Learning to be a kind and loving parent (And I’m not talking about towards your children) Perhaps one of the most challenging transitions in life is becoming a parent. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, loaded with optimism and excitement, on the back of many a full night’s sleep, you await the arrival of your first child. I can remember this feeling myself, awaiting the arrival of my son just over 7 years ago. But nothing can prepare you for the journey ahead, one minute you are an expectant parent, no experience or gradual training, and then BOOM, you are now the full time parent of a small, fragile, totally dependent human being.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mummy to my two beautiful children (well most of the time!). I think when becoming a parent we can experience the highest of highs, joy, love, affection and pure admiration. But we can also experience the lowest of lows, darkness, despair, exhaustion and dissatisfaction. Statistics in Australia indicate that about 15% of women will experience post-natal depression (PND). But let’s not forget the first time fathers too. Last week, 15th – 21st June 2015 was Men’s Mental Health Week. In fact 10% of men experience PND and are more at risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Whilst professional counselling, support services, GPs and medication are all options to treat those diagnosed with PND, what about the other 85-90%? The mums and dads who don’t meet the criteria to be diagnosed but experience the rollercoaster ride of parenthood.
Ask any new parent what is their biggest complaint and the blaring answer is sleep deprivation! Sleep is as important to the human body as food, water and breathing. However newborns and parents have different sleep patterns, so adjusting to this change can be a challenge. Lack of sleep causes reduced alertness and concentration, poorer memory, lack of motivation and not to forget an increased likelihood of moodiness and bad temper. Great, you have just taken on one of the most challenging and responsible jobs in the world and you are already starting on the back foot.
How will you cope? A helpful coping technique lies within the art of self compassion and learning to be kinder to one’s self. This sounds simple in theory but it is a lot more difficult to apply in practice. The experiences of sleep deprivation, teamed with parent guilt (which jumps on board as soon as your first baby is born), and the balancing act of juggling many roles often means that any time or thought for self can fade into the background.
So what exactly is self compassion? And how can you develop it? The first step in the process is to gain an awareness, to be able to recognise the times you are being hard on yourself and be able to identify when you have placed unattainable expectations on yourself. Dr Kristen Neff, Associate Professor, is a passionate researcher in the area of self compassion. If you follow this link, http://self-compassion.org/test-how-self-compassionate-you-are, you will be able to answer some questions to gain insight into your own level of self compassion (or lack of).
Compassion literally means ‘to suffer with’. So self compassion involves identifying when you are going through a difficult time, and rather then telling yourself to “Just get on with it”, you recognise you are suffering and respond to your individual pain with kindness and warmth. For some people this sounds too warm and fuzzy and is viewed as a soft approach as it is not tackling the issue. But when you are in pain or doing it tough, ask yourself, “Is this the ideal time to be self critical and change yourself right NOW”? That was a rhetorical question, of course the answer is NO!
Parents face many difficult and challenging moments, and often ask themselves “Am I doing the very best I can to raise my child” with the expectation of perfectionism in your parenting role. But the adjustment to parenting takes time and unfortunately it is not until a few years have passed that you can catch up on lost sleep. So what do you do in the meantime?
As a psychologist, I work with clients to help them develop self compassion and to learn to take time out for themselves. Despite the never ending do to list, you deserve time to take a walk, have a nap, read a book, have a cup of tea or anything else that meets your needs in that moment. And learning to live in the moment, to be present and mindful each day, is crucial in being self compassionate. In today’s society we are ‘so switched on and tuned in’ to social media that we can lose ourselves and ignore our needs. So I encourage you to switch off, listen to your pain or negative emotions, own and embrace them and then tell yourself “I am good enough just the way I am”. If this seems tricky or you need assistance then check out http://self-compassion.org or seek help from one of our professionals at The Lotus Centre.
Leanne is a registered psychologist and available Weds, Thurs, Fri at the Lotus Centre. To book an appointment PH: 0410 922 187.