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How I learned to forgive myself for being an imperfect mother

What happens when mamas have compassion for everyone—except themselves?

How I learned to forgive myself for being an imperfect mother

I always wanted to be a mother, but like many other aspiring mothers, several times during my pregnancy, I too would call my mom and ask her: “Will I always be running around, overwhelmed, exhausted, fatigued? Will I be able to have a quiet conversation with my husband? How on earth will I exercise and meditate once I have to take care of another little person?”


Yet, when my son Vivaan was born, it all seemed to work out.

My body was my ally and supported me on my journey.

I felt connected with my husband.

I somehow added up my numbers and created typo free slides at work.

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I exercised and meditated (for a few minutes!), connected with my friends and in many ways felt nourished.

It wasn’t perfect by any means. I struggled, questioned my choices, experienced exhaustion and fatigue (but not all the time, thankfully) and had occasional tears but overall felt peaceful and content. Even though I didn’t have uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep on most nights, I could smile in the morning... until postpartum anxiety hit me.

I had severe periods of intense anxiety with tears for no major explainable reason. I could walk in the hallways at work and tears would trickle down my cheeks. I was plagued by questions and doubts that wouldn’t cease. I felt deeply inadequate and struggled to keep my head above water. The doubts plagued me:

  • What if I never find a good job again?
  • How do I find more meaning in my work?
  • How can I find work that can change people’s lives while still allowing me to provide for my family?
  • Why am I getting my third degree if I haven’t figured it all out and still feel unsure about what I want to do when I grow up?
  • Who asked you to have children if you don’t have answers to life’s questions?
  • What kind of a mother are you who is constantly crying when you really have everything in life?
  • What will your son learn from you?
  • What was the point of spending so much time and resources on yoga and meditation if you can’t manage your own emotions?
  • How could I possibly be this upset when I have such a beautiful life?

My inner critic was rude + mean + unkind. And I listened to her.

I acted out all the positive psychology research I had been reading for years—I meditated, practiced yoga, connected with loved ones, got out in nature, moved my body, got as much sleep as I could with a little one, ate healthy food, practiced gratitude—and yet I couldn’t experience peace.

During my meditation, I had a high degree of awareness of own pain but my frustration with myself didn’t go down.

I committed myself to a new mindfulness training, and it was only then that I had an insight that shifted my entire perspective.

My magical moment arrived while I was listening to leading Buddhist and meditation teacher Tara Brach, who said:

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
—Carl Rogers

I listened to her recording again and read more.

This message from her book Radical Acceptance stuck with me:

“This is an inner process of accepting our actual, present-moment experience. It means feeling sorrow and pain without resisting. It means feeling desire or dislike for someone or something without judging ourselves for the feeling or being driven to act on it. Clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart, is what I call ‘Radical Acceptance.’” 

Wow.

I had been meditating for years, practiced a life of compassion to others and tried to find meaning in my daily life.

Yet when I needed that radical acceptance of myself as an imperfect but loving mother, I was too busy trying to judge, change + fix myself.

Although I could love my baby when he kept me up at night, I couldn’t love myself.

Although I could forgive coworkers, I couldn’t let myself off the hook.

Although I absolved whatever mistakes my husband made, I beat myself up for my own.

I continued to meditate and did everything else that I knew would heal me but most importantly, I slowly began practicing compassion toward myself.

For every struggle, every question, every risk that didn’t pan out, I chose love for myself over judgment.

I tried to hold the space for my fears and insecurities.

I could be scared and uncomfortable and still be peaceful.

I could be worthy of my own love and kindness despite all of my questions.

I continued to act to address my fears, to grow and live a life more aligned with my values but reminded myself I wasn’t broken.

I learned to accept that I didn’t need to fix everything overnight (and I probably never can anyway) to feel like I am a contributing member of my family—and of society.

And most of all, I learned that in this evolution of kindness, I am modeling to my son the very self-compassion I wish for him.

It is time to treat ourselves with the same understanding and compassion that we extend to our children. It’s time to mother ourselves.

Wishing every mother, the strength and compassion to access her own wisdom through her practice and may the ripple effects contribute to more peace, compassion and kindness in the world.


This column has been adapted from a version that ran at Mindfulness4Mothers, a meditation program for mamas.

In This Article

    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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