Self-Compassion for Parents and Teens | Essex County Moms

photo of a mother and her daughter in the kichen

This post originally appeared on the Milwaukee Northshore Moms Blog.

This July is promising to be one of the best months we’ve had as a family in a while. We’ve seen parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins we haven’t seen in over a year. We also go to meet our newest family member, Harper, who was born this past June. All of this has made my heart full and made me realize how much we humans need in-person time with our people. While we’ve been focusing on all the joy in our lives, my inner critic has reared her nasty voice a couple of times recently reminding me not to get too happy and complacent. The pandemic isn’t gone, she says. The emotional and mental strains of the past year and a half aren’t over, she says. She’s a real piece of work that inner critic of mine and I’m still learning when to graciously tell her to shut the hell up and when to listen. A big piece of this journey was learning what to even call her and how to accept her. I did that at a pretty low point in my life. I’m not trying to rain on your July parade, I promise. I do want to let you know that whether you’re happier than a pig in poo these days or feeling exhausted and overwhelmed from hosting a July 4th party because you’re out of practice, both are totally ok! It’s ok to be elated and it’s ok to be overwhelmed and anxious. Self-compassion and resiliency are two skills we need throughout our lifetime and practicing both during good times helps us navigate bad times more easily. Summer, especially this one, is a good time to practice self-compassion and resiliency.

The start of the school year will be here before you know it. Yeah, I just went there. I mean it though. Because, let’s face it, we’re all still operating in some altered Covid-related time warp. How is it July already? Our kids are already asking about whether or not they’ll need to wear masks at school, will sports be back to normal, and will school dances and social events happen like before the pandemic. I don’t have answers. I do, however, wonder how much of their summer kids are spending thinking about what the upcoming school year will be like. If you’re worried about how your children’s emotional and social skills are going to fair this coming year, let me tell you a story and introduce you to a woman who has made it her life’s work to give you and your kiddos the tools and practices to be stronger, more resilient, and kinder to yourselves.

Our family hit its C-19 rock bottom period around Christmas 2020. We had dug deep and summoned untapped adrenaline to put on a happy face and make the holiday season festive, fun, and as non-Covidy as possible. It was like we had a nonverbal family pact to fake it ’til we make it. It started with Halloween and an outdoor scavenger hunt and socially distanced, masked-up pumpkin carving for our daughters and a couple of their friends. Then we put up Christmas lights all over Green Acres the first week of November to add extra holiday cheer. For Thanksgiving, we pulled the girls from school two weeks early in order to quarantine so we could host my cousin and her family from Chicago. We had fall colors coming out of the woodwork and the house smelled like pumpkin spice. Four days before Thanksgiving her nanny tested positive for Covid-19 and she wasn’t able to come. We still cooked the big Thanksgiving dinner as planned and were all grateful, happy, and truly thankful for our health and time together. Christmas looked like every other Christmas except extra shiny and bright. Because we were committed to not letting the pandemic bring us down. We Facetimed with family and friends and laughed and smiled. For New Year’s we stayed up and watched the ball drop, wore hats, and blew noisemakers. Our family of four was happy and fine. Nothing wrong with us, my friend. Totally fine and happy. Our winter was pretty much like that scene in Funny Farm, where the deer meanders across the winter wonderland after “Cue the deer!” is yelled out. We snuggled up on the couch in our jammies and spent way too much time trying to find new shows on demand. We celebrated the snowplow piles that reached above the roofline, went sledding, built snowmen to guard our snow tunnels that led to our igloos, and drank hot cocoa together. We played board games and were having a very extra, very normal holiday season.

And then we crashed. We’d run out of next events to distract us, the frozen tundra had seeped into our bones, the gray sky was gloomy, and the snow was just wet and cold not fun and magical. We missed our people and felt the sting of not having made many friends yet since moving to Wisconsin; we hadn’t seen our family in over a year. I was out of adrenaline and couldn’t plaster another upbeat positive smile on my face. I stayed up until 2 am mindlessly watching TV series, drinking wine, and sleeping in. I wasn’t even bothering to get up in the morning with the rest of the family. Repeat. My husband was doing great compared to the girls and me. In fact, he was like a superhero during this time we refer to as the “covid crying crisis”. He would let me ugly cry all over him and his clean shirt and tell me it was going to be ok. He would crack jokes to lighten the mood and make the girls smile. But I was angry, depressed, and starting to lose hope. And because we were all stuck at home together all the time, it was hard for me to hide these feelings. When our daughters started crying for no reason, lost interest in Facetiming friends and family, said they didn’t want to go back to school, and asked me at least twice a day if I was feeling ok, I knew I needed to pull myself together and acknowledge the fact that we weren’t fine and happy. Not at all. We needed help.

I was referred to Jamie Lynn Tatera, founder of Wholly Mindful, who teaches courses on resiliency, self-compassion, and mindfulness. Her Parent-Teen Self-Compassion course seemed like a good fit and so we embarked on a six-week journey. Each class was slated for an hour and a half on Zoom. I thought we’d learn some catchy phrases for self-talk, relaxation poses, and how to redirect our negative thoughts to positive ones. And yes, we did learn all that but on the first session, I realized two things: first, there were families from across the country who were all having similar experiences as us, second, we were going to walk out of this series with a lot more than cliche catchphrases or having mastered modified log pose. It brought to light nuances I hadn’t noticed about my daughters’ personalities, taught each of us our own unique type of self-compassion, and most of all helped us to accept that it’s ok to not be fine or happy all the time. We also were given a name for that awful, downer of a voice we hear. Yeah, you know who I’m talking about.

Each week, we’d have homework; Zentangles, house diagrams, rocks, and even ooblecks were integrated. We learned about our Inner Critic and that sometimes he/she is used for good and sometimes for bad. How we deal with the out-of-control version of our Inner Critic is unique to us and there’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with that side of us. We learned about calming touch, meditative sounds, and why it’s so hard to be as kind to ourselves as we would be to a good friend in a similar difficult situation. Jamie’s sincerity, patience, and positive energy actually come through on Zoom. She has a variety of courses geared toward families and teens, and she is sought after by local educators who incorporate her expertise into their school’s guidance programs.

If you’d like to add some self-compassion and resiliency skills to you and your family’s repertoire, please check out Jamie’s website, Wholly Mindful.

Cheers to more love, self-compassion, and resiliency!

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