4 Ways to Use Your Weakness as a Powerful Parenting Tool

My wife and I have been taking dance lessons for the last several years and love it! For a while we would have lessons twice a week and our daughter would come along for every one of them. She sat in the corner with a book (she is a voracious reader), looking up from time to time to watch us dance.

One of the toughest things about learning to dance for me has been that every now and then it makes me feel completely inadequate. When you are learning a new step it is nerve-wracking. I would watch my instructor with a deer in the headlights sort of look as she demonstrated the move for me. I would then try it out and mess up, time and time again. And all of this was in full view of our daughter. She watched me stumble, step on my wife’s toes, and sweat with that feeling of incompetence that comes with learning something new. Heck!  My teacher actually had to push me to get my body to move in the right direction so that I could grasp the new movement pattern for the step.  Talk about embarrassing!  I hated feeling so vulnerable and incompetent, especially in front of my daughter. But, I also think it was important.

For some reason, if you’re like most parents I know, I’m sure you’ve been given the crazy idea that as a parent you are supposed to always exhibit and exert control over yourself and your child, presenting a mirage of I’ve-got-it-togetherness that is not only unsustainable and unrealistic, but downright unhealthy. This unrealistic ideal also completely misses out on a powerful connection tool in your relationship with your child. Instead of being a sign of weakness or frailty, learning to be vulnerable with your child is actually a powerful relational tool to produce profound and lasting connection with her.

If you haven’t already, you need to set aside 20 minutes to watch this powerful talk given by Dr. Brene Brown on “The Power of Vulnerability”. In it she explains that very idea and why it is so important for us to practice being vulnerable with each other.

So, if you’re like me and every other parent out there, despite your best intentions, you often screw up with your child.   But if you never let your child see you screw up, you rob her of an important opportunity to really SEE you and learn something valuable. That’s right, your mistakes and screw-ups can actually be your best asset toward teaching your child the life skills she needs. But, it requires your vulnerability. The way that you show up to your child teaches her about how she needs to show up for life. So, I wanted to share with you four ways to use vulnerability as a powerful parenting tool.

1. Admit that you messed up

That’s right. You have to admit it.  With your child, this can be as simple as saying, “Ya know, after I yelled at you for leaving your toys out, I realized that I was wrong.” You can also sit down and draw out what happened.  Go ahead! Admit it! What you will actually find is that you will be able to see your child visibly soften to this overture. Most often your child is always at the ready with warmth and compassion when you actually own up to your mistakes. Not only are you modeling the practice of confession, but you are also offering her the chance to demonstrate kindness, compassion, and understanding toward you.

2. Ask for forgiveness

You’re not done yet. Once you’ve admitted that you messed up, it is really important to ask forgiveness of your child. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I messed up when I yelled at you. Will you forgive me?” It’s quick and simple. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but it does need to be heartfelt. Our kids are some of the best BS detectors around and can see straight through us if we’re not being genuine. So really put some thought into it.

3. Let her see you feel

There is a range of human experience both rich and varied that is totally enhanced by our emotions. Our emotions are a compass leading us to make good decisions and guide us down the right path. Our kids also need to see us feel. This gives them permission to do the same. Learning to express and identify feelings is central to your child’s development, impacting all other aspects of her growth. It is okay to cry, get angry, or become exhilarated in front of your child.  So help her by showing her how to do it by talking to her about it. “I am feeling so happy/sad/frustrated/disappointed/etc. because . . . ” Through your example, she will learn how to do it for herself and grow in her connection with you.

4. Let her see you struggle
What?!!! I know. But, honestly, there’s no use in hiding it. Your child can already see it. Stop fighting it and just go with it. When you don’t know how to do something or you can’t seem to figure it out, let her be around and even talk about it with her. “This is hard, but I’m going to keep working until I can figure it out.” You are teaching some very valuable life skills here, like tenacity, patience, and hard work.

Vulnerability can be tough. But nothing worth fighting for ever comes without challenge or struggle. So I challenge you to take the leap into vulnerability and to use it to deepen and strengthen your connection with your child. As you do so, your child will notice and your connection will grow. You will be living more authentically and you will find that you are a more effective parent.