When we become parents, it’s like we expose our single most vulnerable parts of ourselves. Our Achilles’ heel. The parts of us we so routinely and deeply protected from harm’s way — our weaknesses — all seemingly become exposed and unravelled when we enter the parenting gig. That’s why when our weaknesses and various vulnerabilities get poked and proded by either our children, or by people around us, it’s important to build strategies to be a soul survivor and to never let anyone bring us down. More important than preventing ourselves from being “brought down” is the ability to move beyond this, and help ourselves become better than we were yesterday.
Here are three ways our vulnerabilities and weaknesses can become bigger than us, and ways to put those finicky self-thoughts back in their places.
- The outcast vs. The transformed selves
Not only does having children put strain on our existing relationships with friends and other people in our lives – it sometimes seems like the only common denominator for why you 1) don’t seem to see each other any more 2) no longer have the same priorities. Having children is “identity changing” and it can be hard not to feel like an outcast until you meet new people who are in the same wave length as you are.
Instead of feeling estranged for being an outcast (which you kind of are – someone that childless people run away from), embrace that you’ve transitioned to a new state of life. Limit your negative thoughts and feelings and remind yourself that you can and will have a chance to see old friends – it’s just not right now. Focus on your own growth, despite feeling weighed down by a billion dirty diapers, muffin wrappers, juice box containers – you’re catching my drift. Find moments were your “outcastishness” are gifts from above, and use those to earn a new time of self-love and appreciation.
- The Ideal vs. Real expectations of ourselves
This concept rings true, again, not only for parents, but for men and women around and around, again and again. It’s the stereotype expectations vs. The human expectations. Many women, before becoming loving parents, might have envisioned themselves being Pinterest-worthy chefs, bakers, home designers while at the SAME TIME working full time AND parenting. I recently told a friend, “I love you guys because you love us despite the crap in our corner” (whoa, what an amazing metaphor). I was speaking literally (my 19th Century home is not going to restore itself), but then the metaphoric meaning became clear. My friends love me and my husband despite and at the same time because of the crap in our corner. That’s real. My job here is done.
No, I’m really not done. On the other hand, men also have exceedingly difficult bars to reach when it comes to family life and professional life. One nice man we know on the outside looked like he had it all (by traditional North American standards of having it all), a wife, two beautiful school-aged kids and a beautiful home, and a local business (that outsiders may or may not have known, it lost quite a bit of money). The “quite a bit of money” he owed made him feel like a failure. His children’s names were encompassing the business’ name. His wife worked, but was not the bread winner. When his wife found out about the money owed, she processed the information for a couple of days, and then she took off – no kids, nothing but herself and her possessions in tow (no, not a vacay – she’s gone). How is it fair that men and women idealistically place the weight of a family’s success or failure on men’s shoulders? Not to mention, we have also collectively expected that men are supposed to bite the bullet and get back on the bandwagon, “don’t be a girl,” or “don’t be a baby” are all likely phrases this man has heard throughout his life.
Men and women both undergo unrealistic expectations, leading us to feel like failures if things ever go wrong. Let’s reframe the expectations we have of ourselves and others so we don’t meet up or if our expectations are logically and morally bankrupt and useless.
Not only will reframing our expectations of ourselves make us happier people, it will also be tremendously important for our kids, too. Kids will learn value of self-image, and kids will learn to shape a healthy self image based on the “healthy” expectations we have for them.
3. I’m not listening…. La la la la la la la
As people-parents, we’ve likely spent close to our entire lives learning to own and express our voices in a way that people respond (positively) to. Well, you can take what you know and park it for a while because your kids will first test your boundaries (not listen), and second, they will eventually think you’re stupid (ahh the good old teen years). Your voice increasingly feels lost in the parenting gig, but don’t fret, it is not lost, not forgotten, and you’ll be asked to use it to provide paradigmatic explanations when you least expect it. On the outside, your voice seems to solicit shudders and repetitive use of the phrase “la la la la la,” but on the inside, your children will hear your voice ringing in their ears as they approach adulthood and question whether they should say “to do, or not to do”. Don’t take it personally.
There are so many more ways we all individually feel exposed and vulnerable. Take some time and think of what these might be and how you can learn to live with vulnerability when it feels like it’s knocked you off your feet. Reframe your truths, know that what feels true at the moment doesn’t necessarily mean it will always be like that, and know that change is not always something to grieve, but something to cherish.