Sharing Vulnerability with Kids

by Suzita on February 14, 2014

To-Shin Do White BeltVulnerability.  That feeling of being completely exposed, clueless, clumsy in front of others.  Our kids may be better at vulnerability than we adults are.  Growing up requires them (forces them) to learn new skills and experience novel situations all the time.  Heck, every school year is like learning the ropes of a new job with a new boss.

Sometimes I forget that feeling vulnerable and unsure is such a regular part of my kids’ lives.  Recently I was reminded of this uncomfortable experience in my own life.

An Unexpected Gift

It started positively.  An unexpected gift.  My sons, Stephen and Daniel, train in To-Shin Do – a defense-oriented martial art that teaches awareness of one’s surroundings and ways to defend oneself if attacked.  When my boys venture out some day to travel the world, their To-Shin Do practice is going to help keep my anxiety in check.

I was watching my sons in a To-Shin Do class from the comfortable distance of an extremely poofy couch in the lobby.  After the class, the director of the dojo informed me that a student who had begun training had not been able to continue.  She had turned her prepayment into a scholarship.  The director then told me that this anonymous person had asked that the scholarship be donated to me.  Me?!

I’d been watching my kids learn this cool martial art for almost 2 years and had often been curious about training myself.  But with 3 children in our family, my own training hadn’t been in the cards financially.  My boys had periodically suggested, “You should train here too!”  Here was my chance.  I was being offered the opportunity to try something amazing, and I had an anonymous benefactor!  I didn’t know which was more remarkable.

A Sign

I was a bit hesitant about the time commitment.  And I’m reluctant to say that I was going to miss that soft couch, and the enjoyable conversations I tended to have with other parents watching the To-Shin Do classes.  Still, it was a sign of some sort.  How could I pass up a sign?

Beginner Status

Everyone begins To-Shin Do as a “white belt.”  Picture those karate uniforms.  Well, mine was all white.  Marshmallow came to mind when I looked in the mirror.  In To-Shin Do, all ages train together at each level.  The first classes were fun and pretty challenging.  My initial thought was, this is harder than it looks from the couches.  I regretted the comments I’d previously made to my kids on our rides home, “Slow your body down so you won’t hurt the other person.”  During my first week of training, I realized just how hard it is to “slow your body down.”  I apologized to my kids for coaching them on a sport I’d never done.

A Hard Class

About a month into my training, still wearing my marshmallow attire, I attended a class which included 15 other students (mostly adults), 7 assistants (students further along in the process) and 2 instructors – a large class.  As is often the case when I begin something new, the skills I need to practice are not those I initially expect.  I had realized over the first month that one of the main lessons I needed work on at To-Shin Do was acknowledging when I didn’t understand something and asking for help.  My eternal lesson.  But I was attempting to embrace it as much as I could.

On that day, I looked around me.  I’d never been in a class this large before.  Everyone else had been training longer than me.  I quickly made a deal with myself to lower the bar regarding admitting what I didn’t know, just for that day.  Additionally there were a number of adults I happened to know observing from the comfy couches.  The marshmallow was a bit nervous.

The Dreaded Rolls

Midway through the class, I was feeling pretty good about not calling too much attention to myself when one instructor requested we form 2 lines and do rolls (like partial somersaults) one at a time down the mat.  This was not good at all.  I’d never been taught to roll.  Rolling is awkward in and of itself, but I’d noticed previously that a roll gone bad was likely to end in any number of unfortunate positions.

My first strategy was to move to the end of one line in an attempt to learn by watching.  As I observed, I became more concerned.  In To-Shin Do you roll over one shoulder, not both like a typical forward roll.  My boys had warned me that rolling was hard at first.  Great.

Vulnerability in Action

For about a minute I had a mini-battle with myself between just faking it and asking for help.  I must add that I found this predicament particularly frustrating because as I’ve mentioned before, I spent my childhood doing gymnastics.  This kind of thing usually comes easily to me – or at least that was my view of myself.  Because of this I was seriously considering the faking-it route, when I recalled a message from the book I’d been reading, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brené Brown.  Brown writes that allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is the route to living fully.  It’s something I’ve always wanted my kids to feel comfortable doing, so it was something I needed to practice myself.

I raised my hand and said, “Will you show me how to roll?  I haven’t been taught this roll before.”  Everyone’s head turned.  Surprisingly, a usually patient instructor responded, “Yes you have.  I’m sure you have.”  It was one of those slow motion moments when you are in the experience but are simultaneously watching yourself from a distance.  The watcher-me noticed that everyone was quiet, staring at the interaction between the instructor and me.

Once more I practiced standing up for myself.  So much fun.

“No, I’m sure I haven’t learned this roll.  I don’t even know how to start it.”

After this, a coach showed the roll (in front of everyone) and I did it, sort of.  My roll ended completely sideways, with my feet almost kicking the mirrors at the edge of the mat.  Lovely.  Then I did another which was only ever-so-slightly better, then another, etc.

You might think that when I reached the end of the mat, I’d nearly mastered the roll and was much relieved.  No.  Actually by the end of the mat I had decided that, benefactor or no benefactor, I didn’t want to do To-Shin Do anymore.  And to make matters worse, I was dizzy from all that rolling.

After Thoughts

At the end of the class, I quickly slunk out of the dojo to the privacy of my car thinking I’m glad my boys didn’t see that.  But in my car, I again contemplated Brené Brown’s words.  She actually would have been proud of me for gracelessly rolling in front of numerous strangers.  She would have reminded me that:

 Vulnerability is not a weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional.  Our only choice is a question of engagement.  Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.  When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.

Sharing Vulnerability with Others

Brené Brown also would have encouraged me to share this experience with my family.  So at the dinner table that evening, I did.

I must say that my kids and Todd were all very sweet about my embarrassing situation.  Each one gave me an example of a time they’d felt similarly, and we laughed quite a bit.  One son told me that white belt rolls are the hardest ones.  The other said that everyone goes sideways when they first try them.

After dinner, we moved to the living room rug and Stephen and Daniel (and Annie who used to take To-Shin Do and hopefully will again someday) helped me practice the over-one-shoulder rolls and even showed me a trick that allows you to roll straight.

On the Other Side

I felt much better after talking to my family.  I decided to return to classes the next week, but mostly I was reminded of the parenting message in Daring Greatly.  Like Brené Brown states, “I want our home to be a place where we can be our bravest selves and most fearful selves.  Where we practice difficult conversations and share our shaming moments from school or work.”

So thanks to an anonymous benefactor, I am not only learning To-Shin Do, but practicing speaking up, getting better at being vulnerable regularly, and connecting with my kids around a sport that we share and in which they have become some of my most helpful teachers.  And finally, by showing my kids my struggles, I hope I am reminding them that our home is a place to share theirs.

 

How do your kids respond when you share your vulnerabilities with them?  Leave a comment below!

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How a Child Gets from Boredom to Creativity

by Suzita on October 25, 2013

Cat careI love the concept that a bored child, if left alone, eventually finds his or her way to creativity.  Whenever I read about this, as a mom I am filled with renewed hope and energy.

“I’m going to let the kids be bored!  I can do this.  By the end of today, great things will have taken place!”

The Reality

But at our house, this is what usually happens, even on those hopeful days:

After entering the land of Boredom, my child walks through the valley of Moping and Fussing.  Then as she continues on her way, she happens upon the village of Annoying Behaviors where bickering and sibling rivalry are commonplace.  This is usually the point where I can’t stand it any longer and step in.  My child can’t even come close to finding that lovely, shaded path leading to Creativity, no matter how many times I’ve told her it exists.  It must be well camouflaged.

The Long Summer

This past summer, however, things turned out differently.  We’d planned a fairly pricey vacation for August, and thus didn’t put any money toward summer camps.  Our oldest ended up getting his first job, doing trail maintenance which was perfect for a 14 year-old boy.  Our 13-year-old was accepted into a 5-week (free) science camp, and our youngest, 10 year-old Annie, continued with her new love of gymnastics.  Unfortunately, Annie’s gym time didn’t begin until 5 pm so her daytime hours were wide open.

Very quickly Annie got bored.  Most of her friends were on vacations or at day camps.  Because we weren’t going to throw money at this problem, we toughed it out.

The first week was hard – full of crankiness, whininess, and annoying behaviors.  I remember feeling pretty desperate and panicky, and wondering if we’d made a big mistake.

I’d recently begun my summertime yard sale visits, though, and randomly found an American Girl series book which Annie didn’t have:  A Smart Girl’s Guide to Money:  How to Make It, Give It, and Spend It.  I put it on Annie’s beanbag chair when she was out.  I often place books in plain sight in my kids’ rooms for them to discover.  Sometimes they take and sometimes they don’t.

A Light Bulb Goes On

During the second week of summer, I saw Annie reading this book.  Later that day she excitedly informed me she was starting a mother’s helper business, an idea the book had helped generate.  She’d heard that two of our neighbors had created a “Mom camp” for the summer, caring for each other’s kids every other day.  Annie planned to offer her services to them.  First, however, she spent time creating a name and logo for her business at the book’s suggestion.

Next Annie brainstormed what kinds of things she knew the neighbor kids enjoyed.  When she “pitched” her mother’s helper idea to one of the moms, she offered to bring along specific toys and games for her kids.  Our neighbor agreed to try out Annie’s mother’s helper business and soon she was up and running, working 2 hour stints 2-3 times a week.

The part of this experience that stood out most for me was how passionate and confident Annie was about her new venture.  Whereas in her state of boredom she’d been more passive and helpless, a week later in this creative space she was active, energetic, and more mature.  She’d entered that “flow” state we all love.

One Experience Leads to Another

About three weeks into her mother’s helper work, Annie informed me she had another goal for the summer.  As you may remember, the idea of summer goals has not always been successful at my house, so I was pretty excited merely hearing her use this phrase.

Annie sat me down and told me she really and truly wanted to volunteer with the cats at our local Humane Society.  She knew I’d heard from other parents that this was quite a commitment as training had to be undertaken with a parent, then a regular volunteer schedule put in place (again with a parent).

Last year Annie’s 3rd grade teacher taught the class persuasive writing techniques, and I sensed that Annie was using these in our discussion about volunteering with cats.  She’d thought through the various concerns she knew I’d have, and offered solutions.  In addition to the time commitments, Annie knew our family was trying to drive as little as possible during the summer, so on her own she’d looked up the local bus schedules and found a way to get to the Humane Society without driving.  I think this may have been the part that convinced me, actually.

Developing Her Identity

That same American Girl book suggested readers think about their passions in order to decide what they might turn into a money-making venture.  Annie had done this and realized she wanted to be someone who reached out to animals in need, in this case on a volunteer basis.  It was the first time I’d seen my daughter begin to develop her identity in this way. (Observing this, I just couldn’t say no, even though I kind of dreaded the trainings.)

So Annie and I logged 2 hours of training. Then another 2 hours of training.  Finally we paid $50 for the privilege of giving 2 hours of our time weekly for the next 6 months.  Is volunteering this hard in other towns?

All through the process, Annie’s commitment never wavered.  She took notes during the trainings, and later reminded me of various rules to uphold at the Humane Society.  Luckily our first real volunteering stints occurred during kitten month, with kittens aplenty.  That helped with my, at times, flagging motivation.

Summer’s End

Toward the end of the summer, word of mouth about Annie’s mother’s helper business traveled through our neighborhood and her client base grew.  During this school year she has added “homework helper” to her list of services at the request of one parent.

Annie and I still faithfully volunteer at the Humane Society every Friday from 4-6.  Most of the cats get adopted rather quickly, thankfully.  Recently we’ve been spending our time socializing feral kittens, and brushing the cats who remain there for longer periods.

Annie truly enjoys the work she does with the cats.  What I enjoy is watching my daughter.  During her volunteering and mother’s helper work, I get a view of the person she may be as she grows older.

I also get one more reminder that it’s okay to let my kids be bored – as long as I subtly help them discover paths out of the land of Boredom.

 

How do you handle your child’s boredom?  Leave a comment below.  And if you like this post, please pass it on to others!

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Alaska Impressions

September 5, 2013

    “Mama, I’m going to walk in front with the ranger!  I want to hear her tell which berries I can eat.  Oh, and did you see how big the bald eagle’s nest was?!  I spotted the baby birds inside,” Daniel, my 13 year-old, rapidly informed me as he ran ahead along the beach […]

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“You need to talk more in class.” Introverted Kids in Today’s Schools

April 18, 2013

Ashley is an 11 year-old who lives in our neighborhood.  She’s soft-spoken and curious.  Her big brown eyes constantly take in the world around her.  A while back I bumped into Ashley’s mother and we got to talking.  I asked how Ashley’s transition to middle school had gone this year, since our son Daniel had […]

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How to Beat Cabin Fever: The Art of Roughhousing

March 7, 2013

When our middle child, Daniel, was 3 one of the phrases we’d regularly hear was, “Will you roughhouse me please?”  He was so desperate for this kind of play that it was the only time he consistently used the word “please.”  It worked.  Saying please usually does.  I regularly got down on the carpet with […]

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To Err is Human: 5 Ways Your Mistakes Can Make You a Better Parent

February 20, 2013

Please tell me something like this has happened at your house too.  Two weeks ago my husband Todd was sick with a flu that snuck by the flu shot mix this year.  He felt terrible for over a week, poor thing.  One weekend day I’d taken our oldest to an activity while Todd stayed home […]

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Promoting Your Child’s Passions

November 8, 2012

On our vacation to the East Coast last summer, I spent time with my childhood friend, Virginia, and her 4 kids.  Her oldest child, Micah, had just turned 15 when I saw him.  I don’t usually expect 15 year-old boys to be great conversationalists.  And for the most part Micah was succinct, though polite when […]

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During Life’s Tough Times – 6 Ways to Help Your Child Handle Uncertainty

September 27, 2012

Our middle son, Daniel, just began middle school.  A middle child in middle school.  It’s gone about as you would expect from that combination – not too well.  Daniel now attends our neighborhood middle school, but comes to it from an elementary school across town with few friends in tow. The challenge is that most […]

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Trading Intangibles: The Parenting Strategy We’ve Been Waiting For

September 6, 2012

When my daughter Annie was 8½, she began noticing people’s earrings.  “Mama, did you know so many people had earrings?  I like the dangling kind best,” Annie informed me.  Not long after she made the tentative comment, “Maybe some day I could get my ears pierced.” Instead of responding with dread, which admittedly I felt […]

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“Kids, What Are Your Teachers’ Pet Peeves?” A Creative Way to Raise Children’s Social Awareness

August 23, 2012

At my kids’ elementary school we aren’t told who their teacher will be until the day before school begins.  One year, right after teacher assignments were posted, my son Daniel came to me with a look of concern. “Mama, I got the strict teacher.  Everyone says she’s really hard and no fun at all.  What […]

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