Interview by Paul Salfen
You Are Not a Sh*tty Parent
How to Practice Self-Compassion and Give Yourself a Break
by bestselling author Carla Naumburg
With today’s parenting culture of unattainable expectations and incessant demands, it is no wonder so many of us suffer from Sh*tty Parent Syndrome —the perception that one is a crummy parent—leaving us feeling confused and insecure about how to raise our children.
Enter Carla Naumburg, author of the bestselling How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids, who flips the script on this destructive mind-set in her new book: You Are Not a Sh*tty Parent: How to Practice Self-Compassion and Give Yourself a Break (Workman Publishing; on sale: September 27, 2022; paperback).
Showing how great parenting is grounded in true self-compassion, Naumburg teaches readers a simple, evidence-based practice that reveals how to stop judging yourself and start treating yourself with acceptance and understanding. The strategies of self-compassion—connection, creativity, and kindness—are the keys to giving yourself a break and embracing your best qualities as a parent.
Readers will learn how to counteract the Sh*tty Parent Syndrome tendencies of isolation, judgment, and contempt through:
- Noticing: The goal is to notice the drama in your mind, rather than getting sucked into it. This may seem like a subtle shift in perspective, but it’s a powerful and crucial step in the practice of compassion. This book clarifies what noticing is; why it can be so hard; how and what to notice; and how to practice it.
- Connection: Connection is the antidote to all the shame and self-imposed isolation that is common to sufferers of Sh*tty Parent Syndrome. The ability to remind ourselves of our common humanity is the goal, but it’s not always easy. Readers will find an array of strategies to help them feel less alone and more connected as parents and people.
- Curiosity: Curiosity takes us a step beyond noticing. Instead of jumping to conclusions, or immediately reacting to something we’ve noticed that we or our children have done (or not done), we can ask ourselves or them why the situation is the way it is. Being curious about what lies behind an action or feeling, rather than judge it, is an inherently kind response to any situation. Naumburg outlines strategies on how to foster and practice curiosity to make it as effective a tool as possible.
- Kindness: When we take care of ourselves in concrete ways, we’re teaching our children and giving them permission to take care of themselves when they’re suffering. Readers will learn practices such as kind self-talk, kind stories, and single tasking, that can help boost regular injections of kindness into our lives.
15 Key Takeaways from Carla Naumburg’s You Are Not a Sh*tty Parent
- Sh*tty Parent Syndrome is the belief that you’re a sh*tty parent, and that belief leaves us feeling confused and insecure about how to raise our children.
- Some hardships in life are unavoidable, but while denial and distraction are completely normal human reactions to our suffering, they also make life and parenting harder and less fun.
- Chaos is the normal, predictable outcome of life with kids. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not parenting well enough or doing anything wrong.
- Far too often in parenting we’re stuck choosing between bad and worse, and we have no idea which option is bad and which one is worse. All we can do is make our best guess and have a sh*tload of compassion for ourselves in the process.
- Compassion is the practice of responding to suffering with connection, curiosity, and kindness instead of isolation, judgment, and self-contempt.
- Self-compassion isn’t self-pity, self-indulgence, self-esteem, self-improvement, or letting yourself off the hook. Self-compassion is an incredibly powerful and effective way to respond to the sh*tty first arrows of life.
- Self-compassion is a practice, and the more you do it, the easier and more naturally it will come to you.
- When we get stressed and don’t know how to respond to situations, we often freak out: fight, flight, freeze, flip out, fix, or fawn.
- The more we practice self-compassion, the more we can manage our lives and parent our children from a place of calm clarity, creativity, and confidence.
- We don’t practice self-compassion to make ourselves better. Each time we focus on making ourselves feel better, the underlying message we’re sending ourselves is that it’s not OK to feel bad. But it’s totally OK to feel like crap. Rather, we treat ourselves with compassion because we feel bad, and our suffering—all suffering—is worthy of kindness. It’s OK to not feel better. It’s OK to feel bad and take care of ourselves in the process.
- Noticing, or the ability to be aware of the chaos in our own brains and lives without getting swept away by it, is the first and necessary step in the practice of self-compassion.
- Connection is the antidote to shame. Remembering that parenting is incredibly hard for every single one of us, and connecting with the people who love us and will be real with us as often as possible are game changers.
- Curiosity, or the ability to get interested in whatever’s going on in our lives—and take our responses seriously—is the antidote to judgment. It calms us down and helps us get clarity about whatever is going.
- Kindness calls on us to treat ourselves with respect rather than contempt, set aside the need to fix ourselves, and respond to our suffering with the arrows of kind self-care.
- You can resolve difficult situations with compassion. Compassioning the crap out of your kids is a highly effective way to respond to your children’s hardest moments while also strengthening your relationship and teaching them valuable skills for the future.
When we remember that parenting is hard for everyone, we no longer feel like failures; we feel like part of a mighty, well-intentioned (if imperfect) team of humans working hard to raise the next generation of mighty, well-intentioned, imperfect humans.
About the Author: Carla Naumburg, PhD, LICSW, is a clinical social worker, and mother. She’s the author of five non-fiction books, including her international bestseller, How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids (Workman, 2019), as well as You Are Not a Sh*tty Parent, and the forthcoming How to Stop Freaking Out, the (completely swear-free) middle-grade adaptation of How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids. Carla’s writing has appeared in a variety of online and print publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Mindful Magazine, Slate.com, Psychology Today, WBUR’s Cognoscenti Blog, Brain, Child, Motherwell, Parents.com, PsychCentral, and Today Moms. Carla completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Middlebury College, a master’s degree in social work from Smith College, and a PhD in clinical social work from Simmons College in Boston. Carla grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Bay Area of California and she currently lives outside of Boston with her husband and two daughters.