Most of us think of vulnerability as weakness. Computer hackers exploit vulnerabilities in software. Military commanders exploit vulnerabilities in the enemy’s defenses. Sports teams look for vulnerabilities in the opposing team’s players. Weakness is not something we want more of in our lives.
Many parents think of parenting in these terms. We’re either in a position of strength or we’re in one of weakness and that puts us at risk. We think our kids are just waiting for a crack to appear in our parenting armor. Once they see one they are going to pounce and then… we’re doomed.
We react to this fear by creating walls between us and our kids. Some of us try to rule by fear or intimidation. That will prevent those little buggers from ever getting any crazy notions. Some us get angry and make ridiculous threats that we don’t follow through on. Or we do follow through on them because we’re afraid that if we don’t we’ll be weak. Doubling down on a mistake out of fear only makes the original mistake worse.
There is a better way. Embracing vulnerability will change everything.
I define vulnerability as loving yourself enough to have the courage to share your story. Your story is not just what school you went to in third grade. It’s your hopes, fears, struggles, dreams and your history. It’s the possibilities you are open to creating and the things you’d like to change. It’s being OK with the fact that you don’t know everything. You story is all of you.
Being vulnerable will make you a much better parent. It will bring you closer to your child while increasing the respect they have for you. Your home will be more peaceful and collaborative. You will create many more opportunities to learn from one another. You will be able to admit when you made a mistake and so will your child. You will create a stronger, more loving relationship with your child.
Here are 3 specific reasons vulnerability will make you a better parent.
You’ll Start Seeing Mistakes as Learning Opportunities
Pay attention because what I am about to tell you is important. Making mistakes is a natural part of the human condition. It’s part of life. So let’s spend our time learning to use them to our advantage.
We live in fear of making mistakes because of the judgment we associate with them. Only losers or dummies make mistakes so if I make a mistake then… We all know where that thinking ends up. If it only it ended there it wouldn’t be so bad.
But it doesn’t end there because we project our beliefs onto our kids. That’s what we do as parents. We teach our kids to avoid mistakes. We teach them to play “safe” so they don’t end up in that dangerous situation. We teach them not to exercise their individuality and stray off the reservation. But if they do and they make a mistake? Then we told them so, didn’t we? That’ll learn ’em good.
Vulnerability allows you to detach yourself from the outcome. You will realize the real courage is in showing up. Putting yourself out there and showing up is the most important step you can take. You will create amazing things by putting yourself out there, warts and all. And you will make a hell of a lot of mistakes along the way.
But here’s the thing. When you are not all wrapped up in the outcome you look at them in a different way. A “mistake” is nothing more than a feedback mechanism. I tried X and Y happened so let me try Z and see what happens. It’s not something for you to fear but rather something to embrace!
When you look at things this way you will constantly improve. You will become a better person and a better parent. You will also pass this life changing knowledge to your kids. You’ll be willing to talk to them about it as it happens because you feel no shame. You’ll learn together and you’ll build a happier, healthier relationship at the same time.
You’ll Ask More Questions
Asking questions is the path to wisdom. Yet many of us are too scared to do it. We look at asking questions as an indicator that we don’t know the answer. We look at not knowing the answer as a sign we’re dumb. How ironic that our fear of looking dumb is contributing to making us dumb.
Don’t think for a second that I am judging you. I’m not. The last paragraph described me to a T until just a few years ago. I’m speaking from deep personal experience. I held plenty of nonsensical beliefs because I was too afraid to question their validity. My awareness is different now.
As parents we make a lot of assertions. We have strong opinions and we communicate them with strong statements. What we’re saying to our kids is, “Things are this way because I said so.” We’re not encouraging our kids to think for themselves. We’re not fostering intellectual curiosity. And wait until they get older and realize we are totally wrong about something. Then they are going to start asking hard questions. about what else we are wrong about. Those questions will be much harder to answer
Being vulnerable allows us to acknowledge the obvious. In the context of the universe we know pretty much nothing. That’s OK and it doesn’t mean that we can’t know a little more tomorrow than we did today. The way to do that is by asking questions and being open to receiving the answers. If they challenge long held beliefs then even better.
That voyage of exploration is one of the most miraculous you can take with your kids. Learn together, and grow together. When your kid asks you something, feel free to say “I have no clue. Let’s look it up together!” They will love that and you’ll both know a little more.
Being able ask questions means that you can ask their opinion. When life confronts you with something you don’t know how to handle, involve your kids – in an age appropriate way of course. Tell you kids what you’re facing and what’s going through your head. Ask them what they think and then talk about those opinions. They are smarter than you think. Working through real life problems together will produce better solutions. It will bring you closer together and you’ll teach your kids about real life. Imagine how they will feel knowing they helped their mom or dad sort out an adult problem.
When you ask them questions they will feel comfortable to ask you questions. Stop and think about the implications of that for a minute. Anyone have teenagers?
You’ll Start Seeing Infinite Possibilities
Being vulnerable and loving yourself go hand in hand. Sharing your story is risky. That’s why it takes some courage. The benefits far outweigh the risks but we never learn that for ourselves until we take the plunge. The more you love yourself the easier is. When you finally do you will get so much love returned to you. It’s an amazing and virtuous cycle.
Many of us see things in the context of constraints and limitations because of fear. We fear we are not good enough. We fear all the things that can go wrong. We fear the discomfort of trying something new and exposing ourselves to ridicule. So we never move forward. We’re paralyzed. And our kids are watching, and learning, the whole damn time.
I had a conversation at work that illustrates this point perfectly. This person is a friend who hates his job. He works ridiculous hours in a high stress environment. When I say high stress, I am talking HIGH stress. His health is suffering and there is a cancerous cynicism creeping in. He wants to leave. Until I suggested that I would be leaving soon. Then his tune changed. Suddenly the job wasn’t so bad and I was taking a big risk by leaving. I think my relative lack of fear exacerbated his feeling of fear.
Vulnerability allows you to realize that you are just as worthy as anyone else. You also know the importance of showing up and that it’s OK to make mistakes. Unexpected things will happen. You won’t get the results you expect every time. You won’t judge yourself. You’ll adjust and pivot and you’ll feel good about yourself. These beliefs combined together go a long way to making you unstoppable.
Soon you will stop letting fear constrain you. It doesn’t mean you won’t feel it. Of course you will feel it. I spent most of last night feeling paralyzed with fear. The difference is that I will never let it stop me.. I did for a long time, but never again.
As I mentioned above. Your kids are always watching you. When they see you thinking in terms of possibilities they will too. When they know you feel fear they can see you work through it. They will understand that anything is possible and each one of us has the ability to create change. Massive change. Think about that belief will do to the trajectory of their lives.
Embracing vulnerability is one of the most important contributions you can make. You’ll change your life, your kids’ lives and the lives of everyone around you. You will never stop improving as a human being and parent. You will see possibilities where others see only constraints. And the relationship you create with your beautiful kids means they will be right there at your side.