It can be isolating, confusing, and even exhausting when your child is having a hard time. As parents dealing with a range of our own emotions, we usually have few outlets and little time to get support.
First, let me be clear. I am not sharing from the perspective of a mother who got it all right—feel free to check with my now-adult children on that—but as someone who has continued to learn along the way. I hope that I can offer even one takeaway you may find helpful and I fully acknowledge that hindsight is on my side here.
And let’s be honest, right now, and maybe even always, all children are struggling in some ways. There will always be difficulties, stress, struggles. So, this article is for all of us who love and care for children of any age. What I offer here are just a few nuggets and a bit of encouragement along the way.
7 Self-Compassion Reminders for Parents of Kids Who Are Struggling
1) Parenting not perfecting
Can we let go of the need to be perfect even for just a moment? Please remember that what is on social media is not the whole picture and often not even close to the accurate picture. No one out there is getting it “right.” We are all just human beings learning and growing and doing our best. Let yourself make mistakes and then notice how you treat yourself when you do. This is where heavy doses of self-compassion are a true gift which leads to my next reminder…
2) Hold yourself with kindness
The underlying message in any of these suggestions is to hold them lightly with great kindness to yourself.
One question I often ask myself is, “Can I be kind to myself, this perfectly imperfect human being in the midst of this?” or simply, “Can I hold this with kindness?” Sometimes a gentle hand on the heart can be a supportive reminder to offer ourselves a bit of compassion.
3) You are not alone
Remember that all parents experience hard times. Truly, this is just a part of the parenting job description. When we can feel this sense of connection to others who also deal with struggles and frustrations with their children, it can diminish isolation, not to mention the shame and blame that are frequently part of this territory. Often it isn’t until we have been honest about our child’s difficulties that others come forward and share their own feelings and experiences from a more authentic place. We can find true support and a sense of being held by others who understand.
4) Begin again
Just as in formal meditation practice, we can begin again. If you felt you weren’t as skillful as you would like, certainly make amends, admit if you lost your temper or made an unhelpful decision, and then…begin again. Wake up each day, maybe even to each moment, with the understanding that this is a new opportunity and try to show up for the relationship with fresh eyes and presence.
5) Stop and take a breath
A little pause can help us to begin again. Simply stopping and taking even one conscious breath before responding can make a big difference. I remember long ago when my therapist reminded me that most things do not require an immediate response, contrary to what our fast-paced society might have us believe. Of course, if your child is running into traffic then yes, respond, but typically, you and your loved ones will benefit if you stop and take a breath. Give yourself time to calm your nervous system and not habitually react, but cultivate a bit more choice. Pausing helps us to check in if we are feeling triggered and supports emotional and cognitive flexibility.
6) Be kind to your worries
Worry can be a powerful emotion and it makes sense that we often relate to our children from a place of concern or even fear. And yet, what would it be like to relate and respond from love? When worry is present, can you tap into the love that is underneath it, that wish for your child to be happy and well? Reflecting daily on what you love about your child is a powerful way to cut through the worry and to reflect their goodness back to them. When you do “parent from fear,” refer to the suggestions above and below. You are human and it is totally natural to worry about those you love. Please be kind to yourself.
7) Love and care for yourself
Let’s be honest, if your child is having a hard time, you are also suffering and need to care for yourself, not only your child. What does that look like, caring for yourself, especially if you feel like you don’t have a minute to spare? It may be taking time to be with all the feelings even if just for a few minutes, or maybe practicing talking to yourself as you would to a friend, with kindness, care, and warmth. A moment of happiness could be taking in a beautiful sunset, savoring that first sip of tea or coffee, petting the dog, talking to a friend, singing a song, or dancing around the house while doing chores….and the countless other little ways we can be kind to ourselves. Make a list of the ones that you can easily slip into your day as well as the ones that may require a bit of planning and time.
In the end, it is okay to fall on your couch and with as much self-kindness as you can muster simply say to yourself, “This is hard, and I am here for you.” A touch of mindfulness and self-compassion. When things are hard, however that looks in your life, being kind to yourself is always a good place to start.
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