One day when my son was three, I walked into my bedroom to find him seated on the floor cutting thin green foam that he had pealed off some clothing hangers. I asked “J, honey, what are you doing?” He replied “I am cutting slack.” If a three year old can cut himself some slack then perhaps we mothers can do it too.
THE CRAZY PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
Most of us say “ I just want my kids to be happy….” However often, we so desperately want our kids to be happy that we make ourselves and our children a bit crazy in the process.
Loving our children and wanting them to be happy is absolutely natural. Yet somewhere along the way this natural impulse gets distorted.
Our culture tells us that happiness is found through “success”, accomplishment and the accumulation of things. And here is where things get crazy. When we identify as our role of parent, and measure our “success” as parents on the happiness of our children, we find ourselves frantically pursuing the activities and things we think will make our children happy.
This circular thinking “I’ll be successful when my kids are happy”, and “my kids will be happy when they are successful” has us scurrying around trying to make our kids happier, usually by trying to make them more successful in their endeavors—baseball, bassoon, ballet…. Ironically every time we do this we are teaching our children to calibrate their happiness on external circumstances.
This is where the fear and guilt and judgment come in. Even though we rarely admit it, we are terrified that we are doing it “wrong”, that we have already irrevocably damaged our kids, and that they will need years of therapy to lead even remotely normal lives. This fear fills us with guilt and doubt. We compare ourselves to other mothers, and often assume that they have it more together; what my wise mentor calls comparing their outsides (the stylishly dressed mother we see at the school book faire) to our insides (the more or less incessant chatter of “shoulda, woulda, coulda”). We harshly scrutinize and judge our parenting and theirs. This fear, doubt and judgment fuels the various "mommy wars" (tiger mom, pussycat mom, working mom, stay at home mom, breast feeding mom, bottle feeding mom). As a result, we often parent poorly out of reactivity and paralysis.
So what’s the alternative? How about cutting yourselves, and other parents, some slack? How do you feel when you read that sentence? Take a slow deep breath, let out a long sigh, allow the corners of your mouth to curve up just slightly and whisper or shout “ I am going to cut myself some slack!”
HOW TO CUT SLACK
While this sounds good in theory, most of us need some slack cutting instructions.
- Stop when you notice you are stressed out, beating yourself up, critically assessing your pathetic parenting, stop. Take at least 3 and preferably 10 deep breaths. And stop trying so hard to be the perfect parent.
- Lighten Up With a sense of humor (which is not the same as self deprecation), acknowledge that in this moment despite your best intentions, you are not being the mother you want to be.
- Accept that you are doing the best you can. Seriously, if you could do better in this moment you would.
- Cultivate compassion for how extraordinarily challenging it is to be “good” parent even some of the time, much less all the time.
- Choose what you want to do next—take 5 in the bathroom to recollect yourself, announce a “do over”, apologize to your child for snapping at her when really you were frustrated by a recent phone call with a colleague, set a clearer limit, get support….
And if worse comes to worse go into your closet with your children and several pairs of child-safe scissors, and cut everyone a piece of SLACK.