Kimberly Arthur of Seattle Children's Hospital. Photo credit: Will Austin
Kimberly Arthur carries her twin daughters with her all day long. Almost 4, they grin widely from the side of their mom’s custom coffee mug.
Born at 26 weeks, the two were in the hospital for five months after birth. When they did come home, they brought oxygen tanks and surgically placed feeding tubes. Soon, one of Arthur’s daughters returned to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with permanent hearing loss; she now has a cochlear implant and hearing aid.
It was, Arthur admits, a lot. “We initially had five therapy sessions a week,” she says, acknowledging that her family was lucky to have ready access to such options. Still, “that was five hours a week of people recommending so many different things to practice with two different babies who had oxygen tanks and feeding tubes.”
So, Arthur understands the benefit of “compassion to go,” a concept she learned in the Mindful Self-Compassion course at the University of Washington’s Center for Child and Family Well-Being. Arthur took the course in March 2016 and soon realized how its principles could profoundly aid the parents she saw at Seattle Children’s Hospital, where Arthur is a clinical research scientist.
She and her team are now adapting that curriculum, originally developed by Drs. Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer, for parents of children who have health conditions or disabilities. As a first step, her team hosted a short parent self-compassion course this spring to try out some of the activities and gather feedback.
Arthur says, right now, she’s just happy to get parents in the same room. “Being able to bring those parents together . . . they’re going to learn so much from each other.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the self-compassion course and Arthur’s work, she invites you to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Explain ‘compassion to go.’ What does that expression mean?
I am actually borrowing that expression from my teacher, Yaffa Maritz. I fully believe in the value of [meditating], but it’s so hard to do that . . . and you can’t replace the hard feelings that come up or make them completely go away. Compassion to go is about giving yourself some compassion or acceptance for the fact that you’re feeling them . . . and that you don’t have to be the perfect parent.
Tell me about the self-compassion course. Why do you need to adapt it?
The main reason for adapting ‘Mindful Self-Compassion’ is because [the original course] is eight classes plus a retreat. I think for parents it can be hard to make that kind of commitment, but add being a parent who has [a child with] a health condition or who has a disability — there are a lot of reasons why it’s even harder to get out.
What’s the long-term goal of the course? Will all parents be able to take it?
My long-term goal is to do research to evaluate the course . . . [Research would ask,] ‘Is the class effective at reducing parenting stress and improving mental health?’. . . Ultimately, the goal would be to have a measurable benefit for both parents and their children.
We want it to be available to parents who are coming from all different backgrounds. Someday we may look into culturally tailoring it for a specific group [of participants]. . . . I hope that what we’re learning here about how to design a course with parents, for parents . . . I’m hoping that other people can replicate that later.
Of course, not all of our readers will have access to or necessarily need a class like this. What would you want them to know?
Any parent — any person! — can benefit from the concepts of mindful self-compassion . . . The most important concept is being aware of how critical we are of ourselves. As a parent, catch yourself when you’re being critical of yourself and in that moment, think about what a close friend or family member would say. Chances are they would tell you that you’re doing a great job, that you’re a great mom or an amazing dad.