Sometimes I’m bowled over by an unexpected insight in a book, and that’s exactly what happened to me when I read Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown.
Daring Greatly is mainly about the importance of being vulnerable. But then it goes on to address the issue of shaming people. I don’t think I ever shame people. Hopefully, and especially, I never shame my own children or husband. Or do I?
Then it hit me. I realized that there have been a few recent occasions where I have unwittingly resorted to shaming a certain daughter of mine. Thinking about it makes me feel like there’s a hatchet in my heart, because I definitely don’t ever want to do that.
Shame is different than guilt, according to the author. Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior.
While helping my daughter with her math problems, or reminding her to hurry and finish her math—which happens so often because she gets so distracted—I have made comments such as, “I enjoyed math when I was younger.” I have also mentioned “a kid” who gets his math done particularly fast. (Ouch! I know.) I think I made these particular comments thinking she might come to view math as something that can be fun, or be encouraged that she could do it faster. I’ve come to realize that what I am doing is comparing myself and other people to her, and making her feel inadequate.
This may not seem like a big deal to some people, but children can be very sensitive to how we name them. (Labels we give them, like “slow math girl,” even when this is done unintentionally). Math, or rather the lack of accomplishing math, sometimes overshadows our whole day. It has been a source of tension in our house. So, to us, it is a big deal.
In the end math matters, but definitely not as much as my daughter’s sense of worth and belonging. In my Christian worldview, my daughter is a child of God and she has inestimable value and worth. God has given her so many strengths and she has everything she needs to do His work. I don’t ever want her to think she is inadequate. I don’t want to compare her with myself or her siblings or anyone else. I want her to know I love her for who she is. She is enough. She is complete just how she is.
I have a lot of expectations when it comes to my kids. Is this based on my pride or on my wholehearted love for them? Probably both. I love them and want the world for them. But hopefully I am not destroying them in the process of trying to help them, because that would be tragic. I am shaming my children if I ever make them feel inadequate when they do not live up to my expectations.
My kids need to know I love them unconditionally and I need to give them room to make mistakes, because they are human and they will make mistakes.
Brown points out that shame leads to hopelessness. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we can change. When we are shamed we don’t show up, we don’t participate and we don’t contribute.
My job is to motivate my children, correct them, and mentor them without ever resorting to shaming them.
The title of Brown’s book comes from a Theodore Roosevelt quote about the man who is in the arena. He is the true hero, whether he wins or fails, because he is the one who is trying. He is the one who is fully living. I love this quote and think I need to memorize it with my kids:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat” (Theodore Roosevelt).
Photo Credit: First photo graphic design by Charity Klicka; second photo taken by Amy Koons.