I’m hard on myself. Somewhere in my life, I fell into a very self-critical tunnel, and I’ve had a hard time getting myself out. Don’t get the house clean one day? I’m lazy…never mind that I’m trying to run a part time business and care for two boys as well. Dinner’s late? I loose track of time too easily. Everything got done today but Toby’s in a bad mood? My fault, I didn’t spend enough time with him. All of these may or not may not be true for that particular day. The guilt and blame and criticism continues to pile up, and it’s not anyone’s voice in my head but my own.
Sometime in the beginning of this year, it kind of hit me upside the head that I can’t do all of this by myself. Should be common sense, I know, but it wasn’t. I think it kind of hit me around the time I was having the most trouble with my hips—I literally could not stand for more than ten minutes without being in pain, and if I tried to do much in the way of housework, I’d barely be able to move the next day. Justin really stepped up during that time—he’s always helped around the house, as we’re a team and don’t believe in designated “female” and “male” chores (although I definitely leave some things like cutting the lawn and fixing the cars to him)—but this time he was pretty much doing it all on top of working his normal job.
I hated it. For the two weeks that this went on, while I was trying to do physical therapy and fix my hips enough to the point of being able to walk again, I grumbled at myself. “You should’ve watched your weight gain with this pregnancy better.” “You should’ve exercised more before you got pregnant.” Maybe this was true. Maybe if I had, it wouldn’t have made any difference—I have inherited back and hip problems from both parents, so I’m sure that plays into it as well. The point is, I was loading myself with unnecessary guilt that was making me even more miserable than I already was. I’m not a generally pleasant person to be around while I’m pregnant anyway, because the hormones make me cranky, but I’m pretty sure I was a real b**** for those couple of weeks.
Then I realized that I wasn’t just making myself miserable—I was making Justin and Toby miserable as well. It made me feel even worse, and I silently resolved to do better—but where to start? After years of guilting and criticizing myself, I had no idea how to stop and get myself off the crazy train.
Around the same time, I finally had the opportunity to sit and really listen through Andrew Peterson’s new album The Burning Edge of Dawn. Andrew Peterson is one of my go-to artists on days that I’m feeling like crap, because his lyrics are so beautiful and full of truth, and as much as I love my classic rock and metal, they’re not exactly the best for cheering me up.
There were several songs that really spoke to me on that album (“I Want To Say I’m Sorry” has become my top apology song for Justin, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to “The Dark Before The Dawn” and “My One Safe Place” over the last few months), but the one that really hit me between the eyes at that point was “Be Kind To Yourself”.
I unabashedly, unashamedly love this song. I grew up among friends that were increasingly negative and critical, and this song is the total opposite of everything I picked up from them. It showed me how to get away from my personal crazy train in four simple words—”be kind to yourself”.
Not “be lax on yourself”, or “go easy”. I don’t believe you have to go easy on yourself in order to be kind to yourself. For me, it meant stopping my inner voice when I turned negative. It meant allowing myself to let things go—if something didn’t get done that day, it wasn’t my fault, it was simply that other things took precedence. It doesn’t mean I go so easy as to let things get completely out of control, but that I learn to forgive myself and promise to do better the next day.
Since I’ve begun intentionally trying to control what I think toward myself, I’ve noticed something I didn’t expect—I’ve become less negative and critical of my family as well. I used to blame Justin for when I had bad days—”you’re not helping enough”—and I used to say things about Toby like, “He’s doing that deliberately to drive me crazy”. Neither of these things was necessarily true (maybe Toby…I mean, he is almost three after all…but it definitely isn’t happening as much as I thought it was), but I was using them as convenient excuses. Trying to shunt off some of the blame I was piling onto myself.
“Be Kind To Yourself”. The first day time I heard this, I was playing the album on my phone in the bathroom while I was getting ready for the day. I just stood in the shower and cried through this entire song. I rarely genuinely cry over songs, but this one brought me a lot of peace and hope that things could be different, better.
If there’s anyone out there reading this who realizes that this is them—I don’t care if you’re single, trying to find a job, trying to please people who are impossible to please, trying to keep up with a dozen kids, trying to start a new business—if you’re in the business of self-guilting and blaming, please. Stop. I’m not saying go totally lax and stop aspiring, stop striving to be better—this isn’t what this post or the song is about. Just be kind.
“How does it end when the war that you’re in
“Is just you against you against you
“Gotta learn to love, learn to love
“Learn to love your enemies too”