The Perfect Mother’s Day Gift: Judgement-free Parenting

5 min read

This piece was originally published on and is republished with permission.

This mother’s day, let’s give ourselves a little gift: a judgement-free parenting day. A day for being nicer to ourselves.

As the writer of a parenting blog, I’m acutely aware of the pressure we put on ourselves to be the “perfect” parent not to mention the unintentional slips we make in judging other parents. (Just read the comment section of any parenting article to get a blood-curdling feel for how far this can go!)

So, instead of going out for a day of pampering to help you recharge – which, frankly, lasts precisely as long as it takes the nail polish to dry – consider this:

  • Being non-judgmental can lead to lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress-related illnesses.
  • Research by Kristin Neff, a developmental psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, suggests there is a link between self-compassion, psychological health (such as emotional stability, resiliency, optimism, and life satisfaction), and self-esteem.
  • And finally, in The Compassionate Mind, psychologist Paul Gilbert, says that when we are kind to ourselves, it triggers the same anatomical reaction as if we were being cared for by another.

Now that is my kind of spa day.

I know this is not as easy as it sounds. Let’s be honest; humans are the only creatures on earth that can make themselves feel terrible. Mark Leary, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University in North Carolina, says “Other animals certainly suffer when they experience negative events, but only humans can induce negative emotions through self-views, judgments, expectations, regrets and comparisons with others.”

Leary says the key to understanding self-compassion is to look at how we usually respond to negative events: first, we have an initial negative reaction to the event, then we evaluate whether or not we can deal well, emotionally, with this problem, and, finally, we experience distress about the role we played.

“Treating oneself compassionately helps to ameliorate all three of these sources of distress,” Says Leary.

So here are a few tips from Leary to assist you during your (non)judgment day:

1. Become Aware of Your Self-Criticism
Some of us might not even realize that we are telling ourselves harsh and unkind things. Like telling yourself that you are a bad parent for bringing in take-out food for dinner instead of cooking a healthy meal for the family. Leary asks, “Do you punish yourself by pushing yourself too hard or depriving yourself of pleasure when things go wrong? Would you treat a loved one this way under similar circumstances?”

2. If You Catch Yourself Acting Unkindly to Yourself, Ask Why?
The sooner we start to recognize our judgmental behaviors and the true reasons behind them, the sooner we can deal with them and work on letting them go. Leary asks, “Is it because you think that being hard on yourself helps to motivate you, makes you behave appropriately, or increases your success? To some extent, you might be correct: negative thoughts and feelings do help us to manage our behavior. The question, though, is how badly you need to feel in order to motivate yourself. People who are low in self-compassion often make themselves feel far worse than needed to stay on track. A little bit of self-criticism can go a long way.”

3. Try to Put it into Perspective
Remember that we all have parenting fails. Recently, I heard about a woman who told her young daughter to go into the freezer and grab a frozen juice box but, instead, the little girl grabbed the wrong item and ended up bringing a frozen alcoholic beverage to school. I could feel the mortification she must have experienced when the school called because, frankly, we’ve all felt it.

“When bad things happen, or you behave in a less-than-desirable way, remind yourself that everyone fails, misbehaves, is rejected, experiences loss, is humiliated and experiences myriad negative events. That doesn’t mean that these events are OK, but it does mean that there’s nothing unusual or personal in what happened. A self-compassionate person recognizes the problem, fixes it if possible, deals with it emotionally, and moves on without making a dramatic production out of it,” says Leary

4. Practice Self-Kindness.
There are several tools you can use as you practice treating yourself nicely.

– Try to make a realistic appraisal of the situation – It’s important to put your responsibility for the problem into perspective. By attempting to be non-defensive about the situation for even a little while, you will be able to gain a more accurate assessment and not add more distress to the situation by “catastrophising.” So the next time life gets in the way, and you forget about that recital, game or play, remember that your child, although extremely disappointed, will survive.

– Reduce your reaction/emotion – When we have strong emotions, our energy is spent on trying to calm down rather than confronting and solving the problem. Not only does this help us think more rationally but it also allows us to see when we are creating ‘a tempest in a teacup’ as my husband says.

-Remind yourself that you are not the only person with problems – When we recognize that others might be dealing with similar struggles, it can lower distress. This helps to depersonalize the situation and reminds us that our problems aren’t worse than anyone else’s. Your child isn’t the only child to not be a straight-A student or the star of the baseball team. There is a reason the word ‘average’ exists. “Viewing one’s problems through the lens of common humanity also lowers the sense of isolation people sometimes experience when they are suffering. It helps to remember that we’re all in this together,” says Leary.

It would be wonderful if, for only a day, we could find the sweet spot between self-acceptance and striving.

Since women tend to fall into the perfectionism trap in far greater numbers than men, it would make sense that us moms are well practiced at beating ourselves up. Once we take the time to reflect, I wouldn’t be surprised if we realized that we are often much nicer to other people than we are to ourselves.

Laura Clydesdale headshotLaura Clydesdale had an epiphany one day when she noticed her then 10-year-old daughter exhibiting some of the same career-derailing traits as many of her female clients. Did it really start this early, she wondered? Laura decided to leverage her 15 years of experience as a leadership development consultant and launched her popular girls leadership blog.

She is a regular contributor to the Washington Post, has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Toronto Star, and has also been featured on several radio shows and podcasts. Laura lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two children.

For more posts by Laura Clydesdale visit her blog here, or sign up for her newsletter.

You can follow her on Twitter at @l_clydesdale and can be contacted at

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