One of the highlights of this past spring was getting to lead a parenting class on material that has hugely influenced the way I parent from Brene’ Brown. The course was audio so we took notes while we listened and paused the CD for lively discussion. I learned a lot from the different experience and perspectives of all the parents in the room and felt privileged to be a part of it all.
The thing I love most about Brown’s research is her emphasis on how being courageous enough to be vulnerable is the birthplace of true connection and strong relationship with our kids (and with everyone else). We live in a culture that equates vulnerability with weakness, when in fact it is a great strength. The moments we most shape our kids happen in vulnerability. Instead of pretending that, because we are parents, we suddenly have all the answers, we are to let our children see us struggle, see us even fail at times and also see us get up again and again and live our lives the best we know how. When all is said and done the most powerful tool we have as a parent comes down to the person we are. How much t.v. we allow our kids to watch or how often we read to them does not have near the same impact on the people they will become as who we actually are and how we chose to be in the world.
We learned the difference between shame (I am bad) and guilt (I did something bad.) and that we can’t raise kids who are more shame resilient than we are. (Another challenge there!) This is crucial because people who internalize a lot of shame are prone to engage in high risk behaviors like suicide, sex, and alcohol/ drug abuse, whereas the reverse is true for those who know they are worthy of love and belonging even when they make mistakes.
One of the lessons that hit me hardest was the importance of a compassion that has to do with knowing our darkness well enough that we can sit in the darkness with others. Brown equated giving advice to flipping on the light in order to make ourselves more comfortable. This lesson couldn’t have come at a better time because the night after we considered the importance of just being with someone in their pain without trying to make it go away, my 14 year old had to get permanent expanders (pre-emptive to braces) for her upper and lower jaw, that made eating and talking without a lisp impossible. She was devastated at the thought of going back to school. I remembered our lesson and literally had the opportunity to say, “Turn out the light and come let me just snuggle you, honey,” We sat there in the darkness for a long time while she cried and explained to me how her life was now ruined. I somehow managed to just listen and agree this was very tough. In the days that followed we were closer than we’ve been for a very long time and I hope the lesson sticks because I can testify that there is power there.
Of course there was much more I’d love to share. Suffice it to say I highly recommend all of Browns books on whole-hearted living and imperfection. I also recommend seeing what Adult Religious Education classes speak to you and joining up in the fall. We are stronger connected.
Janen Wright, Director of Faith Formation