Self-Compassion and Parenting an Emerging Adult

By Dr Hayley Quinn

Photo credit: Hayley Quinn

Photo credit: Hayley Quinn

When I brought my baby home it felt daunting, overwhelming and such a huge responsibility. Would I be a good parent? Would I do what was right for this beautiful little human? Was I ready to be a caretaker of another life? People were ready with advice, often helpful and at times not asked for or welcomed. There were 1000s of books espousing how I should raise my child, and parenting classes I could attend.  If he were born today there would be online forums abounding. Somehow I managed to find my way through the parenting maze picking out parts that aligned with who I am and how I wanted to raise my little human. 

Fast forward two decades …. and that beautiful little human who was so dependent on me and absorbed much of the focus of my life is all of a sudden (it passes so fleetingly, far too quickly, it’s almost cruel) an emerging adult. He may have been taller than me for many years now but he was still reliant on me. Now he is making his own decisions, about what’s important and what he likes. Over the last few years, I have had to start a process, again, of redefining my role, stepping back enough so he can emerge but not too much so that he no longer knows I’m there for him. More recently the time has come for him to move out of home. How do I now fit into his life? How do I redefine my own life after such a significant role in someone else’s? What does this mean for my own identity? Where are the people, now, ready with advice? Where is the information to reassure me that what I am feeling is normal?

There’s a voice inside of me, you know, the one that whispers to you throughout this parenting journey. Did I do it ok? Have I damaged this beautiful human? Did I teach him what he needs to brave this world? Have I taught him enough to love himself no matter what? At times that voice becomes loud with self criticism, highlighting all the things I wish I could go back and change. The times I was dismissive, got irritated and angry, did something one way and then found out it wasn’t helpful.

How do we manage when the self critical voice is the loudest in the room? I have learned, in my personal and professional experience, that when we slow down, use our breath to engage our parasympathetic nervous system, we can be in contact with a mind that is grounded and calm, a mind reflective of a system that is soothed. We can turn down the volume on the self critical voice and hear the compassionate voice that resides within us. This may be a voice that you have never listened to before or only rarely. We can train our minds to be more compassionate, and develop the skills of self compassion. I have worked with many clients who knew all too well the voice of self criticism and have now come to know the voice of self compassion.

I noticed a deep sense of sadness, as I was going about my business other day, I stopped and gently placed a hand over my heart. I asked myself in a soft and gentle tone “Why are you so sad my darling?” As my breath settled into a soothing rhythm I heard the words “You are grieving, this is a time of letting go. Just know it is all going to be ok. You’re both going to be ok”. If you notice the heavy feeling of sadness, and you hear the self critic berating you, try engaging in a soothing rhythm of breath. I invite you to take a seat for a moment, adopt an upright posture with your feet on the floor and your shoulders gently back to ensure an open diaphragm.  I now invite you to bring your attention to your breath, just gently noticing the rise and fall of your breath. As you slow down your breath with an equal in and out breath, allow your breath to find it’s own soothing rhythm. Notice how your body feels. Now I invite you to gently place your hand on your heart and notice how that feels, perhaps a sensation of warmth. As you think about your role as a parent, a carer, a mother, or father, of a beautiful little human, who is now emerging into adulthood, stepping further away from your close embrace, listen to the words of your inner wisdom. Listen to the soft tone of your compassionate self.  Perhaps it will remind you that you are in a process of grieving, maybe it will offer you words of comfort like you have done the best you could within the circumstances you were in. If you are struggling to hear this inner voice, remember it will develop with practice. In the meantime go gently with yourself, and remember that you are finding your way.

 Go well and go gently.

Dr Hayley Quinn is a Clinical Psychologist in private practice, and President of the Compassionate Mind Australia Committee.