My three year old, potty trained for many months, had an accident one chillier than average afternoon. She was trying to make it to the bathroom, but she just didn't get there in time.
“Oh! Sorry, Mommy! I'm so sorry,” she sobbed, her palm slapping her forehead in disgust.
“No, no, honey. Everybody has accidents, all different kinds of accidents,” I said, kneeling in front of her to meet her eyes. “Don't hit yourself like that. Be kind to yourself always. Do you promise?”
Be kind to yourself—a lofty promise to ask of someone who isn't even old enough to tie her own shoes. I knew that, of course, but seeing her slap herself in disappointment like that made me ache. It was a deep soreness, swimming around in my insides somewhere between nausea and heartbreak. Her best was perfect to me. Didn't she see that? Her round, watery eyes looked into mine and she weakly promised anyway. We hugged for a while. Then, I helped her change her clothes and we moved along.
In the hours and the days after that, I thought a lot about kindness, about what it really means to unapologetically love yourself and others. I thought about what my daughter might have seen in me to cause her to react that way. I knew that I was kind to others—perhaps even to a fault—always giving the benefit of the doubt, always reaching out my hand, always concerned about my neighbor down the block and across the world.
Self-kindness, though? Did I have that? I looked in the mirror in the mornings, putting on makeup to cover my under eye circles. I muttered about the inadequacy of my concealer and how my forehead was getting wrinkles. Sometimes, she would sit on the edge of the toilet, swinging her legs merrily and chattering. My daughter was simply happy to be near me in these moments. Begging me to give her a brush, she wanted to try just a little for herself.
She wanted to be like me.
Occasionally, I griped about my frizzy hair, how the natural waves would get away from me. I joked about how easy it was for me, as a stay at home mom, to just put on a bandana every day and not deal with it—it was half a joke and half the truth.
Meanwhile, her long blonde hair was starting to wave at the ends, innocent and lovely. Sometimes she asked for one of my headbands to try, rolling her locks between her little fingers and looking inquisitively into the mirror.
Just like me.
My negative self-talk was rubbing off on my baby girl, and it didn't hit me until she hit herself.
While I was volunteering for causes I cared about and preaching kindness in those situations, I was talking down to myself internally without realizing it. Every frown into a mirror, every flippant comment about perceived flaws—she was little, but she was there. She was learning from me.
I've gotten better since that day, giving myself more slack and being mindful of my verbal and physical cues. As parents, we try to teach our children to be compassionate. We want them to be both confident and humble, to do their best and stand up for those who can't. We hope, oh how we hope, to teach our kids to be kind.
Even with the best of intentions, we all need a gentle reminder now and then: be kind to yourself, too, fellow mommas. They're watching, and you're worth it.