If there’s anything positive that I can take from my struggle to bring my son into the world, it’s that it set me on my journey of learning how to stop putting others’ expectations, beliefs and opinions of me above my own.
Infertility forced me to face all of the uncomfortable emotions: fear, grief, jealousy, rage, and despair and worst of all, shame. It also forced me to make decisions for the good of my mental health, that weren’t always easy for other people to understand.
I’ve always worried about what people think of me and it was at this point, I realised how much. Looking for answers, I watched Brene Brown’s famous TEDx talk and listened to her explanation of what ‘courage’ means: to live and love with your whole heart.
So, when the day came when I was able to hold my son in my arms, I made a promise to myself – that I would learn to love my own imperfections, live a life that is authentic to who I am and learn how to live and love with my whole heart, so that I could show him how to do the same.
What is Wholehearted Parenting?
The aim of wholehearted parenting is to raise children who:
- Understand their worth and have healthy boundaries.
- Feel a sense of love and compassion for themselves and others.
- Honour hard work, perseverance and respect.
- Hold a sense of authenticity and belonging within them, rather than seeking it through others or their external environment.
- Have the courage to be flawed, vulnerable and creative.
- Don’t feel unloveable or scared if they are different or if they are struggling.
- Engage with their world and its changes with courage, grit and spirit.
If we want to raise wholehearted children, we can’t give our children what we don’t have, so we have to grow, change and learn, sharing this journey openly with our children.
Features of Wholehearted Parenting
Wholehearted parenting isn’t a gift, it’s a set of skills that you can learn and is an active choice to:
- Recognise your own self-protection mechanisms, e.g. perfectionism, procrastination and people-pleasing.
- Learn how to be vulnerable by understanding what your shame triggers are and what’s behind them.
- Show your children how to be vulnerable by sharing your vulnerabilities with them.
- Set aside time each week to engage in activities that develop your personal growth.
- Practise the values that you want to teach your children.
- Dare greatly.
- Stop ‘playing small’.
If we want our children to love and accept who they are, we have to love and accept who we are.
Shame and vulnerability
Vulnerability comes down to three things: uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. We often confuse vulnerability with weakness and it is this confusion that can lead us to avoid it at all cost.
Here’s the tricky bit though – vulnerability is also where the magic happens. It’s the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. It’s the source of all those emotions and experiences that we crave.
Vulnerability shapes who we are and who our children are.
Being vulnerable feels uncomfortable, so we often push vulnerability away into the shady corners of our day. By doing this, we turn parenting, and life in general into a competition that’s about hustling for our worth, instead of just being who we truly are.
Notice the parenting politics at play on any of your social media accounts on #schoolofferday. Parents are either devastated that their children didn’t get into the school they had chosen for them, or they are #relieved that they made the cut. Many parents take out crippling mortgages on houses in the centre of school catchment areas in a bid to secure a place. Why?
If life is viewed as a competition, then ‘winning’ matters. It’s getting into the ‘best’ school. It’s buying a house that you can’t afford in the ‘best’ school’s catchment area. It’s why house prices rocket in relation to exam results, why schools are pressured to take shortcuts to get results, why children feel pressured to perform and its why many children suffer with mental health problems.
Perfectionism is about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and academic performance and somewhere along the line, a damaging belief system was established. The belief system is, “I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it.” A lifetime of people-pleasing, performing and perfecting to gain self-worth usually follows.
I know because I have lived it.
Brene Brown offers up this warning: “If we struggle with being, living, and looking absolutely perfect, we might as well line our children up and slip those little perfection straightjackets over their heads.”
I don’t want my son to hustle for his worth or to hide his true self out of fear of rejection.
Perfectionism teaches our children to value what other people think over what they think or how they feel. It teaches them to search for self-worth from external sources by performing, pleasing and perfecting. Shame is so painful because it’s tangled up with the fear of being unloveable. If we feel like we can’t meet expectations placed on us, we often feel shame. It’s our childhood experiences of shame that change who we are, how we think about ourselves and shape our sense of self-worth.
What is shame?
Shame is the fear of disconnection.
- We’re all programmed to feel shame. It’s universal and it’s the most primitive human emotion that we experience. The only people who don’t feel shame, lack the capacity for empathy and connection (sociopaths).
- We’re all afraid to talk about shame.
- The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives. We’re biologically and socially hardwired for connection, compassion, love and belonging and it’s what gives meaning to our lives.
Shame is the painful feeling associated with the belief that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. It’s the fear that something we’ve done (or failed to do) makes us unworthy of connection.
We can’t ‘shame-proof’ our children, but what we can do, is show our children how to cope with it, and it starts with conversations about what shame is and how it shows up in our lives.
The Courage to be Vulnerable
Shame needs three things to thrive:
The antidote to shame is empathy.
Our children need to see us trying new things, making mistakes and failing without becoming self-critical. In other words, we need the courage to be vulnerable. Normalising shame means helping our children to know they are not alone and that we’ve experienced the same struggles. Two of the most powerful words we can say are, “Me too”.
Compassion and connection – the very things that give meaning and value to our lives, can only be learned if they are experienced.
Be who you want them to be
Brene Brown identifies parenting as one of the most shame-charged aspects of our lives, primarily because of the judgement trap around emotive issues such as childbirth, vaccination, feeding, sleeping and discipline.
Blame, shame and judgement fuel such debates and they often descend into bullying.
It’s vital that we hold our values high and we don’t fall into the trap of judging others for their life choices. Children have strong bullshit detectors and notice when there’s a gap between what you say and what you do.
You will fail miserably from time to time. It’s ok. Explain to your children how you messed up and explain what you need to do to put it right.
The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto
Brene Brown wrote this pledge to help her family to live and love wholeheartedly and to dare greatly.
Download The Wholehearted Manifesto
Download a copy of the manifesto from Brene Brown’s website.