If you haven’t come across Brené Brown or heard her talk about vulnerability, can I give you a piece of advice?
Make a cup of coffee. Sit somewhere comfy where you won’t be interrupted, and invest twenty minutes of your life soaking up the brilliance of this. (And if you’re already familiar with it just listen again. It’s even better the second time round.)
The part of the talk that resonates with me is that we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. Put simply, we can’t give our kids what we haven’t got.
Brené’s work as a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work has convinced her that what stops us from treating ourselves kindly is our tendency to ‘numb’ our sense of vulnerability. When we bump up against feelings like fear, grief, shame or disappointment we feel vulnerable – sometimes excruciatingly so – so we reach for a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin instead. (With me it’s an enormous glass of wine and a fresh cream cake but I digress.)
We also ‘perfect’ in a bid to paper over the cracks of those difficult feelings, she says. “We take fat from our butts and put it in our cheeks,” laughs Brené, but she also cautions that we try to ‘perfect’ our children for similar reasons. (I doubt I’m alone in shedding a tear or two whilst listening to that part. Talk about feeling vulnerable…)
I’m paraphrasing but Brené says something like this:
‘Kids are hard-wired for struggle when they get here. Our job is not to hold a newborn baby and say ‘Look at her, she’s perfect!’ Our job is to look and say ‘You’re imperfect and you are wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging.’ Show me a generation of kids raised like that and I think we’ll end the problems that we see today.’
Could that kind of parenting be the antidote to all kinds of problems in the world? I can’t say. But it’s compelling counsel, and it inspires me to parent differently – to focus less on the Lego pieces strewn messily around the floor and more on the loveable hot-headed creative genius who threw them around as he built his masterpiece, for starters.
But that requires me to treat myself with the same kind of grace.
Which means not self-medicating with cream cakes, and admitting that I’m not perfect. And neither are my kids. Nor should we be. Which is just perfect.