Monday, August 29, 2016

wholehearted parenting

Get widget
Lately I've been reading work by Dr. Brené Brown. If you aren't familiar with her, she is an author, speaker, and research professor who has spent the past thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. You want to improve your life? Listen to her talk about those four topics (like in the audiobook The Power of Vulnerability) and I promise you will hear yourself growing!

I think I like Brené so much because I am a touchy-feeley-empathic person who appreciates evidence, where she a sociologist-sciencey-research person who appreciates empathy and provides evidence in a language I can understand. Because I feel so strongly about the importance of her work, I will probably write more about particular topics that resonate with me. Today I am writing specifically about parenting.

Part of being an older parent with a younger child is trying to be a better parent by learning from my mistakes and growing myself. Not that you have to be an "older" parent to do this. It's never too early or too late to improve. It's just that I am a very slow learner!

I used to think being a good parent - especially a conscientious step-parent with the unique type of stress that goes along with that - meant modeling perfection in order to help my children be perfected. Don't show my scars. Don't tell the scary parts of my story. Don't let down my guard. Show them only the good parts and lock away the bad parts or at least pretend they don't exist in fear that they might capitalize on my weakness or follow my bad example.

Except guess what - it doesn't work.

Because I am not perfect. They are not perfect. None of us are ever going to be perfect. And no matter how hard you try to pretend, they totally have your number anyway. And watching you pretend only teaches them that 1) you think there is something wrong with yourself, so 2) there must also be something inherently wrong with them, ergo 3) pretending is how you get through life. Lose lose lose.

Now I'm not saying that in raising kids everything is permissible or that there is no need for standards or correction or discipline. Of course there is. We all need that. Learning boundaries is part of how we thrive. And if you're lucky enough to be a parent, it's part of the job description. There's no easy way out of that one.

But raising healthy kids has less to do with teaching rules than it does with teaching them how to SELF discipline. Because one day you aren't going to be standing over them helping them make decisions. And the only way to know that they are equipped to make good decisions on their own is by teaching them that, no matter what, they are worthy. People who inherently know they are worthy will usually make better choices. And worthiness comes from learning basic things: Show up. Work hard. Persevere. Have compassion and empathy. Express gratitude. Give respect. Love and be loved. 

It's a tall order. A lot to teach. We can share these values with our kids through words. But they have to see it in action, too. Because let's be honest: kids hear more than the words we say to them. And often it's the unspoken words they hear the loudest.

For example, if my daughter criticizes something about her body, I will hear that and counter it by telling her she is strong and wonderful and magnificent. If there is a real issue that can be addressed, we will discuss it and I will help her come up with a strategy. But if she then sees me glaring into the mirror and hears me complaining about my flabby stomach and dismissing myself as hopelessly ugly, which message is she going to remember? 

This is where our own continued growth is so critical.We need to believe we are worthy of love and belonging if we want our kids to believe that they are, too. It is not selfish to love yourself. It is a prerequisite. It's like when the flight attendant tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you try to put one on someone else. You can't help someone else breathe unless you yourself are breathing. You can't teach someone else to feel valued unless you value yourself. 

So, I offer apologies and thanks to my older kids. Because over the years learning to let go of my preconceived notions about who they (and I) should be, and trying to truly, deeply see and value them for who they really are, has released me from the idea that I need to pretend to be anything other than who I am. Hopefully that has helped me become a better parent to the youngest of our clan. And a more wholehearted "me" now and going forward.
Whole-hearted Parenting Manifesto by Dr. Brené Brown

No comments :

Post a Comment

Have something to add? Let me know what you think!