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Lessons on Self-Compassion

Mariam* is tall and beautiful, with long lashes and black, bold eyes that hold a hint of gentleness. She has joined almost 20 other mothers and resident volunteers — who are themselves refugees living in one of the three nearby camps, and who are giving their time to work with refugee children — to learn more about child development and wellbeing tools. She has brought her young children, as have many of the other women. The children almost outnumber the adults, and their laughter and play is a joy to watch.

Mariam sits directly across from me wearing a black abaya and stunning royal blue hijab. Her face is solemn. Despite some uneasiness in her manner, she answers a few of the questions we pose to the group.

We move through the introduction of ourselves, Little Ripples, and “What is Early Childhood Development” and then begin Positive Behavior Management. We ask the women what they understand to be the difference between corporal punishment and discipline. Many of the women respond by offering suggestions for ideal behavior management. None of their responses even mentions yelling, hitting, pulling, or neglect. We reformulate the question once more before Sara-Christine begins to define corporal punishment.

I feel an emotional shift in the room. Some women look down, including Mariam. Their shoulders tense up; bodies stiffen. The heat in my gut rises. I know they share this feeling. The feeling of shame and guilt at having done one or more of these things, and not being proud of it. I know immediately that I must share my similar feelings of shame with them.

I share that I, too, am a mother. One who has yelled and likely grabbed my daughter’s arm too tightly when I’ve been in a hurry or preoccupied with something else. I let them know that none of us sitting in this circle together is perfect, nor will we ever be. I cross my arms on my chest, giving myself a gentle hug, one that I hope they do for themselves. I encourage them to recognize that when we do misstep as mothers, as we all have done and will do again, it’s important to have self-compassion for ourselves. To take a moment for us to breathe, move, or practice one of the wellness tools we learned today. I share that we can return to our child and apologize. This repairing of the relationship, this promise to work harder at being a better mother, is more important than striving to be perfect.

I see their shoulders drop, a wave of relief. With my arms still crossed upon my chest, I repeat, “I am a mother and I am not perfect. Be gentle and kind with yourself; self-compassion.” Mariam smiles and changes the way her legs are crossed on the floor. As we move through the foundation for nonviolent communication, four elements to creating an island of peace in a home or classroom, and alternative ways for addressing misbehavior, Mariam visibly connects, smiles, and engages. Her heart is open. Her mind is beginning to see hope for a better future.

At the end of the training, I approach Mariam and extend my hand to thank her for being here today. She pulls me close and we hug. She says gently, “Shukran. Shukran.”

*Mariam’s name has been changed at her request.


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