Recently a friend sent me an email in reply to my latest blog post, “Becoming Fully Known”. She asked some great questions, and her comments extended the discussion of my article into the area of parenting. She gave me permission to share her email, as I felt appropriate. So I am going to share some of her thoughts exactly as she wrote them, and then humbly make some response to them.
Her comments largely focus on the fear we have about becoming vulnerable and transparent with our children. She shared, “I have not revealed “everything” to them about me and the many situations of life that have brought me to be who I am now. Not yet… I want to, but really from the response I have received so far from them I am not sure I am ready to dive further. I don’t know if they would be interested and I don’t know how to approach them.” Her hope is that there would be a time that was appropriate for her to “reveal to them what walking in my shoes and being me is all about”.
She shares further, “To reveal with a stranger/friend or group is one thing, but to reveal to your children the very deepest feelings, thoughts, and things that are at the core of your being is something else. To the friends/strangers or group you can walk away from that…. But you cannot walk away from your children and whatever is revealed could be wonderful if they see it in the context it is to told to them or it could be a disaster if they are not able to understand or get where you are coming from.”
I totally agree that when it comes to our children it can feel particularly risky to be vulnerable. I know my husband and I have struggled over the years with deciding how much to share with our three sons. Similar to most parents we would like our children to perceive us as strong, capable and wise. As people, and particularly as parents, we have a deep yearning to feel worthy. And because we can often fall into the trap of believing there are “pre-requisites” to being worthy and to being a “good” parent, we are reluctant to share anything that would make us appear “less than” and diminish us in their eyes. It feels risky to shed an image and show that we have “feet of clay”; that we have, and will continue to, sin, make poor decisions and choices, are weak and struggle, and hurt others. It is very humbling to admit that we don’t have this parenting thing all figured out and that for the most part we are figuring it out as we stumble along.
But my friend’s question remains, “how, and when, is it best to be vulnerable and share some of our stories with our children?” I think that it depends on many factors. Each one of us is most familiar with our individual situation – the context of our families, what degree of sharing has been traditional and historical within that family, the quality of the relationships with the children, how well we have personally processed what we have experienced, what other pressures exist, or the ages and stages of each family member. I think we also must consider whether family members are in a place where they are able to suspend judgment and extend grace. Are we at a place to share appropriately for their developmental age and stage of life? We need to think through our reasons and motives for sharing. Considering each of these factors will help determine if and when and how sharing should occur.
Brene Brown in her book, Daring Greatly, talks about being vulnerable and appropriate sharing. She writes, “sharing yourself to teach or move a process forward can be healthy and effective, but disclosing information as a way to work through your personal stuff can be inappropriate and unethical”. She poses seven excellent questions we should ask to help us assess whether we are ready to share:
– Why am I sharing this?
– What outcome am I hoping for?
-What emotions am I experiencing?
-Do my intentions align with my values?
– Is there an outcome, response, or lack of response that will hurt my feelings?
– Is this sharing in the service of connection?
-Am I genuinely asking the people in my life for what I need?
In her chapter on “Wholehearted Parenting” Brown challenges parents that if they want to raise children who are wholehearted – people who feel worthy, have the courage to be vulnerable and accept imperfection, feel love and kindness for others and themselves, who are authentic, and have resilience – then as parents we need to lead the way.
Ensuring we have appropriate, open discussions with our children is really important, but we must partner the discussions with living authentically. What we value and speak about must be congruent with the way we act and behave. The most effective parenting strategy is simply demonstrating what we want our children to learn. “What we are teaches the child more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become (Joseph Chilton Pearce).
Letting our children into our experiences, through discussion and role modeling, offers the possibility of profound teaching moments. Acting as role models who live authentically, having the courage to take risks, leads to raising children who are willing to do the same. And when we fail or fall short, as we most certainly will, we can show our children how to face adversity, get up, dust off, and try again. And when we are able to fully love and accept ourselves, even with our failings and weaknesses, we show our children how to love and accept themselves.