Parenting in a Culture of Never Enough

Words on Wednesday

Welcome to another Words on Wednesday!

When I first decided to start this series I had a moment of panic (maybe more than one) that finding topics I felt passionately enough about to share in a meaningful blog post would be difficult. Last week’s topic happened naturally after my SIL announced she was going to be on the CBC. But … then what.

Well the answer to that came one night as I was reading a bit more of my latest “self improvement book de jour”. You know what I mean. Those books you buy because your mother/sister/BFF/hairdresser/random-person-on-the-bus raved about it, and then you never read! I have a stack of them on my bedside table (and living room table) that have been haunting me. Some for years! About eight months ago I started working with a group of women online (led by the one and only Lain Ehmann) to improve myself. My views on life. My inner dialogue. My attitudes towards things. My interactions with people and situations. You know, everything! Part of that process was to read. Since then I have been slowly working my way through that stack of books and now I wonder why I waiting so long!

For example, this one.

I’ve read several of Brene Brown’s books now and this one quickly became a favourite.

And a big shout out to her for the title of this post. It is the first heading in Chapter 7 Wholehearted Parenting: Daring to be the adults we want our children to be.

Um, wow! Don’t hold back Brene!

This chapter hit me in the gut like a ton of bricks. Let me share the introduction with you and then maybe you’ll see what I mean.

“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. In terms of teaching our children to dare greatly in the “never enough” culture, the question isn’t so much “Are you parenting the right way?” as it is: “Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?”


Am I the adult that I want my daughters to be?

To be honest, maybe? Maybe not. Depends on the day! But I’d like to think there is still time to become the adult I want them to be. Fingers crossed!

She goes on to say that “the uncertainty of parenting can bring up feelings in us that range from frustration to terror.” Can I get an ‘Amen!’ on the frustration part of that?! Any parent who has tried to get their child out the door for an event without admonishing the child to “hurry up”, “just put on your shoes already”, or “I don’t know where your coat is, where did you wear it last” can attest to that. Wrangling small children, trying to get them to do anything YOU want/need them to do in a limited amount of time, requires PhD levels of time management, and conflict resolution skills! Not to mention Job-like levels of patience!

Pretty sure I don’t possess those qualities in abundance!

The uncertainty we ALL face as parents should unite us but instead tends to divide us. Why do we let this happen? We are all in the same boat. When we see one of our fellow passengers dealing with a toddler tantrum at the check out, or divided attention on the playground so they miss little Johnny taking a tumble off the monkey bars, we need to throw them a life preserver, not toss them out of the boat! Instead of muttering under our breath about what a horrible parent so-and-so is (to our equally perfect parenting friends – snort!) we need to extend a hand in aid. Pick little Johnny up, brush him off and send him back to his parent for hugs. Make eye contact and smile at the check out. Show them you are empathetic, after all, we’ve all been there, right? Somehow the tendency to judge first, show empathy later has become the norm. Nobody can know what has happened in the minutes, hours, or days before that tantrum. And what parent or guardian of multiple children can keep an eye on all of them at the same time on a busy play ground? That would be a super power in high demand I think!

I’ve been there and still can be that horrible judge-y Mom! I’m not proud of those moments but I will own them. I’m not perfect, despite what I try to portray to the world!

Just as we try to teach our children to own up to their mistakes, learn from them, and use them as a spring-board to personal growth, we need to practice what we preach. I know more than a few adults that have a hard time admitting they are wrong to other adults, let alone a child. But what does that teach them? That adults are infallible? That we know everything, they know nothing, and don’t bother asking questions? How does that help them? In fact, let’s examine what that sort of message does to them. It tells them to sit down, be quiet, write down the answer the teacher wants to see, and quash any and all innate sense of curiosity they may possess. But curiosity is where greatness is born! Where would we be if Benjamin Franklin didn’t act on his curiosity about electricity? Or Steve Jobs decided to do the same old thing instead of risking it all on a ‘different’ idea?

So allowing your child to be curious about how mud feels on bare feet is good! Curiosity about how many steps the basketball will hit on the way down is also good. Curiosity about how many of their friends they can jump over on their bike is also good. Potentially dangerous, but who knows were it could lead! Allowing children to test their boundaries develops areas of the brain that we can’t even begin to guess at. Yes, there may be muddy footprints across your kitchen floor, basketball shaped dents in your walls, and there may even be a broken bone or two, but that is all part of childhood!

I remember doing flips on the support poles of the slide at my local play ground in England when I was about 6 years old. It was very fun, until that one time when my hands slipped and I fell face first onto the cement below. I imagine that my Mum’s heart stopped when she heard my screams coming up the path. In fact, the whole neighbourhood probably wondered which cat was being murdered! But all I remember of her reaction …. well, actually I don’t remember her reaction. My tooth had been knocked out and was lost and that was more upsetting to me than any lecture my poor Mum may have delivered. But I did learn a valuable lesson that day. Hold on more tightly!

(Oh, and yes, did you catch that my Mum was at home at the time. Not supervising me on the playground? Nowadays that would have landed her with an interview at Child Protective Services! Times have changed. And not necessarily for the better! Another topic for a different Wednesday I think.)

Let’s talk about failure.

Oh wow, that’s a hard one, isn’t it? As parents it is our natural instinct to want to protect our children from all forms of harm they may experience. That’s our job, right? To keep them safe?

Well, yes … and no.

As I look at it, my job is to raise fully functional, independent, self sufficient adults capable of making meaningful contributions to society and then continuing on our amazing gene pool. They need to know how to win gracefully, and get back on the horse after an epic fall. They need to know how to apply themselves diligently to a problem until it’s resolved. They need to know how to show respect to their elders, gratitude for what they have, and philanthropy to those less fortunate.

Until they reach the Age of Majority (19 in our province) it is my role as their mother to feed, nurture, and protect them until they are able to protect themselves. (In the case of my youngest, she can pretty much take on any challenger and make them cry Uncle so my job’s done there, right? I’m joking, she’s only six, but really, she’s one tough chick! Probably a consequence of being the youngest of three.) But that does not mean I have to do everything for them! Giving them small responsibilities builds trust in me and confidence in them. As they demonstrate their ability to be trusted and to look after themselves, the responsibilities become larger. And that is how they learn to ultimately take care of themselves when they leave home. And that’s also how they learn to fail. In a safe environment where I am there to support them, pick them up and dust them off, and then make sure they try again. Learning to fail is just as important – and maybe even more so – than learning to win!

In today’s society kids don’t fail. They are no longer held back a grade (or bumped up a grade either). They all get participation ribbons/medals for any sort of camp, tournament, sports activity they participate in. When do they learn how to be resilient? How can they learn to deal with disappointment if everybody wins all the time? How do they learn to grieve a loss or to bounce back after an ‘F’ on a big assignment?

It’s up to us as parents to model and teach resilience.

That is so tough! Looking at my own kids, I have a long way to go but I think my husband and I are on the right path. If they are reflections of the adults we are, then I guess we’re not doing so badly. Our eldest is about to turn 12 so as long as we don’t manage to completely screw up her teen years, I think we’ll be okay. She’s pretty fantastic actually. All my girls are but she is something special. I think we all say platitudes to our kids along the lines of “you can be anything you want to be”, but in her case it’s the truth. That kid has the potential to go so far! It’s kind of scary at times. How the heck did I manage to give birth to this completely amazing little person?!

What does Brene’s say about this?

“As parents, we have less control than we think over temperament and personality, and less control that we want over the scarcity culture. But we do have powerful parenting opportunities in other areas: how we help our children understand, leverage, and appreciate their hardwiring, and how we teach them resilience in the face of relentless “never enough” cultural messages.”

Guess she really did come out of the womb like that. Now it’s our job to help her learn all the skills she needs to become the amazing adult I know she has the potential to be. So that is my mission. To model for my girls the type of attributes I’d like them to possess as adults. Strength of character. Gratitude. Resilience. Grace. Philanthropy. Fun. Perseverance. Dedication. Loyalty. Authenticity. Acceptance. Worthiness.

It’s a pretty tall order! To help I have a fantastic Parenting Manifesto courtesy of Brene Brown. “Above all else, I want you to know that you are loved and lovable. You will learn this from my words and actions … I want you to engage with the world from a place of worthiness … the greatest gift I can give you is to live and love with my whole heart and to dare greatly…”

I invite you all to click on the link above, download your own Manifesto, and let’s row this life boat together to dry land!


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