We all have a nagging voice in our head, whispering and sometimes shouting at us about our missteps and potential missteps as parents and as people.
She is telling us to remember something we forgot to put on the shopping list. This voice can quietly question why you’ve chosen to serve your kid the same thing they’ve had for lunch the last 15 days in a row. It can also take those innocent thoughts and balloon them into thoughts of whether or not you’re even a good mom.
To deal with this internal conversation, I’ve been trying a radical experiment the last few months. Let’s call it a “life hack”, because that sounds cool.
I am talking to myself like I am a treasured, close friend that I know well and care deeply about. I care about this friend’s well being in every sense and I want her to be happy. Maybe not happy all the time, but contented. I want the best for her. I want her to see her gifts and tell her not to feel down when she trips up.
When that voice creeps back into my head, often without my knowing it, and criticizes anything and everything I’m doing, I’m changing tactics. I’m pausing and speaking to myself like a friend.
Sometimes I even speak aloud. I’m used to describing everything and talking out loud to my toddler all the time, so it doesn’t feel that wacky. Unless I’m in the grocery store. In which case, maybe the person checking out olive oil next to me probably doesn’t need to hear my conversation with myself.
I have high standards, and I can be harsh with myself. Harsh to a degree that, until I started this experiment in mindfulness, I didn’t realize how mean I sometimes was. It was subtle, and sometimes occurred multiple times each day. Why couldn’t I do something better? Why was I making this decision? Why did I say that? Why did my hair/skin look like that? I was downright rude to myself.
Would I say those things to a friend?
If a friend came to me with a problem or a story, how would I treat them? With kindness, and respect, and I’d do my best to give good advice if they wanted it. I’m not the kind of friend to say something is fine if it’s not, but I’d never treat a friend the way I sometimes treat myself. I’d give the friend the benefit of the doubt and if something really was a misstep, encourage them to learn from it and move on.
So, that’s how I’m treating myself. I am my friend. It’s wonderful. It doesn’t work 100% of the time, sure, and negative self talk pops in, but I can’t believe the difference this small change has made in my life.
My first trimester of pregnancy was pretty rough. Okay, really rough. A host of nasty symptoms made it hard for me to do more than the bare minimum (and sometimes less than that) to get through the day. I started feeling guilty about letting things drop like not writing for this blog or my own, not bringing my daughter to enough play dates and classes, and letting her have screen time.
Every few weeks (sometimes every week or every day) I’d have to remind myself that if I was my friend, I would forgive my “laziness,” forgive my change in lifestyle, forgive my lapse in doing everything I normally do. I would tell my friend that this period is temporary, that it doesn’t define me, and that experiencing and living with difficult symptoms doesn’t make me a bad mom or bad person. It makes me a sick person, yes, but with no other values attached.
I didn’t cook anything and couldn’t even smell cooking for weeks and still, as I approach my third trimester, my love of being in the kitchen hasn’t returned. This change feels weird and I feel off, not like myself. Instead of dwelling, I’ve been telling my friend – myself – to take it easy, breathe deeply, enjoy silly and beautiful moments with her daughter, and to rely heavily on family, friends and most of all, her amazing husband, even if it feels a little uncomfortable to give up her independence for a time.
I’m not sure I’ll ever stop being my own worst critic, but now I have better tools to show myself great kindness too.
Leading by positive example – even if some of the “work” is being done in the privacy of my own mind – is always one of my parenting goals. As my daughter and her sibling grow up, I know I’ll try my best to pass along this new, kinder way of treating and talking to oneself.