Over the past 9 years, as I have tried to parent differently, I have noticed that the biggest impediment to parenting from love and not fear is the whispering voice of shame.
Shame tells me things like, “You will never be the dad you want to be, you aren’t strong enough to change, or you don’t have what it will take to love your kids the way you want to.”
When I am meditating on these whispering lies I notice that I pull away and connection seems so difficult. In these moments, reconnecting is so crucial because it is the antidote to these destructive shame cycles, but when I don’t feel lovable it is really difficult to accept love.
I have noticed that dealing with shame is a constant part of parenting. In order to battle with it well I discovered I needed a strategy. I was tired of getting caught off guard and falling victim to it’s joy-sucking tentacles.
This is when I spent some time talking with my oldest two kids about how shame works in my mind. I began intentionally exposing it and shining a light on the lies that are in my head and how they negatively impact my thought life and relationships.
These kind of open conversations have helped us have more compassion for each other in conflictual moments. One of the interventions is to try and reach for connection quicker when a situation escalates.
We have agreed to move closer to one another when we can tell the shaming thoughts are guiding our behavior. One of my favorites was when my son would notice me getting mad about any number of things not going my way (feeling weak and powerless), and he would sit next to me, kiss me on the cheek and say, “Did my love help you?”
If shame is not exposed and brought into the light it will grow in power in the darkness. When I expose it to the light it seems to lose it’s strength. As a parent and as a husband, I want to get into the habit of honestly sharing the shaming thoughts and owning them as my own.
I have noticed this practice really helps my kids understand how my external behavior is driven by this internal dialogue and also be more aware of their own internal world.
Practices like these make it more likely my shame won’t become theirs.
I want them to know they are loved just as they are and not as I would like them to be or think they should be in a given moment. I believe this will free my kids to grow into adults that accept themselves just as they are and when shame enters the picture they quickly recognize it and know how to expose it for what it is.