Of all the things that make parenting challenging, the perpetual self-criticism is the worst. We lose sight of the fact that the most important thing our kids need from us is to feel loved.

We spend a lot of time beating ourselves up for not being “perfect” parents. Take the time my 17 year old son texted me a picture of himself being embraced by another mom after winning the championship wrestling match at the regional tournament. Through a miscommunication, my husband and I both left the match early. I awarded myself “Worst Mother Ever” for that one.

We unknowingly teach self-criticism – because this is how we talk to ourselves.

I’m replacing self-criticism with self-compassion, and making sure my kids hear the message.

You may think, “Sounds lovely. I can’t be trusted though. If I’m not tough on myself, I won’t change (get it done, do my best, etc.).” We fear that if we weren’t constantly berating ourselves, we’d be complete slackers. (Cue your favorite fantasy of irresponsible motherhood here).

Self-Criticism Hurts
I think of self-criticism like the bigger of two siblings, pummeling the other on the living room floor. Self-criticism regularly tries to take me down, landing a few good punches by the time I realize what’s going on and shut it down.

Why Do We Do This To Ourselves?!

This meaner version of ourselves has good intentions:

  • Keep us safe
  • Protect us from making mistakes
  • Make sure we retain our status and get enough love
  • Avoid disapproval from others

Unfortunately, the toxic methods of self-criticism – shame, name-calling, constant comparison, devaluing our needs and accomplishments – bring out the worst in us.

Research by Drs. Kristin Neff, Ricks Warren and Elke Smeets found self-critical people are more prone to avoidance, fearfulness, feelings of inferiority, depression, procrastination, and body dissatisfaction.

The Truth About Self-Compassion
We fear we’ll become self-indulgent sloths if we practice self-compassion. The opposite is true. Self-compassionate people are:

  • More successful in pursuing goals
  • More resilient when goals aren’t met
  • More motivated to change, try harder and avoid repeating mistakes

Change requires desire, awareness, and a plan. Self-compassion takes practice. Ask a trusted friend to point out when you use self-criticism.

4 Ways to Foster Self-Compassion
1. Notice when you slip into self-criticism
2. Stop!
3. Speak to yourself the way you would to a dear friend
4. Make a plan to deal with your concerns

When we think of people who make us feel loved and give us courage, compassion is what we’re most drawn to. Think of Jesus responding to the woman caught in adultery.

Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”
“No one, Master.”
“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.” – John 8: 10, 11 (The Message)


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Warren, R., Smeets, E. & Neff, K. D. (2016). Self-criticism and self-compassion: Risk
and resilience for psychopathology. Current Psychiatry, 15(12), 18-32.

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Kimberly Gonsalves is a life and leadership coach, speaker and co-creator of Solving The Mystery of Parenting Teens. She encourages and equips women to thrive by letting go of what doesn’t work and instead build healthier habits and more respectful relationships, so they can bring their best to their most important leadership roles, and have more fun doing it. Read her in-depth series on self compassion, or connect with her on Facebook.

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