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Kind To Me

Without a doubt I could extend a bit more grace to myself. Maybe you can too. If you’re like me then you make every effort to excuse, overlook, justify, and outright forgive the offenses of others. Not so much your own. I encourage my family, friends, and strangers alike, to be kinder to themselves while, at the same time, withholding self-compassion. If this were anomalous to me, I would seek therapy. Since it’s not I thought I’d blog about it.

I’m the queen of self-criticism. Although, I’d venture you would say, “Compared to me Sister, you’re just a lady-in-waiting”. Most of us could do with treating ourselves better. The friend who fills my heart with encouragement as I wail that I will never again fit my size 8 jeans while I eat a bowl of Michigan Pothole ice cream, is the same gracious lady who beats herself up for days after missing a single workout. The sister who advocates for my day of rest after a busy season of life will wallow in guilt for not wanting to go to yet another sporting event for her stepson. She goes but not wanting to go sends her into a piteous invective over her (non-existent) selfishness.

Why are we so compassionate, forgiving, and good-natured with others, yet withhold the benefit of a judgement-free zone for ourselves? I grant freedom from “shoulds” for my gal pals and cry in frustration at the pressure of my to do list. It is so bad, sometimes I will write an item on my to do list which I’ve already done just for the satisfaction of crossing it off! If that’s not slavery to guilt, I don’t know what is.

None of my friends hesitate to cheer me on when I “fail” but what happens when my friends aren’t

around? What do I do when my failure is too painful to share with those who can help me put it in perspective? When the pride and relief from a crossed off to do list eludes me?

There is a plethora of articles written about the benefits of self-compassion. We know it’s something we should have. We applaud people who shoulder appropriate responsibility in life and relationships without attaching their worth to getting it right all the time. We sing the songs, drink the kool-aid, read the books...and still we struggle. Why?

I have a theory. Perhaps we continue to struggle, despite the wealth of information available to us, because, by and large, the articles, the songs, and the books, focus so heavily on the “self” part of self-compassion, they bankroll rather than bankrupt feelings of selfishness.

I don’t want to take anything away from the words we embrace to encourage charity for our own selves. Because of them I have become aware of my desperate need to grant grace to myself. Yet, even with an engaged head, my heart remained unsettled. And, as you know, there is a long journey between the head and the heart. All of this talk about self-compassion makes me feel self-ish. The last thing I want to is feel selfish, especially as a stepmom. Sheesh! We come into the role already battling that stereotype. We don’t need anything adding weight to the fight.

To bridge the divide between my head and heart, rather than focus on the why’s and the how to’s, I

began asking myself, what do I do for my friends that I haven’t yet done for myself. I discovered one thing I did consistently was ask questions which instinctively led them to self-compassion. Without pushing, prodding, or preaching, a space conducive for self-care opened up and invited each to relax.

Now, when I notice defeating self-talk batting around my head, I ask myself these same questions. The questions set the tone for compassion to naturally rush into my thinking. I’d like to share those questions with you:

Am I better at this today than I was yesterday?

This is the first question I usually ask myself and others. I really like this question. A lot! Compassion is offered in the question itself. We don’t have to be perfect. You know it. I know it. We’ve advised it. Yet, we doggedly pursue perfection and castrate ourselves for missing the target. We won’t ever be perfect. We can, however, be better today than we were yesterday. We can exercise more patience today than we did yesterday. We were distracted by the phone when we talked to our kids yesterday, but we can put it down today. Opportunities to improve present themselves every day. So, get better. Then recognize that you are better. And definitely, celebrate what is better.

Am I being lied to by out of whack expectations?

Of course, I can lose 10 lbs in a week, the lady on the magazine cover did it! Yes, I can stuff 16 hours of work into an 8-hour day, all I have to do is...!"

I once saw a YouTube video titled, "How I lost 80 lbs in 4 months!" You know I immediately went to, "If she could lose 80 in 4 months I certainly can lose 40 in that time!"

Half the self-recriminations in my thinking comes from the pressure of unmet unrealistic expectations. Expectations yell at us what should’ve happen, what we could’ve done, and what would’ve or might’ve occurred as a result. Phrases like could have, would have, should have are modal verbs which express present feelings about past decisions. They highlight the gap between what we wanted and what we got. The problem is that we can’t change the past. We can only accept it and learn from it. Still, we circle around the issue of unrealistic expectations over and over again. Not only our own. We frequently throw in the fun challenge of trying to live up to the expectations of others.

I battle against unrealistic expectations by staying in the moment. I’m learning to focus on the journey without fretting over the outcome so much. I look forward to a good outcome but that is less the point for me now. For instance, as I treat my body well, a healthier physique will naturally follow but along the way I will enjoy my renewed energy, learning delicious dishes to prepare, and incorporating fun activities. I remain hopeful for good relationships in my family but I focus on the moments we are together enjoying each other’s company. It brings great relief to simply appreciate the beauty and opportunity of what is without worrying about what "should" be.

Have I nurtured a healthy balance between the needs of our children, the needs of our marriage, and my own needs?

Everyone in your life needs something from you. Your husband needs you. Your children need you. Your boss, co-workers, and employees need you. Guess what? You need you.

You’re a pretty smart cookie so I know you anticipate at times you will struggle with determining who should come first, spouse, children, or you. You are told your children should always come first. Anything less than that is selfish. You are told your marriage should come first so that your children will have the security of at least one stable relationship in their lives. You are told you should come first because if Momma ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy.

Girl, free yourself please. It’s not a contest. You don’t have to decide. The reality is there will be times when each will slide to the top of the list because priorities shift. A sick child takes priority over a husband who can’t find his brown shoe for the 59th time. After 6 months of non-stop demands from family, career, and life, your need for rest will take priority over your family’s need for a home-cooked meal. Order that pizza. Deep breath ladies: your date night dress hasn’t seen the light of day in a month of Sundays. Your weekend getaway with hubby will take priority over your children missing you. Priorities are fluid. A healthy, flexible view of your priorities will serve you well.

Am I apologizing for things which do not require an apology from me?

I really enjoyed watching my daughter play with her Barbie dolls when she was young. Her Barbie doll playing was always action-packed. Barbie was either a zookeeper, or a paleontologist, or a veterinarian. It was also thematic!

One day I heard excessive apologies coming out of Barbie’s mouth through my daughter’s play. She was even sorry for the sun being too hot on a rhino’s back! I realized I was not doing a very good job of modeling appropriate boundaries for my daughter. I apologized for everything in my home. When something went wrong at school, I apologized. When something went wrong at my husband’s job, I apologized. I thought it was the right thing to do. The polite thing to do. I thought I was showing empathy. But language matters. There is a cause and effect in what we say. In apologizing for things for which I had no direct involvement I subconsciously took ownership of my loved one’s well-being. It then became my job to rectify the situation. Make it right for my child, husband, mother, etc.

Moms feel an inordinate amount of responsibility for the personal happiness of their family. We support husbands, raise children to be resilient and kind adults, offer unconditional love, friendship, and a healthy environment to thrive in. As I began to lighten up on myself, I leaned in to this truth: In all I do I am in no way responsible for anyone’s every happiness. So, I stopped apologizing for stuff I didn’t do. Today, when I want to show empathy and express my regret for what’s going on in my loved one’s life, I say, “I hate this happened to you.” Which I do. I might even ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” I no longer strip the power of a good apology by overusing those two important words. Now, I save, “I’m sorry” for those moments it matters most; when I have done the hurting, the offending, and I’m the one who needs to make it right.

I realize I’ve given you the 30,000-foot view of these questions. Each one could be tackled in its own 1500-word article. I won’t insult your intelligence. Self-compassion is not something which can be cultivated as easily as reading one article, singing one song, or asking four questions. It, like we all are, is a work in progress. It’s a journey which we get better at taking as we travel. It is alive with triumph and setbacks and requires frequent re-tooling. Self-compassion is a mindset and mindsets are long in the making. In the meantime, I think I’ll still go to therapy!

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