Last week in Soul Shift, we were practicing being kind to ourselves. A lot of the journal prompts and reflection questions encouraged confronting our inner critic.
Admittedly, I struggled with this week.
I thought I had being kind, even to myself, mastered; however, my Mother’s Day gift from my sister proved that my inner critic was more insidious than I had thought.
Her first gift was a sign that states, “Good moms have laundry piles, sticky floors, dirty ovens, and happy kids.”
“I was reminded of something you wrote on your blog when I saw it,” she said. On the back, she wrote me a note describing me as “truly one of the most selfless mothers and down right inspiring to most hardworking people I know, no bias about it!”
To this heartwarming present, she added a notebook whose cover proclaims: “I am strong. I am brave. I am fearless.” And a magnet that said, “Best mom ever,” just because.
I was touched and surprised, but honestly, my immediate reaction was, “I’m not any of those things.”
I just couldn’t accept her glowing review of me. I rarely feel like a good mom, much less the “best mom ever,” so it couldn’t be true.
What I didn’t realize was that my inability to accept my sister’s gifts was the work of my inner critic. It sabotaged my ability to receive a compliment and skewed my reflection of myself.
This isn’t the first time I have brushed off someone’s praise of my parenting abilities. But even if I don’t believe the words fully, I still need to hear them.
“You’re doing a good job,” my daughter’s pediatrician assured me, unprompted, at the end of her two-year-old well check.
“You’re a good mom,” my officemate and momspiration told me as I left work one day to pick up a snack of golden raisins for my daughter, her new favorite.
But my inner critic is not solely relegated to my personal life. I’m also quick to dismiss my professional achievements in the face of commendation.
My niece graduated from Kindergarten on Friday at my alma mater. My former principal came up to me before the ceremony. “We’re proud of your accomplishments, Kristin,” he said warmly.
What accomplishments? I thought. I live within spitting distance of my childhood home and teach English at a community college.
Outwardly, I smiled and thanked him.
I related the exchange to my high school best friend.
“I feel like I don’t know who I am anymore,” I wrote.
She responded: “If you want my opinion, I’d say you are a strong, smart, caring woman – who pushes herself very hard to make everyone happy. An excellent writer with a valuable amount of empathy. A great mother who would give her child the world. An amazing and thoughtful friend.”
“That’s not me,“ I thought. “Who is she talking about?”
And yet, who am I to dictate someone else’s perception? Why am I so quick to diminish myself, my accomplishments, and my work?
I attended a webinar last week for Hopewriters led my Emily Freeman, author of Grace for the Good Girl and Simply Tuesday, and she discussed the importance of recognizing and acknowledging the existence of your audience. “There you are. How can I help?” she asked.
What struck me first about her question was its parallel to teaching. Teaching is a service industry, and I try very hard to make all of my students feel “seen,” but as I’ve contemplated her words this week, I’ve realized, in their own way, that is what each person I interacted with above was trying to tell me. “There you are,” they said. “I see you.”
I’m learning to see me too.