In our society vulnerability seems to be synonymous with weakness. The anxiety of appearing to be the “weakest link” leads us to numb ourselves to being vulnerable. Each of us may have a different reason to allow invulnerability to rule our lives, but it all boils down to fear and anxiety.
- We do it to avoid disappointment and hurt.
- We are too ashamed to air out our dirty laundry.
- We are afraid to ask for help and appear less than perfect to others.
- We want guarantees, fearing the unknown.
- We fear not being good enough parents or not being able to balance it all.
- We strive for perfection and an extraordinary life.
Personally, I have lived many hours in fear (thanks to images from TV, news and movies that I’ve gotten over the course of my life) – fear that my kids will get kidnapped, our car will be involved in a crash, a fire will start in our home when we’re asleep or someone will break into our homes. And because of these fearful thoughts I (still) entertain on an almost daily basis, I play different scenarios in my head to make certain I know how to deal with each and every possible situation. For instance, I am always looking for the nearest exits everywhere I go in case of a fire or serious threat. I go over what I can say and do if an intruder enters our home from each of our doors. I have a plan for nearly everything. While it might be good to have a plan (such as an escape route in case of a fire), it is not good to let fear, rather than wisdom, drive your decisions.
Unfortunately, you can’t just selectively numb yourself from one emotion. When you numb vulnerability, you also numb the good emotions, because out of vulnerability comes joy, love and faith. You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable to let in passion and love. But we’re so busy being afraid and avoiding the truth that is our lives that we miss the little joys in life.
Somehow we’ve gotten to the point that an ordinary life equates to a meaningless life. But it is invulnerability that does not invite connections with others and gives meaningless purpose to our lives. In our pursuit for excellence, we get too busy to notice the joys of family along the way. And it is in these ordinary moments that we find the most extraordinary of joys.
Our lack of vulnerability interferes with virtually everything in our lives and transpires into how we relate to others, and even our parenting, which is by far our most important of jobs. As parents we have a great responsibility and a few short years to raise wise adults. To open ourselves up to relationships, particularly with our children, we need to show our vulnerability. If all our children see is an invincible, perfect person who is always right and never makes a mistake, what happens when our kids make a mistake? Will they feel like failures? Who will they confide in? Us? Not likely.
When we let this fear rule our lives and we bypass the ordinary for the extraordinary, what kind of messages are we giving our kids? Especially when they fail to meet our near perfect expectations (or what they perceive our expectations to be)? “You can never be good enough.” “You don’t have what it takes.” These messages of inadequacy are not very nurturing and instead instill fear and disappointment, causing our children to one day shut off and numb vulnerability as well. What a vicious cycle!
Instead allowing fear to drive our emotions, decisions and rule making with our children, let’s use more expressions of vulnerability, which breed compassion, love, respect and trust. And if our children love, trust and respect our “lesser” and imperfect beings, they will be more apt to obey us.
But what do expressions of vulnerability look like in practical life?
- Instead of giving numerous rules about driving to our teenagers, tell them out of sincerity that you are afraid of what can happen on the road. Your sincere compassion and fear might lead your child to make more wise decisions while driving – out of love and “good fear.”
- Instead of saying, “Don’t trust people,” tell them that you’ve been hurt in your life by trusting the wrong people. Show them how to trust correctly and who they can safely trust.
- Instead of making a “no afterschool TV” rule, tell your children that you’ve been busy all day and just want to spend quality time together. They will be more apt to do it and not be bitter about it.
- When our kids show their vulnerability over something they are dealing with (no matter how small and insignificant to you), don’t dismiss it. Instead of hurting them further by giving them messages of how silly they are to feel or think that way (or saying things like “Get tough”), validate their feelings. Listen. Help them so that they know they will cared for and loved.
What can we do to help our kids not numb themselves to vulnerability?
- Help your kids practice gratitude by expressing gratitude to them. A simple and sincere “thank you for …” should do it. While you’re at it, practice gratitude for what you have.
- Honor the ordinary. If your child comes to you with a joke you’ve heard before, instead of shooting them down, give your undivided attention. Laugh and share in their excitement of the punch line. It’s not so ordinary to them as they experience it for the first time.
- Help your child experience joy and love with overt actions of blessings and love and with quality family activities.
- Share your mistakes with them.
- Help your children know their inherent value in Christ. Let them know that they don’t need to achieve anything or amount to anything in order to be valuable. Tell them that you won’t be disappointed if they are not the star football player or a football player at all. Sometimes our kids feel pressure by our unspoken expectations of them.
It’s not natural for me to express gratitude, admit my mistakes or let go of my “I need to do it all” mentality. I struggle with it. I actually have to make a conscious effort to remember everyday, and I still have a long way to go in my parenting skills. (I am so glad that God comes to my rescue with His love and grace abounding.)
But we (especially me) need to keep in mind that what our kids see modeled has a far bigger impact on them than what we actually teach them. So let’s not be driven by fear. Let us make parenting decisions from wisdom and not lose our capacity to be vulnerable. Let us raise a generation of wise, vulnerable, compassionate and joyful adults.
Rise up to the challenge!