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Self-Compassion Is the Key to Parenting

Embrace your messiness, dear parents... we probably aren't as bad as we might lead ourselves to believe. My kids taught me that (as usual).
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I'm not sure any group of people walking the planet are harder on themselves than parents. Geez. We do not give ourselves a break.

Anyone else besides me ever think to themselves...

I'm totally screwing up my kids

Oh man, I shouldn't have said that. They are never going to forgive me.

I'm a terrible parent. Seriously. I suck at it.

Why did I raise my voice in anger again? I'm hopeless.

My children's future spouse is going to hate me and deprive me of my grandchildren.

Not long ago, I was getting ready to leave for a silent weekend retreat and one of my boys asked me why I was going. My answer was somewhere along the lines of "so that I can be more peaceful and loving." Their immediate response was, "but you already are peaceful and loving."

Hearing those words took my breath away. The reality is that in the quiet depths of my mind, I tend to be really hard on myself, particularly when I evaluate myself as a parent (which I do all too often). Although I know cognitively one of the principles of Buddhist practice is self-compassion, it was obvious I had some important work to do. After all, if I do not hold myself with compassion, how can I expect my boys to hold themselves in this way?

I decided to practice loving-kindness during my morning mediation and add a ritual where I journaled about ways I had recently shown myself and my family compassion. I longed to see myself in the way my children see me. You can find simple instructions for practicing loving-kindness from one of my favorite teachers Jack Kornfield here.

Have I stopped screwing up with my kids? Not a chance! However, when I do, I simply repair the harm done and show them and myself some compassion out loud if at all possible. I find my children learn best when I share my inner chatter with them. It might sounds something like this: "I'm sorry for raising my voice earlier and worried I really upset you. I'm practicing taking a breath when I notice I'm getting upset, but sometimes I just don't catch myself. I can be really hard on myself but want to remind myself that I'm a work in progress and practice makes progress... not perfect."

Embrace your messiness, dear parents... we probably aren't as bad as we might lead ourselves to believe. My kids taught me that (as usual). Whew.



When I was a novice, I could not understand why, if the world is filled with suffering, the Buddha has such a beautiful smile. Why isn't he disturbed by all the suffering? Later I discovered that the Buddha has enough understanding, calm, and strength; that is why the suffering does not overwhelm him. He is able to smile to suffering because he knows to take care of it and to help transform it. We need to be aware of the suffering, but retain our clarity, calmness, and strength so we can help transform the situation. The ocean of tears cannot drown us if karuna [compassion] is there. That is why the Buddha's smile is possible.

- Thich Nhat Hanh, in "Teachings on Love"