Dr. Brene Brown writes about Wholehearted Parenting in her book, Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead. I highly recommend this book and I am going to try to summarize how to be a wholehearted parent from Dr. Brown’s book, along with adding my own thoughts.
As a parent I want to do this parenting thing “right”. I want to have well-rounded, strong, brave, and resilient kids, but I don’t know for sure how to make that happen. I hate, let me repeat, hate reading parenting books, but I really want to know how to parent the “right “way. I don’t think that any book can really tell you how to perfectly parent your own child. I think that as parents we all know our children and either we parent them the way they need to be and the way that feels right to us, or we parent them the way that society, our parents, our neighbors, our community, or parenting books say we should, which frequently doesn’t match up with what we think our children or family needs.
The other reason that parenting books don’t often “work” or “fit our needs” is that frequently, how we parent has nothing to do with our children but how we live our own lives. Dr. Brown says, “who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting” or to put it another way “are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?”
How do we wholehearted parent our children then? We focus on becoming more vulnerable. We allow ourselves to feel the good, the bad and the ugly not only with our children but also ourselves. When we are sad, we acknowledge it rather than saying, with clinched teeth, “I’m fine” in that high pitched voice that we use when we say “I’m fine” and we are anything but.
Being vulnerable with our children means loving them as much as we want to without fear. Oftentimes with children our love for them gets in the way of our love for them. The expression “we love them so much it hurts” is so true so many times, so we pull away. An example of this is right before a child leaves for college, a parent starts to find fault with that messy room they have tolerated or the dishes everywhere. The parent and child start to fight and the parent says, “I am so ready for them to go.” It is building walls around the heart to avoid some of the hurt of them leaving.
Being vulnerable would mean being able to say to your child “I love you so much and I am excited, sad and overwhelmed that you are leaving, and I want to fight with you to make it easier, but instead I am going to love you through it.” This would be an honest exchange and one that would make a lifelong impression. But it means that you have to open up your emotional pain and hurt.
Wholehearted parenting is not just about being vulnerable. It is about how you view yourself. As parents we must see ourselves as worthy of love and belonging. We have to “love and accept” that we are. We have to believe that we are perfect because we are not perfect. We have to be able to look our own “stuff”–our shame, our resentments, our judgments, our grief, square in the eye and be willing to not only acknowledge it to ourselves, but to work on it. To face it and deal with it.
We cannot raise strong children when we haven’t dealt with our own fears. We can’t resilient children when we live in fear and “protect” them from our fears. We have to allow them to experience the world and in turn we need to be willing to experience the world in a wholehearted way.
When the goal is wholehearted parenting we need to: (Paraphrased from Dr. Brown)
Acknowledge where we need to do our own lifework and understand that we can’t give our children what we don’t have and then allowing them to share in our journey of growth.
Know where your emotional walls are and find ways to break down those walls and then “show up” for life–being vulnerable and present in our lives with less fear.
Continue to work on being wholehearted.
Parent your children with the belief that there is “enough”. We don’t always need more and being content with what we have.
Practice and model the values you want your children to have. Remember that they watch everything you do.
“Dare greatly”- To Show up in this world and let ourselves be seen.
Parenting is not a perfect science. It wasn’t meant to be, it was meant to be challenging, invigorating, moving, inspiring, heartbreaking, and amazing. But having all of these feelings means that we have to show up and feel these feelings. It means we have to just feel them and embrace them and not run from them because they are scary or hard. Our children will benefit from our ability to parent them wholeheartedly. We will benefit from living wholeheartedly.
The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto can be found at www.brenebrown.com