Life as a mother is always full-on. There’s always something to do, your lists never end, and neither does the spinning of the proverbial plates. We push ourselves, hold ourselves up to high standards, give ourselves a hard time – but is this really how we should be treating ourselves? Would we ever recommend this to our best friend?
How about cutting ourselves some slack instead, and trying something new: treating ourselves like we would treat our best friend.
Treating yourself like you would your best friend is what self-compassion boils down to. The idea behind it is that we are naturally inclined to be kinder to others than to ourselves – so if you can think of yourself as a best friend you’re more likely to be kind to yourself.
Self-compassion is not the same as self-care; it is more like the way you talk to yourself, the voice inside your head. Dr Kristin Neff on self-compassion.org defines self-compassion the following way:
“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”
If your inner critic is always on alert to remind you of your mistakes or failures, you’re not alone. Most people tend to be a lot more harsh on themselves than on others. We often talk to ourselves in a way that we would never talk to our best friend. How many times have you looked in the mirror and said “gosh, I look terrible” – yet, you would never say that to your best friend, would you.
Next time you catch yourself being too self-critical, think about it: what would you say to your best friend if she was in your shoes? What advice would you give her? What would you do to lift her spirits? Try to talk to yourself like you would to your best friend – this might just be the way to change the voice inside your head to a kinder one.
Try it for just one day: by the end of it you will be in a better mood, more relaxed, and more at peace with yourself. Here’s what you can do:
Examine your thoughts and feelings
What is your mental chatter telling you? Is it saying “well done for doing your best” or is it criticising you for not being enough, not looking good enough, not achieving enough etc? How do you talk to yourself? Would you ever speak like that to your best friend? If you catch that negative self-talk, stop it right on its tracks: recognise that this is just mental chatter, and you have the power to change that. Think of what you would say to your best friend in the same situation – and apply that to yourself.
Examine how you feel, and why. It might take some real soul-searching to get to the bottom of it sometimes, but it’s worth it. What is it that makes you happy? What is it that makes you sad? Are you content, satisfied with your life right now? If there’s something bothering you, how do you really feel about it? Do you need to make some big decisions, or changes perhaps? What advice would you give to your best friend? Know what you need, figure out what you want – and go for it.
Encouragement over criticism
If you’re being very critical with yourself, you’re not alone: for most of us, our default is harsh self-criticism. But that doesn’t mean this is right. Instead of criticising yourself, choose encouragement and patience.
When you feel bad about not being a “perfect mother”, remember that first of all, perfect doesn’t exist. And second, think about what you would say to your friend in a similar situation. You would probably encourage her that she’s a great mum, that she’s doing just fine, she’s doing her best and that’s all she can do, that we’re all learning through practice, and it takes time and patience. Now say the same things to yourself and notice what a difference it makes in how you feel.
Respect your body
Have a healthy relationship with food. Restricting what you eat, counting calories, feeling guilty about eating is not the way. Thankfully, we’re recognising that diets don’t work on the long run, and there’s a growing “anti-diet” movement against unhealthy eating behaviours. Implement lots of movement in your daily life, choose foods that are good for your body, and if you’re eating in a mostly healthy way there’s no need to feel bad about the occasional treat. I would never underestimate the joy that a double chocolate brownie can bring – especially if you can share it with friends.
Treat your body well. When you feel tired, sit down and have a little rest instead of reaching for yet another coffee. A five-minute cat-nap can do wonders. The housework can wait, tidying can wait, laundry can wait – sometimes you just need to rest.
Do what brings you joy
How many things have you given up that used to make you happy? Mothers need to make lots of sacrifices – but if you sacrifice too much you can end up feeling like you “lost yourself”. Your happiness is key for holding the family together, so it’s in everyone’s best interest that you feel good in your skin and happy with your life.
Make a list of the activities that you enjoy the most, and note how many of them are still part of your life. If you regularly do things that lift your spirits, great; but if you notice you barely do anything for yourself, it’s time for a change. Prioritise your happiness: whether it’s hanging out with friends, joining a yoga or dance class, a creative hobby, a movie or theatre night – make time for it. Remember: the happier you are, the better for your whole family.
Treating yourself like you would treat your best friend might not come naturally at first, but you will get there with some practice – and it will not only make your life better, but it’s also a great skill to pass down to your children.