This is my typical go-to saying when I make a mistake: “I’m the worst (fill in the blank).” It doesn’t matter what I did wrong, or in what area of my life — mom, wife, friend, volunteer. If I make a mistake or forget something, my reflex is to think the problem is not with an action, but with me as a person. I’d like to say that after all my time in therapy, I recognize this language and called myself out on it. But that would be a lie.
I have three kids — ages 7, 5 and 3. When I started writing children’s books, I realized I had the perfect test market at home, so my kids have been my willing (so far) guinea pigs. When I first read them books (there are actually three right now) they loved it. I was surprised at how much they liked the story and grasped the concept. Sometimes I wish it were a little less popular — it’s not the shortest story for bedtime reading (I know, I'm SORRY).
I think they love not just the story, but also the fact that their mom created it. For a month they would talk about how one would write the story, the other would draw the pictures, sadly the youngest was not let in on the family business. Maybe once his fine motor skills really kick in. They want to support me, and not only that they were inspired by me. It is very humbling.
The title of my book is The Awfulizer (Learning How to Overcome the Shame Game). My kids love the name, and even though The Awfulizer is the "bad guy", they love him too.
One day, after we’d been doing our Awfulizer bedtime routine, I was berating myself for forgetting to sign a form: “Ugh. I can’t believe I did that. I am the worst.” I laughed out loud — I find when I’m doing my self-shaming, I try to pass it off as a joke. (Ha-ha! Self-deprecation is so funny!) I’m a great butt for my jokes, which is fine unless you believe what you’re saying about yourself — even a small part of it. And if I’m being honest, I do. More often than not, I do believe I’m the worst.
As I said that, my eldest's eyes grew wide: “Mom! That is not nice at all. That is your Awfulizer talking right now. You are not the worst.” He was visibly upset at what I was saying. Talk about a gut, reality and mindset check.
I’ve tried to help our kids realize it’s OK to make mistakes — that most people don’t succeed the first time they do something. But how can I expect them to believe that about themselves if I don’t believe it about myself — if every time I make a mistake, my first thought is to berate myself, not be kind to myself? I’ve never thought the motto “Do as I say, not as I do” was very compelling, but apparently, I was living it.
It’d be great if I could end this story by saying thatI had a great heart-to-heart with my kids, and now I’m kinder to myself and my mistakes, and as a result, my kids are growing to give themselves the same grace. Awesome, right? Unfortunately, as anyone walking through recovery knows, there are too many days where you move backward and not forward. I still catch myself shaming myself for mistakes — or, worse I don’t catch myself doing it and my kids call me out.
But the hope is that someone is catching it. Even if it isn’t me. Every time I pause and reset my thinking about that mistake, it’s another foot firmer on the path of self-love, self-care and self-forgiveness. I have 38 years of self-shaming to shake off, so I’m trying to be gentle with myself when I fall into old habits. The exciting part now is when I recognize these habits, pause and choose another way of thinking. It’s not perfect, but I’ll never be perfect. And the fact that that’s OK is good enough for me right now.