If a mum friend is upset about her 2 year old’s behavioural issues, I am quick to sympathize and reassure – ah, the terrible twos; it’s so hard, isn’t it?; don’t worry, it’s just a phase and it will pass soon; you’re a great mum and are doing everything right; don’t beat yourself up.
If my own 2 year old is throwing epic tantrums, deliberately breaking and spilling and throwing things, biting her sister, and generally pushing more boundaries than I knew existed, do I treat myself as I would a mum friend? – take a deep breath and reassure myself that this is perfectly normal and no cause for real concern?
I review my parenting and find every instance of poor performance, curse myself for not being more consistent/patient/effective as a mother, and wonder in all seriousness whether going back to working 12 hour days outside the home, and substituting my parenting with that of a full-time nanny, would be far better for their development.
If I am trying to speak Finnish (the language spoken here in Finland, where I’ve lived for 18 months now), and I hear myself screwing up basic grammatical structures and grasping for words that should be more than familiar to me by now, do I cut myself some slack, thinking “Come on, it’s not an easy language, and at least you’re trying”, or do my thoughts sound something more like, “Oh, you’re pathetic! You know you aren’t putting enough time into learning this language, and you are humiliating yourself and your family with your half-arsed efforts.”
I have always believed in self-discipline and tough self-love, and that I should be my own harshest critic. If I am not there to keep myself in line and administer swift kicks up the backside when necessary, who will be? Without harsh self-criticism, surely I would quickly sink into a big pool of laziness and over-confidence.
The thing about “tough love”, though, is that ultimately it is supposed to be about love. I think about the way I talk to myself, and I realize, I don’t hear any undertones of love here (or even like, for that matter!) I am my own personal Gordon Ramsay. My own Horrible Boss. A person I would never be friends with.
So, how is it supposed to work? How do I keep myself disciplined and efficient and able to see and correct my own faults, yet not be so hard on myself that I am constantly disappointed in my own life performance? How do I learn to be a kinder and better friend to myself?