Parenting with a Vulnerable Heart
By: Amber Leventry
“Tell them there is no such thing as an ordinary girl,” said Bloom.
This is the high point of the crescendo, the sucker punch that killed insecurity and doubt, the line that is delivered from one girl to another in my favorite new children’s book. Trust me on this one: buy Bloom, written by Doreen Cronin, for your daughters, your sons and yourself. It empowers girls to believe they can do anything, but it also speaks to the importance of creativity and vulnerability. I have been researching the last two topics a lot lately, partly out of fear and partly out of a strong belief that both I and my children need these things in our lives.
Let me explain the latter first. I believe that the best way to learn, for both ourselves and our children, is through play and creativity. If we are excited or curious about something we will explore it and learn about it. Learning is easier if it’s fun. And if it’s fun, we will likely take what we have learned and experiment with new ideas related to what we already know. This bleeds into creativity, problem solving, independent thinking, and confidence. All things I want my children to have in their metaphorical toolboxes.
Here is the scary part for me, as a parent: 1) as my daughter inches her way closer to kindergarten, I am already worried that she won’t have the time to explore the world through play. I fear that her imagination will somehow become stifled by the public school system of standardized tests and limited access to the outdoors and the arts. And 2) where there is creativity, there is vulnerability.
As an adult, I am able to understand vulnerability. I am not comfortable in it, but I don’t avoid it. I know that with the risk of getting hurt, feeling embarrassed, or admitting defeat I am also putting myself in situations where I am able to feel exhilaration, pride, and victory. As a writer, I am thankful for this relationship with vulnerability, because without it I would not have the courage to subject myself to both praise and criticism.
In an amazing TEDx talk, Brené Brown spoke about how people who feel connected and worthy are people who are also able to embrace vulnerability. With this also comes the ability to be imperfect—something else I am working on as a parent—as we navigate our choices with the confidence to not just find just the good things and feelings in life, but also the negative.
I did not feel the benefits of vulnerability and courage until I went to college, until I fell in love, and until I then worked with a therapist who helped me sort out the effects of my childhood. In this vulnerability, I found the real me. In a way I still feel pretty new, like I am still learning, but I also feel motivated to provide my children with this base of what Brown called being “whole-hearted”. This all cycles back to giving my children the ability to find their sense of self and self-worth through play and creativity.
After my daughter, Eva, and I read Bloom, she was motivated to mimic the actions of the girl in the book. She wanted to build something. We used the resources at hand and built a house out of graham crackers and frosting. We then decorated it with sprinkles and leftover candy from Valentine’s Day. As we worked together, she was very clear to tell me she wanted to do the building. She was fine with me giving her verbal guidance or stepping in as a second pair of hands, but this was her project.
There was a little frustration on her part as things didn’t always go as planned, but I reminded myself as much as her that it was okay to rework a plan or abandon a plan altogether for a new one. Mostly there was determination and joy.
She happily created something wonderful out of essentially spare parts and got to nibble on candy while her brothers were napping. I drank a beer and relished in my pride for this kid who was exerting independence and cleverness, because even if her only goal was to have frosting in the middle of the afternoon, she had achieved it.
My mind wandered. With independence comes failure. New ideas are met with criticism. Artwork can be misunderstood, or worse, understood and rejected. New school, new friends, family portraits with two mamas….All of the wonderful things in my life and in the lives of my children are subject to negativity. We are all subject to wounded hearts.
Yet in this vulnerability is magic. And beauty. And strength. And love.
Parenting comes with few guarantees. One of them is this: our hearts will be broken and mended a million times. They will be broken for all of the bad reasons and the good. Our children become the external version of our hearts and anything that happens to them happens to us. But we let go a little bit at a time. We teach, we provide, and we trust that they will be okay.
She’ll be okay. I can already see her resiliency and courage. I can already see her vulnerability.
It makes my heart ache in all of the ways possible.