Are you the adult you want your children to become?
Dr. Brene` Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher, author and teacher, asks this very important question in her book, Daring Greatly. If you haven’t read the book I highly suggest you do. Go directly to chapter 7 and read through this enlightening chapter on “Daring to be the parent we want our children to be.” It helps if you read the book from the beginning but if you are a parent struggling with this crazy, mixed up world and feeling that perhaps your way of parenting seems like it is just not enough then read this chapter first.
I never thought twice about becoming a parent. It was just the natural, expected course my life would eventually take. I, like so many before me, wanted to do things a bit “better” than my parents did it while also putting my own stamp of parenting that was a bit different from how they parented, but overall I hoped that I would be as good at parenting my own children as my parents were for me.
Joseph Chilton Pearce writes, “What we are teaches our children more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become.” Our job is to love ourselves and accept ourselves first if we want the same for our children. This is a hard thing to do, accept and love ourselves in order to be accepting and loving toward our children? I do have the capacity to love and be loved and I want to love and be loved by those that I hold most dear. I really feel that what is most important is empathy. To be able to feel and understand what others are feeling.
My youngest son is going through a hard time right now trying to figure out himself and his place in the world. Life is changing very rapidly for him, taking twists and turns that he, in most cases, has no control over. As I watch him struggle, I worry whether I’ve given him all the skills he needs to live as an adult, and I spontaneously feel guilty for what I see as my failures. This was the vibe I was getting from my son. I was feeling guilty thinking that I had done something wrong in how he was raised and I wanted to “check in” with him on this. Where is his sense of belonging, worthiness, self-confidence right now?
According to Dr. Brown guilt says, “I did something bad” as opposed to shame which says, “I am bad.” When we apologize for something we have done, make amends, or change a negative behavior into a positive behavior in order to better align with our own values, the influence on ourselves, our children, and our world is positive. Getting our thinking and our actions back to zero, back to “normal” is like finding the level playing field. Just because our bodies have matured on the outside and we are now labeled “adults” doesn’t mean our insides have kept up. When our children feel shame or guilt and display behaviors that make us feel embarrassed we very quickly go back to a time in our own lives, in our own story when we remember feeling that too.
“The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” –Carl Jung
As parents we have the choice, but more importantly, the obligation to show our children that it’s okay to screw up sometimes by turning mistakes into successes through learning from them. We show our children that they are not alone in the life struggles they go through by telling them stories of our own struggles with a simple “me too” which opens the door to great communication and safe spaces. When we share our guilt and vulnerabilities with our children we not only mature our own adult insides but we make it normal for our children to let life’s experiences and vulnerabilities be okay. Their stories and our story help their insides mature as well. We are telling them that it is so okay to have chapters that don’t quite feel so good. Ultimately, it is what can be learned from each experience, good and bad that makes the story worth telling.
Reading through Dr. Brown’s book I had to ask my son if he feels doubt about himself in any way, if he feels vulnerable, if he feels like he has made mistakes that he is letting define him now, if he feels like he belongs with us as a family member, because I know he doesn’t feel like he belongs at school or with the kids he goes to school with. Dr. Brown talks about “belonging” as requiring us to BE who we are. Well how do we know how to be who we are if we don’t really know who we are?
“ Belonging”, says Dr. Brown, “is being accepted for who you are; being somewhere where you want to be and where the people around you want you to be; getting to be “you” no matter what is happening in your life or the decisions you make.” My son and I talked at length about these definitions and I am so happy to say that he does feel like he belongs, he just feels like a disappointment sometimes. I get that. I’ve felt that way a time or seven in my lifetime. I was so happy to be able to normalize his feelings with a resounding , “me, too.”
I needed to help my son know that disappointment was okay and that it was a good measuring stick to help shape his road map toward becoming the best adult, the best person he can be. The relief on his face was palpable. His sense of “belonging” to the outside world will come as he moves through it and works with the world. But I needed to make sure he understood that he unconditionally belongs with us – his family, his foundation. Disappointment will happen throughout his life but it will diminish to “every once in a great while” instead of the “oh so often” feeling he has right now.
“Let your face speak what is in your heart.” –Toni Morrison
When your child walks into a room do you first notice what he/she is wearing and make judgments and criticize or do you light up at the miracle that just walked in the room? Actions do indeed speak louder than words even if your actions are as simple as a smile, a welcome hug or an expression of belonging and worthiness.
There is a body language to parenting that we sometimes forget to incorporate into our job as a parent. Our bodies need, no, must remember to speak with emotions like compassion, engagement, empathy, attention, “me, too” and “I get it”. My mom said to me just before my daughter was born, “never forget what it felt like when…..” I have taken this to heart and let it guide me through every age and stage my children have achieved. It was this way of thinking that helped put me in my son’s shoes to get the conversation started about where he is at right now.
We can’t be perfect parents, husbands, wives, children, etc. because there is no such thing as perfect but we can be perfectly imperfect with the love we express. We can be messy and we can be ourselves and we can be our story. Let your face speak what is in your heart. Journey On with your children through the rest of your story and show them that their story is just as great and can be greater.
If you would like to learn how coaching can empower you to live life with purpose and perspective please write to Lisa for a complimentary 30 minute coaching consultation to firstname.lastname@example.org and watch for Lisa’s forthcoming book, “A Leap of Faith.”