Parenting Resource

Loving Yourself as You Are (There’s No Such Thing as a Perfect Parent)

Feb 10, 2020

Research shows that practicing self-compassion helps reduce stress and increases warmth toward others. Instead of being harsh with yourself when you make a mistake, offer yourself a little kindness.

To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now. - Mr. Rogers

Accepting yourself as an imperfect parent

It can be a struggle to love someone exactly as they are. This is especially true when we think about loving ourselves. Loving ourselves as frazzled parents, tired caregivers, or stressed early childhood professionals is hard. We feel pressure. We are moving fast to try and keep up and often don’t have enough time, resources or support to manage it all. Too often we tell ourselves things like, “I should be able to deal with this,” or “I’m a terrible parent for reacting that way.”

What do you say to yourself when you’re struggling or make a mistake? Are you harsh and judgmental? Do you expect to be the perfect parent, all the time?

Accepting who we are in moments of stress or uncertainty does not mean that we give up on reaching new goals or learning new skills. Accepting ourselves in the moment – just as we are – means honoring that we are imperfect—as humans and as parents. This means understanding that missteps are a natural part of learning. It means recognizing we all have limitations and vulnerabilities. In the face of this understanding, we can choose to treat ourselves with kindness and encouragement, even love. Loving ourselves as we are helps us recognize that in any given moment, we are doing the best we can with what we have.

Why self-love matters

Research shows that being self-compassionate leads to:

  • Increased motivation,
  • More recognition of what we can improve on or get better at, and
  • Less depression, anxiety, and stress.

When we are compassionate with ourselves, we also spend less time caught up in our own emotions. We are more available to be there for others. We feel more peace and are more able to respond with warmth and care towards our children.

Try this the next time you notice you are being critical with yourself:

1) Pause.

2) Take a long breath.

3) Identify the emotion you are feeling - anger, fear, shame, frustration, sadness, etc.

4) Notice one sensation in your body that is helping you recognize this emotion - my chest is tight, I feel nauseous, my hands are tingling.

5) Gently give yourself a gesture of comfort - place your hand on your heart or chest, hold your hands together, or give yourself a hug. For example, if you notice your chest is tight, you might place your hand on your heart. This gesture acknowledges the stress or hurt you are feeling. It also recognizes the intention to show yourself compassion.

6) Finally, give yourself support by saying or thinking of an encouraging phrase. Come up with a one that feels supportive to you:

  • “May I care for myself in this moment?”
  • “I can give myself what I need.”
  • “I’ve done my best, I let go of the rest.”
  • “I’m ok just as I am.”

While this process may not feel “natural” the first few times you try it, over time, showing yourself love and compassion can become a powerful strategy to help yourself feel calm and cared for—even in your toughest moments.


About Baby Steps

This article was featured in Baby Steps, a ZERO TO THREE newsletter for parents and caregivers. Each issue offers science-based information on a topic of interest to parents and caregivers of young children—from sleep to challenging behaviors, and everything in between.

Become a Subscriber

  • Author

    Maria Gehl

    Project Director, Mindfulness in Early Childhood