Parenting makes us vulnerable. The responsibility to love, nurture, raise, teach, and temporarily manage another person is daunting. So much can, and does, go wrong on a daily basis. Some nights I fall into bed utterly, emotionally exhausted from loving four unique little people. Loving them is risky, with so much potential for heartbreak and pain. Loving them is also joyous, offering many of the most achingly beautiful moments of my life. I can’t have the beauty without the risk, so I have to let myself be vulnerable. Moving forward wholeheartedly with this knowledge everyday is what I call vulnerable parenting.
The terms “wholehearted living” and “vulnerability” come from listening to the works of Brene Brown. Her research on shame and vulnerability is fascinating and truth-telling. I love how Brown is vulnerable in her speeches and books, admitting to her own shame, fears, coping mechanisms, and failures. She knows first-hand what it means to be vulnerable, opening ourselves up to this life-long concoction of beauty and risk. In The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brown says:
To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us, how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.
When I read this quote, it makes me think of my nearly 12-year frustration with being told to enjoy the fleeting moments of mothering young children. These comments are not meant to criticize, but I always feel them as criticism. They cut to some of my deepest fears as a parent. What if I’m not appreciating these moments enough? What if all teenagers are terrible? What if loving them wholeheartedly now means that seeing babies in the future will only be painful reminders of what I no longer have?
While I don’t have teenagers yet, I am relieved to say that I don’t look at my children and wistfully dream of those baby days. Don’t get me wrong–I look at old photos and remember loving them so much that it hurt. But that love has carried on, matured, and endured my vulnerabilities. It does hurt to leave some stages behind, but that hurt is just a natural part of the joy I let in despite my fears about the future. As Brown says in Daring Greatly, “Numb the dark and you numb the light.”
Vulnerable parenting in more recent years has required allowing myself to sit with my children in their hurts and fears without being able to fix everything (or sometimes anything). It means telling my own stories without tying the endings into neat, pretty bows. It demands that I endure changing hormones, mood swings, and kids freezing me out. And, if I’m being honest, this opens me up to hurt and requires me to face my own shame and fear of failing as a parent. It’s hard and exhausting, but it’s also worth it.
Vulnerable parenting in more recent years also means long, heartfelt talks with my kids. It means the sharing of hurts, secrets, joys, and jokes. Vulnerable parenting means an occasional extra hug good night and a big kid grabbing your hand on a walk. It means the most sincere “I love yous” and heart-bursting joy and pride in the person your child is becoming. It means understanding that the dark and the light experiences are intertwined, leading to wholehearted parenting.
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