I write all the time. In my head, that is. I have written the most eloquent passages while walking the dogs, or in bed at night, or while folding laundry. But the process of putting it in a sharable format is daunting (well, remembering it is pretty hard, too!) It shouldn’t be daunting or arduous at all, because I love words. They comfort me, stimulate me, and teach me. I think the hard part for me, is once all those words come together, they represent a part of me; a part that had been private. When I share them, I am sharing a deeper side of myself. So perhaps my challenge is not writing but rather accepting vulnerability.
Vulnerability is one of those topics that we don’t often broach in everyday conversations. It’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward. It doesn’t feel good to say:
• I made a mistake
• I don’t think I can manage this
• I am not coping well
• I really don’t know
In fact, we do our utmost to avoid being vulnerable on a regular basis. Someone asks “How are you?” and we answer “Fine, thanks” without even thinking. We worry that the asker doesn’t really want to know the truth, or we really aren’t ready to share the dreadful day we are having with any one. So we lie…ish.
I used to feel vulnerable every time I taught a prenatal class or a parenting workshop. I worried that people might “heckle” me, and disagree with the thoughts I was presenting, or worse, silently judge me. I wanted people to like my classes, because it felt that by extension, they liked me. I was timid with the viewpoints I presented when I first started as a parenting coach, never wanting to rock the boat too much, or push people out of their comfort zone. But looking back I realize that it wasn’t about other people, it was about me. I was the one who didn’t want to be pushed out of my comfort zone.
So here’s how I used to teach: stick to the perfect material, only share my experiences that confirm the perfect efficacy of the perfect material, keep everything else tucked deep inside so as not to appear imperfect. Because I felt that if people knew how hard I found every single day as a parent, then they would reject my classes, and see me as a sham.
This was a difficult façade to maintain. And I am essentially lazy…it started to get too hard, and the crumbling began. Then my fourth child was born, and her mission was to humble me, and to force me to be authentic (She was the kid who would not “respond” to my perfect parenting material!) So I slowly started sharing the bad days. Bit by bit, I let my wall down, and shared me.
What really helped speed up this process was holding parenting classes in my home….at bedtime. Wow – if ever you think your walls are soundproof, try teaching parenting when you kids are screaming at each other upstairs. Bam! It gets real – fast! One night, after I had put the kids to bed at precisely the right time, I was teaching a perfectly professional class. Suddenly, I heard the pitter patter of little feet and the door to my classroom slammed open. In rushed my littlest daughter *stark naked*. She looked directly at me, accusatory hands on hips: “Mama, you didn’t give me a bath tonight. I want a bath!” The whole class burst out laughing, including me! It was such perfect timing. There she was – completely exposed and completely at ease. And I was also exposed: bedtime was but a mere suggestion to this wee one, and I had clearly neglected the order of things in exchange for punctuality. She called me on it. I still laugh about it years later. I love how life teaches us lessons with humour.
What happened in the coming months was quite incredible – people seemed to be drawn to me. I could actually see relief on their faces when they realized the heap of blunders I did on a regular basis. My mistakes, or rather my willingness to share them, made others feel more human. People started to look at me differently. Of course, I had a brief moment of panic, like “Oh, no – there it goes! No one is going to show up next week!” But I had misread those “looks”. It was as if suddenly, my groups realized that I, too, struggled. That my kids were not perfectly well-behaved, and that sometimes, there were no quick fixes. The “look” I kept seeing was relief. Somehow, seeing my imperfections actually enhanced the learning experience for my groups. They felt like they could show up and not have to sift out the negative stuff from their week. They could be real, and no one would judge them. And that’s when it dawned on me: Maybe the judgment I perceived would occur against me wouldn’t actually ever happen. Maybe, if I just presented myself, as someone who wants to learn and grow, yet stumbles along the way, that this might actually be met with open arms, with love, with relief.
And so, each class got to hear some little tidbit from my week: how my older daughter’s room looked like a bomb exploded, how my son posted articles on my Facebook timeline on the safety of marijuana (thank goodness for a “delete post” option, before his grandparents read my feed!), how my two youngest squabbled incessantly, how I left the dinner table one evening, with my plate and fork, because I couldn’t take the bickering and put myself in a blissful time-out!
My classes loved it. The judgment I imagined never happened. Instead, I felt this tremendous connection. People talked more, hugs were exchanged, as were email addresses. I would get messages overflowing with sweet, tender gratitude. True connection can only occur as a result of being authentic, of being real with others. It takes courage, not weakness, to be vulnerable. One of my favourite writers, Brene Brown, says the root of the word “courage” means “heart”. She says to live with courage is “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” Our hearts all have light and darkness, and we aren’t kidding anyone if we try to only show the light side. We are also robbing ourselves of the opportunity to truly connect with those dearest to us.
Our willingness to be vulnerable, to expose our authentic selves with all our imperfections, will not only enrich our lives, but give others the courage to do the same. Vulnerability creates connection. It allows you to feel like you belong. And this is the ideal setting for learning. When our hearts are open, only then can our minds be open. Every human deserves this, every family needs this.
In the coming days and weeks, here are a few ideas to help you be more authentic and courageous – to “tell the story of who you are with your whole heart”. Open your heart to open your mind.
1. Open up to a friend about an area where you are struggling.
2. Share a mistake you’ve made, even if it’s just in a journal, or in a prayer.
3. Let go of who you think you should be.
4. Jot down 2-3 things you are grateful for about who you are right now. Try to build on that list daily. Have your children do it too.
5. Comparison is the thief of joy. Reclaim your joy by focusing on yourself as “enough”, and a blessing to the world, just as you are. Help your children do this too.
6. Let go of the need to be perfect or in control. Both are illusions.
7. Try something new, something scary, something that you may not be good at. Is it dancing? Writing? Confronting? Loving? Our children will copy our courage.
8. Read Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection or start with viewing her amazing Ted Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en
And if you stumble along the way, believe that there are many of us out there who won’t judge, but will be there to steady your stumble, and catch you if you fall. I believe we are all a lot more human and humane than we appear. Let’s start to show it.