If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not capable of developing compassion for others.
Another beautiful, and I expect timely, quotation from the Childcare Exchange. In their case, they addressed their short piece to front line workers and childcare providers. I’m addressing it to you.
Taking care of yourself is an integral part of the Educaring Approach…you can’t take care of others well if you haven’t taken well-enough care of yourself. For some reason, I’m reminded of the section in the RIE Manual that talks about working mothers (and I’d amend that to ‘working parents’)…we all know that the first two years are critical to a child’s life and development, and so many people expect Magda’s stance on that to be that parents must make every sacrifice to stay at home, exclusively caring for their child during that time.
In fact, she encouraged parents who want to work to do so: a parent “who enjoys [their] outside job may come home much more refreshed, more ready for being with [their] child. A parent needs self-time just like a child needs self-time” (p. 29). It was her opinion, and mine, that parents need to feed what nurtures them, hold onto what makes them feel like themselves. Becoming a parent is a huge shift in identity…but you stay who you are…you just add a new layer.
But she goes on to say that parents who choose to be ‘full time’ parents (with the caveat that parents are always parents regardless of whether they are providing hands-on care all day or arranging for someone else to do so) also need time away from their children. The thing is, as we all know, no matter your choice, we’re all staying home these days…working and parenting, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and now month after month. And the thing about that is that statement above…it still holds true.
It is actually even more vital of an idea to hold onto. To act upon.
I don’t know about you, but for me, the last week, maybe the last month, has suddenly felt harder. I keep thinking I’ve completely acclimated to this new way, and yet there are still days where I just feel thwarted at every turn. And I have less patience and tolerance than I normally do (did?). Where my brain suddenly doesn’t comprehend something like people walking through a parking lot wearing masks…this is normal now, right? Why does it still strike me as incredibly odd? Where it hits me that I can’t just hop on a plane and zip home to be with my family and watch the leaves change.
And I know it’s hard for you. I don’t have an infant or toddler, just two cats and a husband. I love them dearly, but there are moments when they (singly or collectively) drive me straight up the wall! And I know you are challenged by your children regularly: that’s part of being a parent. But what’s not part of being a parent is anxiety about their development; worry about their future. (Well, there’s a little of that, surely, but it’s my primary goal to help parents calm down about development and futures…in normal times.)
It’s true that things are different for children than they ever have been before. It’s true we don’t know, for sure, how this period in our lives will impact children in the long term. But it’s also true that there are things that we can do, right now, to help children feel safe, to learn and grow, to challenge you and push buttons as they should. These are things we need to keep our eyes and hearts turned toward…if we get stuck in anxiety and preoccupied with the suffering (current or future), it can be traumatizing for us…which makes us less effective for them.
That said, I’m well aware that self-time for parents is rare on the regular and next to nonexistent most of the time these days. I’ve written before, I encourage you to take it where you can get it, even if it is as simple as giving yourself a few, calming, breaths…but I also want to urge you to give yourself grace for the times when you just can’t anymore. To forgive yourself for being impatient, hasty, or loud. To simply tell yourself you can do better next time when you wish you’d handled something differently. Please be as compassionate with yourself as you hope to be with your children.
And here’s today’s reading from The Parents’ Tao Te Ching. I often just open the book to find something to add, but I totally cheated today…this is just too perfect:
67. Compassion, Patience, and Simplicity
There are only three qualities
you must teach your children.
Compassion, patience, and simplicity.
Some would say this is absurd.
They would teach instead
ambition, drive and consumption,
and say it is the way of success.
But if they learn patience,
they see the world as it truly is.
If they learn simplicity,
they see themselves as they truly are.
And if they learn compassion,
they heal themselves
and the world.
Following the Tao as a parent
will often seem opposed
to conventional parenting wisdom.
The confusion lies in ourselves as parents.
We don’t know what we truly want,
or who we truly are.
Compassion, patience and simplicity
cannot be taught
until they are experienced.
And when we experience them,
we lose the need to teach them.
We live them instead.
And then our children learn.