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How To Care For Your Kids — By First Caring For Yourself

(Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images)
(Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images)

With Nancy Cordes

SOS for moms and dads. How to nurture your child by caring for yourself. Self-compassion for parents.


Susan Pollak, author of “Self-Compassion for Parents: Nurture Your Child By Caring for Yourself.” Co-founder and senior teacher at the Center for Mindfulness and Compassion at Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance. Psychologist in private practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

From The Reading List

Excerpt from “Self-Compassion for Parents” by Susan Pollak

Excerpted from Self-Compassion for Parents: Nurture Your Child by Caring for Yourself by Susan Pollak, reprinted with permission from Guilford Press.

Psychology Today: “Self-Compassion for Parents” — “I was recently helping some cousins with preparations at a family wedding in the countryside. One of them was a mom who had three young kids, including a newborn. We began to talk about parenting.

“‘So how am I doing?’ Emma asked me point blank, looking anxious. ‘I’m the last person to judge,” I reassured her. As one child pulled on her leg, demanding attention, I paraphrased a line from one of my favorite short stories by the writer Tilly Olson and shared it: “To be a mother is to be constantly interruptible.’

“She laughed and said, ‘And, to be constantly correctible. And constantly criticized. I never feel like I’m doing it right. Sometimes when my kids are rambunctious, people stare at me like I’m raising juvenile delinquents. I refuse to put them in straight jackets with muzzles or keep them on a tight leash like a trained dog. When I was a kid I felt free to run and climb and yell and be wild. Now it seems that it’s not OK for kids to make noise and have fun. It’s like they should be constantly quiet and contained,’ she confided. ‘Raising children can feel impossible.’

“Emma’s words stayed with me and troubled me. She articulated something I hear from almost all the parents I know. Parenting is hard for everyone. We never feel good enough. Things rarely go the way we imagine they will. And when they don’t, we blame ourselves, criticize our kids, push harder, and try to exert more control. We become anxious and depressed. Our kids become anxious and depressed. We look over our shoulder, comparing ourselves with our friends, families, neighbors. We lose sleep. What are we doing wrong? Is there some way off this interminable and joyless merry-go-round?”

Adapted from Pollak, S. (2019). Self-Compassion for Parents: Nurture Your Child by Caring for Yourself. New York: Guilford Press.

The Irish Times: “Managing parenting stress and making time for self-care” — “We all want to be the best parents we can be for our children, but there are so many competing priorities it can be hard to keep a balance between the needs of our children, other family members, work commitments and our own needs.

“Exhausted and busy are probably the two most common adjectives used by parents to describe their day-to-day status. Most parents I hear from describe a packed schedule of drops, pick-ups, rushed mealtimes, work, school, homework, sports, music, drama – the list goes on.

“Against a backdrop of this relentless running around and often high stress levels due to work or financial pressures, the sense of overwhelm for families can be huge. Often, the first thing to go for parents is prioritising time for taking care of oneself, even though most know that it is a vital component in keeping things in balance.

“This tendency to sideline our own needs and prioritise the needs of others is common to many in caring roles. Self-care may be something as simple as turning off the mobile phone and reading a book. It might be going for a walk, run or cycle, climbing a mountain or spending time by the sea. Self-care can also involve making time to talk to a trusted friend or family member who understands and gives that much needed support and encouragement, somebody to listen empathically and say ‘you are doing great’, getting a space to offload your thoughts and worries.”

Quartz: “There’s one essential factor in babies’ health that even the most devoted parents may miss” — “Parents preparing to have a child have a million decisions to make, from how to give birth, to selecting childcare, healthcare, and schooling options. But a new report highlights how an essential ingredient to babies’ health starts with parents themselves—specifically, their mental health.

“The State of Babies Yearbook is published by Zero To Three, a nonprofit aimed at advancing the science and policy surrounding children’s first three years of life. It assesses US states based on more than 15 factors related to children’s health, their families, and the early learning opportunities afforded them. This year’s report finds that high-performing states like Vermont, Connecticut, and Minnesota, which did as well or better than the national average in these categories, all have in common strong state-level policies aimed at providing quality care and education to the most vulnerable kids.

“But the report also provides valuable insight into how important it is for parents to feel healthy and well while raising their children. During the window between birth and five years old, babies’ bodies and brains develop at incredible speed. The interaction between their genes and their early experiences builds the foundation for healthy cognitive and emotional development later in life. Stable relationships with loving and supportive caregivers can strengthen and build connections in babies’ brains, helping to serve as ‘buffers’ that protect kids from harmful experiences.

“Parents suffering from mental illness may not be as able as other parents to provide their babies with the kind of reactive and responsive interactions they need to grow. According to Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child (CDC), ‘When children grow up in an environment of mental illness, the development of their brains may be seriously weakened, with implications for their ability to learn as well as for their own later physical and mental health.’ ”

Adam Waller produced this hour for broadcast.

This article was originally published on

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