Mom Guilt, Self-Compassion, and Forgiving Ourselves
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Today I want to talk to you about making mistakes in our parenting guilt and self-compassion for moms of kids with ADHD. I was talking with a coaching client this week and we had a really important conversation that I hadn't necessarily thought about until she brought it up. But the family has started working with a behavior specialist to help them with family dynamics and behavior and so forth. Working with someone local in their area and he had spoken to them about some of the appropriate approaches with their daughter. So things to do and things not to do things that won't work or things that might escalate an outburst or intensity or behavior.
And what she said to me was I'm having a really hard time getting past that. I'm having a really hard time knowing that I might have made things worse because I didn't know how to approach things better. And I'm feeling really guilty about maybe having used an approach that was more damaging than helpful sometimes.
And this is a mom who cares so, so much about her kids and about her family unit. It's very, very important to her. She tries so hard, she gives 150 percent to try to help her child with ADHD and high functioning autism. And with trying to give her kids a great childhood and a happy family life. And so, it wasn't for lack of trying. It wasn't for lack of getting out there, going to therapist after therapist and trying all different sorts of things but really still struggling with her teenager and the behavior and the way to manage it.
What I said to her was, First of all, looking back isn't helping your guilt over that is not serving you. It's not serving your child and it's not serving your family. It's super detrimental. And what is much better is to use that energy for self-compassion to have that conversation with yourself about how you did the best that you could in that moment. And that is very true for her. It is true for most of us. Every now and then we certainly get triggered, we all get emotionally intense, we're all human beings and we all have a breaking point. And yes, this parenthood is very challenging. So sometimes we're going to reach that breaking point and we're going to act in a way that we know we shouldn't, that we know is not the optimal reaction but it's going to happen and we have to forgive ourselves for that because nobody is perfect.
One thing that I talk over and over about with coaching clients and course clients is that there is no such thing as perfection. There isn't. And what we see in social media is just the highlight reel of people's lives. They're not sharing the struggles with us on social media. They're not sharing the struggles in the magazine where the house is perfect not a not a toy inside and it's totally clean and hospital disinfected and that's not life. That's beautiful design. That happened for a day while they took a photograph. But that's not life. And we have to live authentically, and in order to live authentically as moms we have to learn to forgive ourselves and learn from mistakes to move forward.
And with this particular client in this conversation I shared with her a story about my family and with Ricochet when he was about 5 years old. He was not yet diagnosed with ADHD or anything else. We had no idea that he had any sort of disability or disorders. He was just starting kindergarten. We were struggling with a particular behavior and we had been struggling with it for a long time and it was a pretty significant behavior that really needed to be changed. Needed to be improved. It was very important at home and it was very important at school especially. So we had tried everything you guys, everything.
We had done everything we could think of and we were so frustrated and we were being told that this behavior really was a choice for him. So we came to the point where we took every toy out of his room. We took every single thing he had away from him all at once and put it awa.
Every day that you meet our expectation in regards to this specific behavior you can choose a toy to earn back. Just thinking about it totally tears me up 10 years later because it didn't work. And it was, in hindsight, it was pretty cruel of us to take everything he had for a behavior that he had no control over. But we didn't know that at that time. We were doing the absolute best we could with the knowledge and information and skills that we had. We did not know our son was not neurotypical. So already we were parenting him as though he was a neurotypical child that was not a mistake because we didn't know. And that's what I'm trying to get through to you in this episode, what you don't know you can't act on, and you can't punish yourself for that later.
It doesn't serve you now. I could constantly think about that time in his life that week that we took everything away, because you know, it worked for a day or two and then it didn't. And the behavior was back because it wasn't a behavior that he was really in control of. But we didn't know that. And so we finally just gave up and gave him everything back because we knew that it was a pretty severe strategy. We were told that it should work and that it was something that we really needed to get a handle on. So that was what we did and we ended up realizing very quickly that it wasn't going to work. And it was not something that I was willing to do to him if it wasn't going to work.
And for years after the diagnosis I would think about those instances a lot, especially that one that was kind of the biggest instance where we really punished him for having a disability. But we had no idea that he had a disability. And as I've gotten some distance and as I've gotten some knowledge about ADHD and some perspective about how we can only really act on the knowledge that we have at any given time, I've been able to mostly forgive myself for that. When I think about it now usually it's in sharing that story with another family to try to help them - I do get a little twinge of pain, for sure.
Forgive yourself for an inappropriate parenting tactic when you had no idea it was inappropriate. That's not letting yourself think that it was OK, that it was something that you should have done because you didn't know any better. Forgiving yourself is just self-compassion. It's letting yourself know that you didn't know any better. You did the best that you could with that information that you had. And moving forward it's still going to be painful to think about.
It's not that we're able to completely remove that pain, but we can certainly make it a whole lot better and we can certainly use our thoughts in a way that will serve us better, using that energy that we're using to punish ourselves, using that energy that we are putting into guilt, and shifting that to something else that's more productive. That's more kind to ourselves. That's really, really so important. There's a great quote from Maya Angelou I found and it says, forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn't know before you learned it.
Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn't know. Before you learned it.
And it makes perfect sense, right? It makes perfect sense.
We can't work from information we don't yet have. And, yes, that getting that information is a very crucial part of effectively parenting a child with ADHD parenting them with intention and purpose. But, again, you can only use the information you have.
Nobody expects you to know everything and especially not in the beginning. Life is a learning process. Parenting a kid with ADHD is a learning process. We are always going to grow and learn more, and our kids are going to change. You may really get the process down. Things might be improving drastically. You have a lot more joy and fulfillment in your parenthood and your family, and then your child hits puberty. And suddenly it's a whole different ballgame. And what you're doing may not work anymore. We're constantly having to reassess and kind of modify our parenting approaches. But there are some constants in the background that are always crucial - such as empathy and validation and compassion - looking at behavior as a symptom and working to solve the underlying problems. These are the constants that should fuel your parenthood, no matter what stage your child is in.
The details are going to ebb and flow and we learn from mistakes. Guys, we learn from making mistakes. If nobody ever made a mistake, how would we do better? How would we get better? And how would life get better? Growth is a really positive thing. It brings us closer and closer to the person that we want to be, the parenthood that we want to have. Guilt just doesn't serve us and it doesn't serve our family.
We make mistakes. They push all your buttons you're exhausted. You've had a rough day already, and you lose your temper, and you yell or you lose your temper and you snap and you say something that you instantly regret saying to your child. And I have parents ask this all the time, "Well, you know, I was a horrible parent. What do I do now?"
First of all, you weren't a horrible parent. You just made a mistake. Because you're human. And the best thing to do is to show your child that you're human and that you make mistakes, too. That helps them also learn self-compassion. It also helps them to not be so hard on themselves. So, you go to your child, when everybody is calm of course, and you sit down and you have this conversation and you say, "Buddy, I really made a mistake with you earlier. I never should have raised my voice (or I never should have said Fill in the blank of what was a mistake). I wasn't showing you compassion. I wasn't being kind. I wasn't speaking to you in the way that I wanted you to speak to me. I just got frustrated and I couldn't keep control of my emotions. I'm really sorry for the way that I spoke to you. I'm going to try to do better." Isn't that what we want our kids to do? You're modeling the behavior that you want them to have.
How do our kids learn most of what they learn? By seeing others do it or being talked to about it or being shown a process. And so right there, just by having that conversation and showing them that you're human and you make mistakes, you are validating for them that they are human and they make mistakes and that it's going to happen and that they should forgive themselves.
And you're going to forgive them too. When you go to your child and have that conversation, what is the goal? You want them to forgive you. You want them to not focus all their energy on the mom that yelled or mom that said something hurtful.
This is really crucial. I know so many parents who are like, "Oh my gosh, I yelled, I snapped, and I don't ever want to go there again. I can't talk about it. Because it was just horrible. I can't talk about it." Well. That's teaching your child to be ashamed of mistakes by not talking about it. It's really important actually to talk about it. That's how we learn. That's how we grow. That's how we show our kids that everybody is human and everybody makes mistakes.
I want you to think next time you're feeling guilty about something. Think about how you can use that energy to serve yourself better, to serve your family better. Replace that guilt with something else. And the absolute best thing to replace that with is self-compassion. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself, let yourself move forward and past it. There have been times, and I said this in my first book, Boy Without Instructions, there have been times when I have been so frustrated, so overwrought, so feeling hopeless that I would go in the bathroom, lock the door, lay on the bathroom floor sobbing and crying, because I felt like everything I did wasn't helpful. And I was not serving my child.
It's a tough place that all moms of special needs kids are going to be at some point or other. Probably multiple times. And it's a process to really learn self-compassion, to really be more gentle to ourselves. And let me tell you, when you are more compassionate with yourself, you're going to be more compassionate with everyone else, including your child. You are going to be more pleasant to be around. You are going to draw the right energy to a more positive energy and you're going to give that to others. It is very powerful to forgive ourselves for things that happened when we didn't know better or things that happened when we were just being human. It's really crucial.
I've already talked a little bit about this parenthood being a learning process and life is a learning process, too. We're not ever searching to be perfect.
In all of the guidance that I offer in books, courses, and coaching I never offer perfection. I'm very, very careful to never let families think that anything that I suggest is going to make it all better, because we know that ADHD can't be fixed. It is a lifelong physiological difference in the brain. Can it be improved? Can you live life much better with ADHD? Absolutely. And that's what we work toward. We work toward crafting a life for our kids that is purposeful, that is joyful, that is successful, despite having ADHD. The goal is never to get rid of ADHD because you can't. The goal is to find purpose and live the best life and let ADHD have as little control of that as possible. That's what we're doing. And, again, by showing our kids that we make mistakes we're showing them that they're going to make mistakes too, and that sometimes they're going to succumb to different things in their life.
Sometimes when I have parenting moments that I'm not proud of, I am often succumbing to anxiety, because that is a very real presence in my life. I have a lot of general anxiety. I have pretty sort of severe social anxiety. I am 40 something years old and my whole life has been guided by my anxious brain. And I have learned over the years to kind of self-talk my way through some of that. But it's a really powerful presence in my life that I have had to learn to live with and to do the best I can with. But I can't get rid of it. And that's what we're looking at for our kids as well. We want to teach them how to work around it how to work with it, but not how to be defined by it, not allowing them to let it limit them.
And the last thing that I really wanted to talk to you in this episode about is that being compassionate with yourself leaves the door open for you to recognize and accept that you are enough. You are the mom of this child because you were the right choice for this child. There's a phrase that you're strong enough to handle anything that you're given. I think that isn't necessarily true for everyone. But I think that it's true for most of us. And I feel like I am the right parent for my son. Do I feel like that every moment of every day? Absolutely not. Some days I feel like I am completely failing him. Some days I'm just tired of the battle. The battle with school, the battle with homework. Some days I just feel like giving up for a little while.
But that self compassionate piece kicks in eventually. And I recognize that I am doing my best. That I am doing a lot more for my son than a lot of other parents would. I often think about all the kids out there with ADHD who live in families who don't believe ADHD is a real thing. Who think that they can punish ADHD out of their child. And it completely breaks my heart. Completely breaks my heart, because the one thing in the world that our kids want most is to be understood. To have somebody recognize what their life is like the Good the Bad and The Ugly.
By thinking about that, it helps me recognize that I really am a good parent for my son. I really am enough. Is my house the cleanest? Hell no, it is not.
And I would be, truthfully, embarrassed if any of you walked into my house right now. It is hygienic, we're not living in filth and that sort of thing. But it's a mess, because life is messy, and we are busy and we put more focus on helping Ricochet through some struggles and helping him to have times where he can just chill out and be himself and be happy and have some joyful times for our family.
So, I don't put as much pressure on myself to have a perfectly clean house. And a lot of people would be very critical about that. And again, they're not going to come in and do an episode of Hoarders in my house or anything like that. It's messy. It's just piles here and there- I am actually a perfectionist. That anxiety piece kicks in again and I'm often having to talk myself out of trying to be a perfectionist trained to have everything just right. I'm also a super organized person living in a house with three completely unorganized people. Early on I had to give up on that. I had to accept that this was not going to be a perfect, orderly, everything-in-its-place household, at least while there's kids at home.
There's lots of things that we just have to be compassionate with ourselves about because we cannot be a perfect mom. There is no such thing as a perfect mom. And a lot of times people think that I have it all together because I write about the things that I know are best for our kids and our parenthood. Because I write about what you should do in certain situations with a kid with ADHD. And that's the knowledge and the experience that I have that kicks in there.
Am I perfect and always putting every little bit into practice every moment? No. I'm totally human just like you. I make parenting mistakes, just like you. And then I forgive myself. I own up to them. I apologize to my child or my husband, or whoever had to be in the path of the wrath. And then I forgive myself and I move on, because if I sit there and wallow and let grief come in and shame and guilt come in, I'm not serving anybody and I'm not serving myself. And the only way that we are going to have truly purposeful, intentional parenting for our kids is to be self-compassionate moms. I want you to really put that into practice.
"Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn't know before you learned it."
I want you to go to the show notes and download that. Print it out, tape it on your bathroom mirror, tape it up on your refrigerator, put it on your bedside table and read it once a day before you go to sleep. Put it on your smartphone wallpaper or your computer wallpaper. Remind yourself over and over that you are a human parent. You will make mistakes but you must forgive yourself and be compassionate with yourself. And I'm telling you, if you parent from a place of self-compassion, just that alone makes every day a little better. Just that one piece. So, print this quote, put it up, remind yourself over and over that you are enough... you are enough.
In this parenthood, you are a fantastic parent. You're a fantastic mom. You care so much about your child and their happiness today, and their success in their future. You are enough. And you are just right for this job.