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Self-Compassion: Because One Meal or Mistake Does Not Define You

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I coach a lot about self-compassion. When someone comes to me with icky feelings about a personal failing, I say:

“What would you say to a friend who failed? Would you call them names? Or would you encourage them to be kind, help them problem-solve how to do better next time and urge them to keep on trying? Be your own friend.”

I rock at coaching self-compassion. I suck at exercising self-compassion. I’m getting better, and I owe it in part to a conversation with my son.

Once upon a time I used to make everything from scratch. There’s nothing wrong with it, if you do. It is not helpful, however, to be like me and buy ingredients to make things from scratch, and then don’t because you are too freaking tired. Your fridge turns into a makeshift storage facility for weird wilty zucchini that should have been handcut noodles. You look at them full of judgment and sanctimony, “So much wasted potential! So sad. You could have been something, Zucchini. Now you will be compost.”

Sometimes, self-compassion is buying a pre-made lasagna and keeping it in the fridge for busy days when I just can’t even. My body runs on calories. Calories in store bought lasagna fuel me better than calories in homemade lasagna I’m too tired to make. Sometimes, self-compassion is just grabbing a burger because one meal does not define you and food has no moral value. Self-compassion is problem-solving around all or nothing thinking that doesn’t serve the body well. It’s about letting go of self judgement, and opening up to possibilities.

Maybe I don’t need to be involved with every step of the process? Maybe I could delegate? After all, it’s about math and I do math for a living. I only have a finite amount of time and energy. I have a very long list of things to do. I can’t do all of them myself. I will break if I try and I have broken myself trying. There is no medal for breaking yourself chasing perfection. Nobody wins. Self-compassion is acknowledging that, and letting go. It’s picking the stuff that doesn’t really matter and letting it go, and freeing up energy to be a good mom.

My son, Liam, is my self-compassion coach. We went to the park and he told me, “It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect. It just gots to be good. Everybody at some point in their life says ‘it’s not good enough.’ No one’s perfect.” It kind of stings when your words become disembodied from you and are ventriloquist-like projected from your adorable child’s mouth. Some days, when I listen to him, and he’s 80 years old inside his seven year old body. I was overwhelmed and in awe of his wise words.

As a mom, I often feel like I’ve failed at something because it isn’t perfect. I’m glad the one person whose opinion truly matters to me is only hoping for good. I guess even coaches need coaches sometimes, and I’m going to exercise some self-compassion about that.

Alison Tedford is a freelance writer and mommy of one from Abbotsford, BC. She is a data analyst, an eating disorder support group facilitator and a pole dancer. She documents her journey in fitness, feminism and parenting on Sparkly Shoes and Sweat Drops. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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