I saw this on social media recently and can definitely relate to the sentiment with the new school year approaching:

I have two kids, ages 6 and 4, and when they’re having a meltdown or fighting with each other, one of my go-to parenting mantras is “He’s not trying to give me a hard time, he’s HAVING a hard time.”

This shift in perspective often helps me soften and approach the situation with more patience and skill than I might’ve otherwise (of course, not all of the time, which is where the repair comes in).

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how *I* would also benefit from this reframe — how we all could. When I’m irritable and impatient with my partner, resort to yelling or threats with my kids or just feel like I’m falling short in some way, it helps to remember that I, too, am having a hard time.

Tara Brach, PhD shares this metaphor:

“I often tell the story of a person walking in the woods and coming upon a little dog. The dog seems harmless enough, but when they reach out to pet the dog, it growls and lunges at them. The immediate response is fear and anger, but then they notice that the dog has its leg caught in a trap and compassion begins to rise up in the place of anger.”

When we can acknowledge our “leg” has been caught in a trap the past 18+ months (or several years), we’re better able to see our experiences with more perspective and understanding. Then we can reframe our lens:

“I’ve been lazy with meal planning and cooking” becomes “I feel exhausted and overwhelmed.”

“I’ve been overeating mindlessly on autopilot” becomes “I need a break and time to decompress.”

“I’m out of control with food” becomes “This is a biologically healthy response to ravenous hunger. I’m healing from the nutritional trauma of chronic dieting.”

Just like with our kids, when we can see beyond the observable behavior and get curious at what’s underneath – the unmet needs, emotions, state of the nervous system – compassion naturally arises and we’re able to see ourselves and each other more clearly. Even in our worst moments, or especially in our worst moments, we can pause to say, “This is hard right now,” see past the automatic limiting stories and judgments, and acknowledge that we, too, deserve tenderness and care.