My wife and I have been taking private dance lessons for the last two years and are loving it! We have lessons twice a week and our daughter comes along for every one of them. She sits in the corner with a book (she is a voracious reader), looking up from time to time to watch us dance. One of the toughest things about learning to dance for me is that every now and then it makes me feel completely inadequate. When you are learning a new step it is nerve-wracking. I usually watch my instructor with a deer in the headlights sort of look as she demonstrates the move for me. I then try it out and mess up, time and time again. And all of this is in full view of our daughter. She watches me stumble, step on my wife’s toes, and sweat with that feeling of incompetence that comes with learning something new. I hate feeling that way, especially in front of my daughter. But, I also think it’s important. Here’s why . . .
As men, we are told that we need to “suck it up”, “man up”, “never let ’em see ya sweat”. Whether it was from your parents or from society in general, the message was clear. Don’t be vulnerable. Protect yourself and don’t let other’s notice your weakness or sensitivity. Vulnerability movements in male circles are gaining momentum and that’s great news. However, there is one area where I feel that it is still not addressed, though most badly needed: parenting.
For some reason, we’ve been given the crazy idea that as fathers we are supposed to always exhibit and exert control over ourselves and our children, presenting a mirage of I’ve-got-it-togetherness that is not only unsustainable and unrealistic but downright unhealthy. It also completely misses out on a powerful connection tool in our relationships with our kids. Instead of being a sign of weakness or frailty, learning to be vulnerable with our children is actually a relational power tool to produce a profound and lasting connection with our kids.
If you haven’t already, you need to set aside 20 minutes to watch this powerful talk given by Dr. Brene Brown on “The Power of Vulnerability” In it she explains that very idea and why it is so important for us to practice being vulnerable with each other.
So, bringing it back to being Dads! If you’re like me and every other dad out there, despite your best intentions, you often screw up with your kids! But if we never let our kids see us screw up, we rob them of an important opportunity to really SEE us and learn something valuable. That’s right, our mistakes and screw-ups can actually be our best asset toward teaching our kids the life skills they need. But, it requires our vulnerability. The way that we show up to our kids teaches them about how they need to show up for life. So, I wanted to share with you four ways to use vulnerability as your parenting power tool:
1. Admit that you messed up.
That’s right. You have to admit it. We, as men, are notorious for doggedly persisting in something that we know is wrong just because we don’t want to admit it. With our kids, this can be as simple as saying, “Ya know, after I yelled at you for leaving your toys out, I realized that I was wrong.” Go ahead! Admit it! What you will actually find is that you will be able to see your child visibly soften to this overture. Most often our kids are always at the ready with warmth and compassion when we actually own up to our mistakes. Not only are you modeling the practice of confession, but you are also offering them the chance to demonstrate kindness, compassion, and understanding toward you. And you might want to try this one on your wife, too. 😉
2. Ask for forgiveness.
You’re not done yet. Once you’ve admitted that you messed up, it is really important to ask forgiveness of your children. “I’m sorry, bud. I messed up when I yelled at you. Will you forgive me?” It’s quick and simple. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but it does need to be heartfelt. Our kids are some of the best BS detectors around and can see straight through us if we’re not being genuine. So really put some thought into it.
3. Let them see you feel.
There is a range of human experience both rich and varied that is totally enhanced by our emotions. Our emotions are a compass leading us to make good decisions and guide us down the right path. Our kids also need to see us feel. This gives them permission to do the same. Learning to express and identify feelings is central to a child’s development, impacting all other aspects of their growth. So help them by showing them how to do it. Then talk to them about it. “I am feeling so happy/sad/frustrated/disappointed/etc. because . . . ” Through your example, they will learn how to do it for themselves and grow in their connection with you.
4. Let them see you struggle.
What?!!! I know. But, honestly, there’s no use in hiding it. Your kids can already see it. Stop fighting it and just go with it. When you don’t know how to do something or you can’t seem to figure it out, let them be around and even talk about it with them. “This is hard, but I’m going to keep working until I can figure it out.” You are teaching some very valuable life skills here, like tenacity, patience, and hard work.
Vulnerability can be tough. But nothing worth fighting for ever comes without challenge or struggle. So I challenge you to take the leap into vulnerability and to use it to deepen and strengthen your connection with your children. As you do so, your kids will notice and your connection will grow. You will be living more authentically and you will find that you are a more effective dad.