If there is one question I worry about, it is whether I’m good enough. I should probably not have been surprised to discover that my kids similarly question themselves. But I was. Surprised and dismayed. I’d like my kids to grow up to love themselves. After all, I love them and think they are amazing and wonderful. How could they possibly think otherwise? But can I teach my kids to love who they are when I constantly judge myself?
So when my son said, “I’m bad at playing my instruments,” those few words shook me to the core. I love that Uri plays the clarinet and violin. I can barely get a sound out of the clarinet when I try to blow into it, and the violin is so complicated an instrument! Yet Uri took to both with an ease that defies my comprehension, especially considering how extremely different the clarinet and violin are.
After exclaiming and disclaiming (“You play both very well!), I decided to approach the subject from a different direction. I asked Uri what it meant to him to play well. Playing well, was his response, is playing like his teachers or on CD. Wow, I guess he also got the perfectionism gene from me.
I felt inadequately prepared to discuss this. Comparing himself to professional musicians when he had been playing less than a year seemed absurd. I decided to ask Uri’s clarinet teacher, Jeff Sanford, for help. Perhaps he can convince Uri that he plays well. To my surprise, Jeff approached the subject from a different angle. Rather than looking at Uri’s playing as a whole, Jeff tackled one song at a time. He explained that “playing well” is a relative term. The first time Uri plays a song he might struggle, but after a few practice sessions he plays that song well.
I don’t know if Uri understood this completely, but this way of looking at the world was an AHA! moment for me. I judge myself constantly on my performance as a whole. It does not occur to me to say, “Today when I sat with the kids doing homework I did very well.” Instead, when I mess up in one instance (like being impatient before they go to sleep), I say “I’m a bad mother.” I generalize. And almost always negatively.
I wish to apply this idea in my life more often. I hope I’ll remember it and tell myself, “Today my writing flows.” Or, “Today I was very patient and loving to the kids.” Or, “When I listened to Eden before she went to sleep I enjoyed feeling like a good mother. I did well.”
Perhaps it’s time to put generalization to rest, to stop putting myself down. Time to appreciate myself for the little things I do and forgive myself for my mistakes. And while I practice this self compassion, I hope the kids will learn to love and appreciate themselves as well. Nothing like personal example to make this wonderful change.
If you're interested, this is Jeff Sanford's jazz website. I don't know if he has any other life advice on there, but there is good music. To learn more about self compassion, check out this great website from Kristin Neff.