My teenage son and I recently got into yet another argument about bringing his dirty dishes from his bedroom to the kitchen. Have you ever stumbled upon a bowl full of months-old, dried-up cereal and milk? Or a glass with a mysterious sugary substance now devoured by mold? Yuck!
We’ve gone back-and-forth about this issue over the course of days and months. I have tried every possible creative, as well as punitive, solution to remedy the situation.
During one of our most recent disagreements, my son protested that he kept forgetting to bring his dishes to the kitchen because he had been struggling with some hidden emotional pain that I, apparently, was not privy to knowing. And, now that I knew, I should understand why his dirty dishes were so low on his priority list. My mama-gut twisted as I sensed a bait-and-switch happening to throw me off his trail.
It’s a tale as old as time between parents and teens.
But then an insight came to me in a flash. I stopped and imagined myself giving him the benefit of the doubt. “Okay. He is struggling,” I thought. And then I texted him these words: “I believe you that you are struggling. I am confident you can struggle and bring your dirty dishes to the kitchen.” I was exasperated, but it was honest, and—miracle of all miracles—my son conceded that it was true: He could indeed do both.
I have thought of my both/and statement to my son many times since. Although my delivery was mildly sarcastic due to my utter exasperation, when I offer the same sentence to myself with a tone of kindness, it becomes comforting and motivating. It transforms into a way of staying compassionately engaged in my life, even when I am struggling.
“Sweetie. You are struggling. You can struggle and…”
And I fill in the blank with whatever it is I must accomplish in a given day.
Many people fear self-compassion will make them lazy. And indeed, it’s true that sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do is let yourself off the proverbial hook; but self-compassion can also give you the courage to stay engaged in your life smack in the middle of your struggles and pain.
Without self-compassion, most of us tend to motivate ourselves by berating or belittling ourselves from the moment we wake up until we crash on the pillow once more. Conversely, self-compassion moves you along with a gentle, supportive, and consistent nudge.
Self-criticism is an energy-drain. Self-compassion is an energy-resource.
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that so many of us are struggling right now. We all need creative and sustainable ways to stay engaged with life. Please know that, whatever your fill-in-the-blank task is right now, you can do it creatively, imperfectly, and good-enoughly. Good-enoughly might be my new favorite phrase.
Most importantly: You can do it compassionately.
I am right there alongside you, acknowledging my struggles with my teens and the other messes in my life. I will get done what I can get done each day, with self-compassion nudging me along and supporting me like the world’s most patient parent. And yes, I have noticed that the more patient I become with myself, the more patient I’ve become as a mother to three teens.
There’s no perfect solution to the mess of our struggles, but we can learn how to stay compassionately engaged nonetheless. I hope these words offer you courage and hope. Please know that sometimes the most compassionate thing we need to do in the midst of our struggles is to ask for help.
“Sweetie. You are struggling. You can struggle and ask for help.”
This post was originally published in October 2020.