It’s my pleasure to welcome my friend, Kim Fredrickson, as a guest on my blog today! Kim is an author and Marriage and Family Therapist, who has just come out with an exciting new book on parenting, Give Your Kids a Break! I think you’ll enjoy her wisdom here…
How does being compassionate with yourself as a parent help your marriage? Good question. First, remember that everything is connected. How you care for yourself as you parent affects your relationship with yourself, your child, and yes… your spouse.
We can be pretty hard on ourselves as parents. We don’t mean to, we simply don’t know another way to respond to our struggles and failures as a parent. We need compassion, not only for ourselves and the impossible job of being a parent, but for our spouse and children too.
We blame ourselves for being tired, for snapping at our kids, for not doing enough or for doing too much! We get down on ourselves for not putting in as much time on our marriage as we collapse into bed at the end of the day. Believe it or not, being compassionate with yourself throughout the day can help.
The following story will illustrate what I mean:
Sharon sunk to the floor in the kitchen and burst into tears. She did it again, she promised she wouldn’t. Her three-year-old son and 5 year-old-daughter found the egg carton in the refrigerator, and dropped each egg on the floor with glee. They loved the sound each egg made as it cracked on the floor and giggled about how squishy they were. Sharon wasn’t amused. She’d only been in the bathroom a few minutes!
To add insult to injury, Sharon had just mopped the floor, and the egg carton was full. Sharon entered the kitchen after the last egg was dropped, and they were putting their little hands in the egg goo, ready to spread it elsewhere.
She yelled at them loudly, “What are you doing? I just mopped the floor! What’s wrong with you! You are a bad boy and bad girl. Go to your room!” Sharon watched their little faces full of joy at their wonderful discovery, change into ones of sorrow and shame, and lots of tears. They ran to their room crying, and Sharon collapsed on the kitchen floor in tears.
Her anger turned on herself as she said, “I yelled at them again, I promised I wouldn’t. I can hear them crying. I’m such a bad mother. I didn’t need to yell at them…but I just mopped the floor, and look at the mess I have to clean up. They’re just kids. I’m such a loser, what’s wrong with me?”
What parent can’t relate to this? I know I can. If Sharon isn’t able to be compassionate with herself and learn where she went wrong, her anger with herself, her kids, and life in general will get bigger and bigger all day. She also may become withdrawn and depressed because she doesn’t know what do with the shame and guilt she feels inside. This not only affects her quality of life, but the relationships she has with her spouse and children as well.
As parents, we face special challenges being compassionate with ourselves, practicing self-care, and nurturing our marriage as well. We put on so many hats, support so many, and contribute so much to others in our lives. Yet, with all that effort, energy, love and investment in our work, families, church, and community we often feel disconnected, unappreciated, and worn out!
Life can be rough without the comfort, balance, and guidance of a self-compassionate friend on the inside. Treating ourselves with compassion and kindness is extremely important as we go through the joys and stresses of parenthood. This applies even when you are crabby, yelled at your kids, have six piles of laundry, and forgot to send the diaper bag to preschool!
Self-compassion is not self-pity, where we wallow in the shame of what we have done. It is not self-complacency, where we just accept where we are. Instead, it is the idea that we can be kind to ourselves when we fail and treat ourselves with the caring support we would give another who is struggling. Self-compassion factors in the truth that we make mistakes with the grace that understands I have worth and value, warts and all.
Treating ourselves with compassion helps us handle our humanness as a parent and a spouse with empathy, concern, understanding, and kindness. It also gives us the grace to accept and correct our mistakes. When we’re in better shape as a person, we’ll be more of a blessing in our marriage.
Self-compassion helps to soothe our mistakes and regrets. It brings truth and grace to our hearts, helps us correct our mistakes, and repairs hurts with our spouse and children. It also gives us the freedom to learn what we don’t know and find solutions. This in turn helps our marriage as we carry less anger and frustration inside.
Self-compassion is a crucial practice for parents. If we continually give to others without nurturing ourselves, our emotional gas tank will be stuck on empty. By nurturing and supporting ourselves, we will have more emotional resources to give to our spouse and our children. By forgiving ourselves for the inevitable mistakes we make, we won’t waste precious energy beating ourselves up. Instead, we can learn from our mistakes and focus on the joy and meaning found in our relationship with our spouse and children.
Here’s what it looks like when Sharon is able to be compassionate with herself after the “eggs all over the floor” debacle.
After collapsing on the floor and beating herself up, she might say to herself,
“I am so sorry I yelled at them. They were so excited about watching the eggs crack and seeing them squish on the floor. They weren’t trying to be bad, and they weren’t doing it to me on purpose. I have every reason to be mad and frustrated…I just mopped the floor! Let me take a few deep breathes and calm myself down. I’ll go and scoop them up and tell them I’m sorry. I’ll explain to them why that was the wrong thing to do, but that they aren’t bad kids.
I need to follow my own advice. I was wrong to yell at them and tell them they were bad, but that doesn’t make me a bad Mommy. It makes me a loving Mommy who was exhausted, and lost it in the moment. I can be kind to myself when I mess up. I will work on slowing myself down next time the kids misbehave, so I don’t do this to them again. Whew, I feel a lot better now.”
I hope this helps you see how being compassionate with yourself as you parent, helps both you and your marriage. Take good care of yourself. Everyone will benefit!
Kim Fredrickson is a licensed marriage and family therapist of thirty years. She loves to teach others about the power of self-compassion from a faith perspective. She is the author of Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend and Give Your Kids a Break: Parenting with Compassion for You and Your Children. She recently retired from her counseling practice when diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a terminal lung disease that developed as a rare complication from the chemotherapy and radiation she received for breast cancer.
After being diagnosed with a terminal illness, she decided to write this book as a way to have a positive influence in the lives of her adult children and their future grandchildren. Kim wanted to help them with the challenges of parenting, when the time came. She knew she wouldn’t be around to hold her grandbabies, and help her children raise them in person. Originally it was only going to be for them. As Kim wrote, she thought others might benefit as well, so decided to self-publish it.
Kim has been married to her husband, Dave for thirty-nine years and they have two grown children. Learn more and read her blog at www.kimfredrickson.com She also writes a weekly patient column for Pulmonary Fibrosis News, Just Breathe… Compassionate Help for the PF Journey. Thousands of patients and their loved ones read her column all over the world.