Ever caught yourself beating yourself up over something trivial? Maybe you’ve muttered the words “you stupid idiot” to yourself for getting the school dates muddled up, or passed a few harsh words at yourself when you’ve forgotten your child’s PE kit/water bottle/insert anything here at home? I don’t know why this is but sometimes we can treat and talk to ourselves so bitterly as mums can’t we? We have to show kindness to so many other people in our lives, but when was the last time you were able to show kindness to yourself as a mum?
If you can’t remember when on earth that was – as is so easily the case in this mama life – today I have Charlotte Hartley-Jones, author of the very aptly named book Self Kindness for Mums to bring on the self kindness with her tips on how to show kindness to yourself as a mum:
First up – why are mums so hard on themselves?
Humans are pretty hard on themselves generally, but mums have sooo many opportunities to beat themselves up! There is the lack of sleep and physical exhaustion for a start, which knocks our resilience, and then there is the constant feeling of failure as really how could we ever bring up a little human perfectly twenty-four hours a day (whatever perfect may be?!)?
We are surrounded by images of ‘airbrushed’ families on TV ads, posters, social media. We get given advice from friends, relatives, health professionals as well as the books and websites we seek out. We can end up tying ourselves in knots trying to find answers to our parenting dilemmas and doubts. It is as if we feel there IS an answer, that there IS a right way if only we can find it.
Perhaps we are used to striving to ‘do better’, always wanting to hit the next grade, target, goal but parenting isn’t as neat as that. Of course it is totally reasonable to want to do better, but the desire to do better can sometimes shift into self-criticism and harshness.
There are lots of aspects of parenting we can’t control which adds to the opportunities to be hard on ourselves- our children are born as they are; some don’t feed ‘well’, some don’t sleep as we hoped, some cry all the time, some are sick, some have allergies, and the list goes on and on. And when they are older that doesn’t change, we can end up feeling that we are failing when our child is ‘behind’ at school, are still having tantrums at eight or are constantly fighting we each other. And parenting teenagers bring a whole other raft of issues for us to do battle in our mind with our hopes versus our reality too!
What are some signs that you need to show kindness to yourself?
If you feel you have a furrowed brow a lot of the time, catch yourself muttering to yourself about being ‘stupid’, or ‘a fool’, or tutting at yourself then they are some big markers. Smaller signs might be a general sense that you aren’t doing enough, always feeling like you are ‘catching your tail’, like everyone else’s houses are cleaner, their babies sleep more, or their kids are more polite.
Perhaps you find yourself looking at how your friends live and find yourself falling short. It might be a general sense of feeling low or unhappy. Self-criticism and comparison to others can cause so much heart ache and are signs you could do with giving yourself more care and gentleness.
In this busy mum life, how can mums actually find the time for self kindness?
The ‘big’ gestures like spa days or time out can be hard to organise and while they are good for self-care, it’s potentially the smaller, more frequent actions that matter as much, if not more.
We can all find time to take a breath (we do it all the time!) and notice when we are being harsh on ourselves. A virtual pat on the back, a gentle word, a smile at yourself in the mirror don’t take long but all these little things can add up.
Sometimes it’s about doing less not more, e.g. asking yourself what can I let go of? What aspects of my life are draining me? None of these things are necessary easy but doesn’t necessarily take more time.
What are the benefits of self kindness for mums?
Being kind to ourselves can soothe our inner critic, unfurrow our brows, calm ourselves down and allow us to make wise choices about our health, our parenting, and our lives in general. There are lots of studies about the benefits of self-compassion generally and in our research at Canterbury Christ Church University (UK) we found that a web-based course (based on my book Self-Kindness for Mums) increased self-compassion in new mums and improved their well-being.
Could you share five ways every mum can build in self kindness into her life on a regular basis?
I’ve mentioned a few earlier (such as a pat on the back, gentle words, smiling at yourself in the mirror occasionally, dropping things that overwhelm, taking a breath), and the usual self-care suggestions like taking time out for ‘yourself’, having a bath, going for a walk, organising respite and seeing friends are all good, but here are five more concrete ideas you could try:
- When you next make yourself a drink, stop and notice what you are doing. Choose your favourite mug or glass and pour your juice or make your tea with the intention of being kind to yourself. We spend so much of the day rushing through feeding and watering others that we can get lost in the process. This little practice of self-kindness doesn’t take long, but if you do it every time you get yourself a drink, it allows you to keep reminding yourself that you matter. It’s a case of giving yourself a self-kindness moment to ‘say’ to yourself, ‘this is for me’, ‘I matter’.
- Look up to the sky. When we are busy getting babies, toddlers, kids in and out of the buggy, sling or car, shoes on, shoes off, wrestling with straps and snack requests, we can end up looking down all the time- both physically and emotionally. Look up and see the sky, the clouds, notice the colours, the shapes. This can act as a ‘re-set’ for the stresses of the day and can give us space to notice ourselves again.
- Find a stone, or shell or rock (or you could even buy something for yourself like a gem stone or ornament) and put it by the sink in the bathroom or kitchen, or by your bed. Every time you see your stone, shell, rock or gift, check in with yourself. Are you treating yourself as well as you would a friend? Could you do with a little more kindness? What can you do for yourself today to look after you? Sure, the dishes will still need doing and the kids will need feeding, but you have found a way to bring in some consideration for yourself without taking any extra time.
- Pick a mantra that works for you and say it to yourself at your key critical points in the day. Some examples are ‘you are fine as you are’, ‘no-one is perfect’, ‘just one step at a time’, ‘take a breath’, or ‘well done’. It might feel strange at first, but you could just try experimenting with different approaches and see what helps you feel the grip of the inner critic start to soften.
And the main thing is not to worry if you try some and they don’t help you, self-kindness is an ongoing project for most of us!
Can you provide some tried and tested strategies for silencing that inner critic?
The first step is to notice it. Once you can ‘hear’ that inner critic and notice how often it raises its head you are equipped to start to relate to it differently, buy into it less.
Some people worry that if they try to ‘silence’ it then they won’t be able to motivate themselves. But it’s important to remember that there is a difference between self-criticism and self-improvement; a difference between harsh self-judgement and considered evaluation.
If you think about getting feedback from a teacher, colleague or boss it’s that difference between those words delivered with kindness and those delivered with censure. It’s about turning that radar onto your own critic and saying ‘what’s going on here? Is this a helpful way to be talking to myself? how might someone kind and caring talk to me?’
Once you have noticed what you tend to be critical about (whether it’s your parenting, appearance, lifestyle, multitasking abilities, cooking etc), you can then take steps to change what’s called your own ‘self-talk.’
‘You idiot, you’ve burnt the chips again, why are you even feeding your kids this?, X would be cooking organic casserole from scratch, not bunging freezer food on a scrappy oven tray.’
‘Oh look, you’re so busy rushing around trying to make sure your kids are fed that you forgot to check the oven. No worries, that happens to people all the time. The kids can have a piece of bread or a biscuit while you cook some more. No-one is going to starve. As for X and the casserole, that’s great she does that, maybe one time you will too but not now.’
If you do find your mood is low and the critic is quite strong it can be worth speaking to health visitor or GP about what other support might be available as there are evidence-based interventions that can usually be available and accessed via a GP.
There’s no shame in asking for help, and services are there to help. Sometimes not wanting to ask for help can be part of a belief that we ‘should’ be able to manage. Inner critics thrive on those sorts of beliefs- they especially love ’shoulds’ and ‘musts’- so if you notice lots of ’shoulds’ and musts’ in your thinking that’s often a sign you’ve started to spot your inner critic too!
If you had to give a pep talk to a mum who was feeling like she was not good enough it would be:
We are ALL good enough as human beings! Us mothers are not robots and we cannot live up to unreal ideal standards however hard we might try, or however hard we want to. Our babies and children are human too and they aren’t going to be perfect either so if we can soften our expectations on ourselves (and others), then we can start to appreciate the little things and live in gentleness rather than harshness.
So…..now you have some ways to show kindness to yourself, I’d love to hear how you get on with bringing in a little self kindness to your life every day. Do leave a comment and share your experiences below.