THE BLOG
11/22/2013 05:38 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

How I Came to Understand the Meaning of Self Compassion

I didn't know what self compassion was until Christmas time, 2008.

My twin girls were 3 ½ and my son would be 2-years-old in just over a month. My husband, kids and I were all going to stay at my in-laws house, which is about an hour away, for a few days over the Christmas holiday.

Also staying at my in-laws were my husband's two sisters and their families. It was a tight fit, but with the fire going and the cousins playing, it felt warm and cozy.

By night fall, it was time to divide up and find places for everyone to sleep. My son, who has Down syndrome, was sleeping in a crib at the time, so that earned me my own bedroom complete with a crib. I thought I was the lucky one, as my husband was sleeping on the living room couch, and all the kids were in sleeping bags on the living room floor.

It soon became apparent that my son was not feeling so lucky. He was having none of being in a crib different from his own. I brought him into bed with me, and even there, he was restless. By morning, we were both exhausted.

My husband, who works in the same town as his parents live, went off to work in the morning. My son and I were both functioning on little sleep, and my twins were full of energy. By the end of the day, the warm, cozy feeling I had all but evaporated.

It was again time for bed, and the second night was no better than the first. I caught my husband before he left for work the next morning, and told him that even though I adored his family, it was time to go home. I was packing everyone up, and he could meet us at home when he was done working.

On our drive home, my daughter, Katherine, said she didn't feel good, and immediately projectile vomited all over the back of my seat and herself. She cried and cried, which then caused my son to cry, and there was nothing I could do. I felt so helpless and the drive home seemed to take an eternity.

We finally pulled into the driveway. Even though I had puke to clean up and a car full of presents and overnight bags to unload, it never felt so good to be home.

I unbuckled everybody from their car seats, soothed Katherine and got her into the shower with her favorite Elmo bath paint, put the TV on for my son and my currently healthy daughter, Elizabeth, then sat down feeling at a complete loss.

By the time my husband came home, I was ready for a nervous breakdown. But, the sad part is, I didn't want to admit it to him. I had always kept it together, and now I was breaking.

Out of desperation, I finally admitted that I couldn't keep this pace anymore. My husband and I were in very different places in coming to the acceptance of our son's diagnosis, and I felt we were living separate lives. I didn't know where to turn, and I knew I needed some outside support.

I ended up calling Beckie, who is the coordinator for the educational and therapeutic services for our son. She has been my go-to person every time I have a question about our son's services. She is a wealth of information, and never fails to be compassionate and caring. This time I called her was no different. She explained that the program my son is in provides a social worker to visit families to help them adapt to the changes brought about by raising a child with special needs. I called the social worker right away.

The social worker came to our house, and was immediately helpful. She said, though my memory fails me to the exact words, in essence, "You are protecting your husband from your son's Down syndrome. Let go of some of this responsibility and give it to him."

I just stared at her speechless. My husband is a hardworking and loving man, and I was the stay-at-home mom so I had assumed all of the responsibilities for our son's therapeutic work in order to give my husband time to process and accept our son's diagnosis. Yet, my son was almost 2, and I had not let go of any of it. By taking it all on myself and thinking I was being helpful, I was actually doing a disservice to my son, my husband and myself.

When I was finally able to let go and hand over some of the responsibility, it was very difficult on all of us. My husband was forced into a reality he wasn't ready for, my son was used to having me with him all the time, and I felt like I would overlook some important detail. But, soon, I saw the bond grow between my son and my husband, and we are now able to communicate on a similar level about his needs.

Self compassion can be a rocky road at first, like most changes are. But, once I started taking care of myself and sharing some of my son's needs, it had a positive effect not only for myself, but for our entire family. When I ignored my need for self compassion thinking it was the best to take on all of the responsibility, I had exhausted myself and prevented important bonding time between my son and husband.

Most of us have experienced situations that we wished were different, or that people behaved in different ways. Yet, when it comes down to it, the only person we have control over is ourselves. Start practicing self compassion for yourself, and you will find that it not only has a positive effect in your life, but on others' lives, as well.

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