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This Mother's Day I Will Embrace My Imperfection and My Inner Child
Here's how I rewrite the list my inner critic has been writing all night long, and turn inward with compassion.
If today is triggering for you, I hear you, I see you, and you are not alone.
Recognize this post?
Yup. I’m taking a rest today and sending you love via this fave Mother’s Day essay. It still feels authentic, helpful, and valid to me, and has been updated.
🌷 Last minute nurturing gift for Mother’s Day: Restorative Yoga for Better Sleep 😴🌷
🖥 Will you be joining me May 15-19 in the Screen Time & Mental Health Summit? 📱
The weight our culture gives to Mother’s Day is a symptom.
An unequal burden is placed on the shoulders of individual parents: the implicit and explicit pressure for the day, much less the children’s lives to be perfect. We will crack under that pressure.
I wake up most mornings overflowing with doubts.
Am I on the right path? Am I taking care of this body well enough? This mind? This home? Am I a good enough teacher? Partner? Citizen of the world? Yoga practitioner? Friend?
But most of all, I doubt my mothering.
I know am not the only parent cracking open. There’s no way to win at mothering. These doubts aren’t the kind easily soothed by external validation.
I wake up with a mess of thoughts. There is a long list of things I have done wrong, mostly from the day before, but some from way back. This part of me believes I am never enough. Judgment is my default setting. It switches on, and begins its program of ‘should haves’. These are more incisive than doubts. These thoughts are the pain of my past, bubbling up and taking it out on the present me, inflicting suffering to feel less alone in it.
There is just enough truth in the list for me to listen and sometimes believe, because the pandemic has changed me. This past few years my self-motivation, focus, energy level, and my relationships have all suffered. I’ve done less to reprogram my factory setting, and it is harder to get back to the wisdom underneath. Still, I do have a choice.
If you, like me, were socialized by the harsh motivation of an inner critic, it may surprise you that self-compassion can be way more motivating than self-criticism. Trust arises from the courage to turn towards the disowned parts of ourselves.
Every morning I have a choice:
Walk out of my bedroom with the doubts and judgment still dominating my mind. Everything is colored by them: I look at my home and see the mess. I look at my husband and see complicity. (He is my partner in life and my best friend, so he can’t be separate from all the wrongs. It is easier to blame him than to hold all the guilt alone.) I judge my parenting, and my child feels that as disappointment, or an attack on his existence. I tell him no, I simply see the potential he’s not tapping. I’m very good at using logic to support my arguments. Winning is important to this part of me.
Pretend I’m still asleep. Don’t walk out of my bedroom just yet. Pause long enough to be with myself, just as I am. Listen to the truth beneath the long list of criticisms. The feeling that “something’s wrong, something’s missing.” Believe the pain underneath. Feel the subtle ache deep in my lungs, as I breathe into this part of me that never feels like enough. Remember what’s true: This is not the real me, this is what my factory setting believes.
First thing in the morning, I spend some time with my inner critic, so she feels seen. Then, when I walk out of my bedroom things look different: I see the trees out the window, smell the coffee brewed by my husband, feel the bones of my son as I snuggle by his side, joining him in his world. I turn toward the sun, grateful for my life. This is how I reprogram my settings.
What do I actually do, in those few minutes after waking?
I give in to my inner critic. I’m not willing to deny any part of me a voice, even my inner critic. After listening for a bit, then it’s my turn. She doesn’t like to hear this, but I say it anyway:
“I’m imperfect and I’m okay with that.”
It doesn’t take long. Sometimes I just lie there and listen, sometimes I roll around in bed and breathe and stretch.
What’s important is that I don’t use my movement, affirmation, or breathing practice to gaslight myself. I did that for years and it kept me going, it but also did damage. I’m good at it. I have so many tools to “feel better” that I can power through until burnout slams me down.
There are times when those calming tools are important, but that’s not what I’m doing in those precious waking moments. I’m interested in the truth of what’s here.
It is a subtle practice of self-healing. I know it will unfold for the rest of my life.
Meditation teacher Tara Brach often shares the image of a solid gold Buddha covered over with layers of clay. After centuries, no one knew about the gold until the statue was moved, and accidentally dropped. The cracks revealed the hidden gold shining through. I look for the gold by peering into the cracks in my own wounded psyche.
There was a time when, as a child, I was given more responsibility than I could handle. It was sold as an honor, a shining achievement, rather than the heavy burden it was. The child was crushed and an armor of responsibility grew around her. She was only worthy if she could care for others, while also excelling academically. Since that was often an impossible task, she shrunk.
It felt like a survival imperative, and I couldn’t succeed.
My parents divorced when I was 6, and we didn’t have enough support. Unsupervised and uprooted, I was kicked out of school in third grade for not keeping up with the work. (That detail was kept from me, and a new story constructed, but the shame seeped through anyway.)
My self-worth was tied up in how responsible I was. I was good at pretending to be capable. My mom recently wrote this, to explain the responsibility she heaped on me: “I could rely on you to do as I said to the best of your ability.”
I was adultified because I was obedient and motivated to succeed. Also, apparently, no one else was available to be an adult.
I’m not blaming my parents! Cycles like mine go back as far as patriarchy does.
My child rarely does as I say, and when he does it is because of our closeness, or because he agrees with me, not because of fear. He’s being a kid. I am so relieved!
I’m parenting my inner child with compassion.
I need to tap into that young, hurt part of me because that’s where I find the light of compassion. I could tell myself I’m not her anymore. I’ve grown up. That is true and not true. She is still here. She was broken, and she needs the grown up me to help her heal. As I reach toward her with tenderness, she teaches me about more than my own suffering.
She has so much to teach me. She is so vulnerable. There was a time that too much was expected of her, and she couldn’t handle the crush of defeat, so she retreated. She doesn’t come out every day. When she does, I do my best to slow down and listen.
She is untouched by any achievement, no matter how great.
My husband could treat me like Venus and do all the chores and she would still feel unsupported while seeing the chaos and clutter as a personal failing. My book could be featured by Oprah and she would still doubt her worthiness as a writer. I could walk 5 miles and practice yoga for hours, and still she would believe my body needs more exercise. I could prepare for a retreat meticulously, fill it with wonderful students, guide them through a transformative weekend, and she’d still doubt my ability to lead. My son could achieve honors, get a fantastic job and fall in love, and she would still judge my mothering. Nothing is ever enough to seal the crack, so I peer into the imperfection to find the gold.
The wound is where the light enters, AND the motherhood myth is crushing, AND cultural inequity is responsible.
“…I said: What about my heart?
He said: Tell me what you hold inside it?
I said: Pain and sorrow.
He said: Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
My childhood was a symptom of the cultural myth of motherhood.
The hurt child in me was created by our culture, not just my traumatic childhood. The responsibility for raising children cannot fall on one primary caregiver. It really is too much for two. Raising children is the culture’s job, and when it is distributed more equitably, it is an honor rather than a burden.
I wake every morning and am confronted with my programming, which is telling me I have failed and I need to do more in order to be worthy. My self-compassion practice reminds me:
“Do less. You are enough. You are love.”
Self-compassion and mindfulness have helped me become a more loving and authentic friend, partner, teacher, citizen, and parent. I know I am not the only parent cracking open, but when I wake up to the list my inner critic has been writing all night long, it feels lonely. I can hold the big feelings of others because I have held my own. It only feels heavy because it is pure gold.
I think of other parents like me, and I’m comforted by Leonard Cohen’s line:
“Forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”
-From ’Anthem’ by Leonard Cohen
🌷❤️ I hope your Mother’s Day is healing. ❤️🌷
📱 🖥 Reminder about the upcoming Screen Time & Mental Health Summit:
It starts tomorrow!
When we help our child make informed choices about their 🖥 screen life, and balance it with activities that we know support well-being, we will change their very experience of childhood, and that impacts their long term social, emotional and cognitive development. 📱
I’m grateful that I’ll be learning some new strategies in the upcoming Screen Time & Mental Health Summit. Will you be joining me May 15-19?