindness/ kind wishes meditations available if you’re curious to try (maybe next time you can’t sleep).