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Spiritual Practice of Parenting: Summer Projects or Daring Greatly or More Grace

June 16, 2014

DSC_3573Summer has gotten off to a rip-roaring start.  OK.  Not really.  In our house, summer has gotten off to a nice leisurely start, full of mornings at swim practice, lunch together, afternoon quiet time, and afternoon entertain yourself time.  I’ve applied my teacher skills to this first week of summer.  During the first weeks of school, teachers try to set the tone for the year, spending time doing some tedious things (like getting from one place to the next, classroom routines and procedures, etc) in order to ensure the rest of the year can be spent teaching and not establishing routines.  I decided this summer that I wanted to set the tone for the summer in this first week.  We made lunchtime routines immediately, which meant everyone either had to help with setting the table or clearing the table, every day.  They could choose which one they did, they just have to do one or the other.  We’ve done quiet time every day, because I know myself well enough to know that 30 minutes all by myself, whether it is spent folding laundry, baking cookies, reading a book, or taking a brief nap, can help me get through long days much easier.

This summer also includes a summer project.  While this may include Madeleine creating several books (we have ideas for at least 3) and working with John on his reading, the summer projects we are diving into involves things such as character building, vulnerability, and change.

When I read Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, what I thought of over and over again was, “How do I raise my children to be vulnerable with others, allowing them to experience more creativity and deeper relationships?”  I know that sentence seems a little backwards–children are born extremely vulnerable.  Why do we want to make them more vulnerable?  To clarify, when I say vulnerable, I am not speaking of the inherent smallness of size and need for adults that children have.  Vulnerability encompasses the ability to take risks, fail, be honest with emotions, and live with less fear.  Vulnerability is taught to us by the Velveteen Rabbit–it is what makes us come alive.  Without it, we can’t experience the wonderful emotion of joy.  How can I teach my kids to combat shame and be more vulnerable?

For each of my children, their struggles with shame manifest themselves differently.   One child displays his shame obviously, burying his head and crying when he has accidentally and unintentionally hurt someone or messed things up.  Another child reacts to shame with anger, yelling and throwing things.  The third responds with either anger or withdrawal, depending on the day.  How do I help each of these children with their own unique struggles?

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I’m learning to ask questions.  When anger emerges, roaring and throwing punches, I search for the real feelings behind the anger.  Rarely is the anger a display of the anger.  Mostly anger is a cover for feelings of shame and unworthiness.  I probe, asking if anything has happened today that has made him sad, asking how it felt when something happened.  In a stream of tears, I hear him tell of his shame.  He didn’t mean to hurt that person, he was frustrated because he couldn’t complete a task he wanted to.  With words comes a sigh of relief.  Once the shame has been expressed, he is freed.  Brene Brown says this in Daring Greatly:

Shame derives its power for being unspeakable.  That’s why it loves perfectionists–it’s so easy to keep us quiet.  If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.  Shame hates having words wrapped around it.  If we speak shame, it begins to wither.  Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins [Yes–like gremlins from the movie of the same name], language and story bring light to shame and destroy.  (p.67)

Our summer project looks different for each of us.  I am working on not being so critical.  I’ve realized over the past month how fast I am to criticize what others d0.  I nitpick–the towels weren’t folded correctly or that outfit for the five year old doesn’t match or someone is not 100% accurate in the words they use.  I started listening to myself and became appalled at how fast I tell people what they are doing wrong.  I do it without realizing the words that come out of my mouth.  I worry that I am contributing to the voices that tell my children they are not good enough.

Our summer project this year is to work on voicing our feelings–for both the child that responds with anger and the one that withdrawals.  I am working on responding first with compassion, not criticizing and not correcting.  I, too, am looking at the feelings behind the criticism–do I criticize because I feel like others are being critical of me?  Do I criticize because I need things to be “right” all the time?  Do I criticize because I have an inflated sense of self-worth?    I think of Karen Armstrong’s words in her TEDTalk she gave back in 2008, “It is more important to be compassionate than to be a right.”

That ought to keep us busy this summer.  We’re armed with jewels, daily meditation books, and the Bible to accompany us through the next months.  Most importantly, we are surrounding ourselves with grace and second chances–this isn’t a project we’ll accomplish in three short months.  Any headway we can make though can help us love neighbors and our God better, which is the ultimate goal.

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