As mothers, we carry an enormous load for our families. But often, the physical, mental, and emotional burdens that we carry go unseen and underappreciated by most of the world. Instead of being celebrated for all that we’re doing, we’re often critiqued for all that we are not doing. These messages of being “not enough” tend to be subtle, but pervasive. They show up on curated Instagram feeds and in the media—the mom who decked out her nursery with the cutest mobile and hand-painted mural; the mom who just gave birth with not a hair out of place; the happy family sitting around the table to a nutritious meal mom made that everyone is loving; the mom boss who is running a business while raising a family, always with a smile on her face. When we don’t achieve these idealized versions of motherhood, it is easy to get into a cycle of negative self-talk (i.e. “I wasn’t present enough with my child today,” or “I didn’t eat the right foods during my pregnancy”) and overstimulation. We fixate on our perceived inadequacies and before we know it, we start to really believe that we are inadequate.
It’s In Our Nature to Be Negative
Before you start blaming yourself for this negative self-talk, it’s important to know that as humans, we’re wired to focus on the negative and use that as motivation to course-correct. As humans evolved, fitting in socially meant greater safety and access to resources. When we were considered a worthy member of our group by others, we gained safety through our community and help when we needed it. Fitting in was key to our survival many years ago and has left a large imprint on our brains to this day. Fortunately for us, we live in a different period of time, where resources are more accessible and we can find community through many different avenues (moms groups, social media, etc.); however, the innate wiring remains the same.
We Can Nurture the Positive
While it may be our nature to see the negative in ourselves, we can nurture feelings of warmth, understanding, and compassion towards ourselves regardless of those thoughts.
There is real power in flexing this muscle of self-compassion, especially for moms. Research shows that moms who engage in practices of self-compassion reduce their risk of developing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, PMADs, are as common as 1 in 7 women. Building skills to improve self-compassion can be a preventative measure.
If overriding our natural biology seems a little overwhelming, don’t worry! It just takes a little practice, and like the rest of the folks who work on these skills, you will undoubtedly do it imperfectly as that is the only sustainable path towards growth.
One tool we love to dip our toes into at Canopie is a self-compassion practice called “Compassionate Letter Writing.” Social psychologist James Pennebaker discovered in his research that expressive writing improved immune function and physical symptoms of psychological events. Writing helped people become more aware of the difficulties they were facing and more understanding and accepting of their experiences.
Here’s How to Write a Compassionate Letter
To begin your own Compassionate Letter Writing practice, we invite you to write a brief letter to yourself—for the future. This is a letter that you can read to yourself when you’re feeling low, when you notice the negative self-talk starting to take up mental space.
Here are some prompts to get you started:
- If you are currently pregnant: Write to yourself as a new mom to offer a gentle reminder that you are still learning, and this is a brand new experience for both you and baby.
- If you are in the infant stage: Write to your future self with gentle reminders of the importance of self-care and allowing yourself to lean into your support system.
- If you are a parent at any stage: Write to future you when it’s a particularly hard parenting day to remind yourself that it’s okay if today is hard. You have experienced hard things before and have been resilient every time.
When writing to yourself, remember that there is no best way to do it. The purpose is to connect to your emotions, and let that flow through your writing. Try to speak from that authentic and kind place in your heart—as if you were talking to a friend who needed a compassionate voice in their corner.
You deserve kindness and compassion. Motherhood is not easy, and it’s okay to show yourself the same love and understanding that you would show your own children. We hope that when you read your “future you” letter someday, it fills your heart with warmth and appreciation.
If you enjoyed learning about ways to incorporate more self-compassion into your life, we would love for you to check out the Canopie app. There, your customized program will walk you through more compassion-based skill building exercises that you can always have in your toolbox for when you might need them.
Cree, Michelle. The Compassionate Mind Approach To Postnatal Depression (Compassion Focused Therapy) (p. 343). Little, Brown Book Group. Kindle Edition.
Kelman AR, Evare BS, Barrera AZ, Muñoz RF, Gilbert P. A proof-of-concept pilot randomized comparative trial of brief Internet-based compassionate mind training and cognitive-behavioral therapy for perinatal and intending to become pregnant women. Clin Psychol Psychother. 2018 Feb 23. doi: 10.1002/cpp.2185. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 29473698.