Using Self-Compassion to Parent with Greater Ease


July 11, 2022

Mother and Child Before School

One of my girlfriends, a mother of two young boys, 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.

“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 – pressure to mold a certain kind of child – one that’s not only bright, but also always happy and successful? (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 and joy in everyday life.

Don’t attach your self-worth to 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. Making mistakes and feeling badly means you care. Hooray! And guess what? Mistakes don’t have to end there. You can apologize to your child or whoever the mistake impacted. You can express your feelings and concerns and, ever so gradually, let yourself off the hook. Trusting you did the best you could. Truly, you did. Otherwise, you’d have done better!

Don’t try to do it all alone. Mindfulness is widely discussed as a skill that can be learned by anyone. It’s a great starting point, but it’s important to consider relational or cultural variables that can squander – or support – an individual’s ability to apply mindfulness. For example, for a parent who’s doing everything on their own, without near enough support, it may feel like an uphill battle to be fully present. It’s not impossible, however, it’s much easier to be present when one has the support they need.

Consider the bigger picture when you make mistakes or map a plan to be more present with your children. Also, don’t burden yourself with the responsibility of always being present or teaching mindfulness to your children; allow others to share their presence and gifts with your children.

Take mistakes less personally. I hear too many parents beat themselves up about not being present, calm, or patient enough – as if it’s their responsibility to be perfect. They hold themselves to impossible standards, thinking if only they tried harder, learned faster, or — here we go again — were more perfect. What if instead of asking What’s wrong with me? when you make a mistake, consider how every parent struggles, and approach it with an understanding mindset, instead saying, This is hard for everyone. What can I learn from it?

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. Is it at bedtime or while you’re reading? Right before you sit down to eat a meal together? Harness what’s working without 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 how to be present with their children. Maybe it’s happening less than they’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.

Consider approaching parenting with the support of mindfulness. Learn how in our 7 Days of Mindful Parenting on-demand collection! Or, take a breather and navigate feelings of anxiety with our Why Do I Feel This Way? on-demand program.

Written by Breon Michel, eM Life teacher