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Start of a New School Year

posted Sep 3, 2015, 6:28 PM by Ann O'Brien   [ updated Sep 15, 2015, 9:00 AM by Julie Bassi ]

Hello Parents!

I have been wanting to initiate a blog about parenting for the Bow community, to begin a conversation about the work that we do as parents that we sometimes feel unprepared for - about the fact that parenting can bring us to our knees.  Plain and simple.  The journey with our kids can elevate us to new heights and joys where we never believed we could reach while simultaneously leading us to our own depths of fears, misgivings, and self-consciousness.  Parenting catapults us to appreciate that raising a child is a process, a work in progress, an unknown.  Parenting reflects a great source of vulnerability beyond anything that any of us has ever bargained for in our lives (confusing, joyous, maddening, enriching, contentious, anxiety-provoking, loving until we ache...)  

My hesitation in beginning this blog involves many layers...being afraid to be honest, feeling afraid of not knowing, being afraid to be an expert - or speak as an expert - feeling as though what might

be said or spoken would be embarrassing or not good enough, sounding preachy or judgmental, worrying that by writing something down it might come back to haunt me or I wouldn’t have permission to change my views.  

In fact, it is for all these reasons that I have decided to begin this journey with all of you, in a public forum.  Perhaps through a blog format it will be possible to reach a broader spectrum of parents and begin to have conversations about some of the issues that we all face as we interact with the children that we love so much and want to launch into this world...which leads to the first can we honor ourselves, our children, and our mission of wanting to be great parents even though we haven’t been given (or can’t have) a recipe for the specific path or a window for how it all turns out?  As I begin this blog, I’m thick in the trenches with all of you.  My own kids are 12, 15, and 17. The time has come to begin a conversation.

Fostering the message: We all make mistakes

Last week, our new principal, Mr. Gergler, introduced himself to teachers as someone who works for all of us - and not the other way around - as someone who appreciates feedback.  He asked our faculty to point out to him when he makes a mistake - since we all make mistakes.  He asked us to come to him with feedback and to make suggestions or to clarify our thoughts and ideas - minimizing judgment and blame in favor of personal growth, development, and trust that will be established over time.  I wondered, can that same mindset be extended to our children?  Although we often think we must control our classroom environments, and by extension our home environments, I wonder if in fact children respond best when they feel included as part of their own learning process, with voices listened to, perspectives valued, interests understood.  We are here for them.  They are experts of themselves, and our job is to nurture and build trust with their personalities, their intellects, their curiosities and wonders.  Perhaps if we can show them they they are respected and valued, they will respond to our teaching with open hearts and the exhilaration of self discovery and risk-taking necessary for effective learning.  Mr. Gergler models for teachers, teachers model for students, students model for each other.  Can we follow this motto as parents?

Brene Brown - Daring Way

Over the summer I had the extraordinary opportunity to attend a week-long training in San Antonio, TX with Brene Brown (researcher, author) entitled “Daring Way.” Brene is an expert in the topics of shame and vulnerability and the roles that these issues play in our lives.  She is a “grounded theory” researcher, which means that rather than creating her own theories of human experience and trying to prove or disprove those theories, she initiates conversations with thousands of research participants first, and from the data, creates theories based on documented human feelings, beliefs, and behaviors.  Her research themes include wholehearted living, wholehearted parenting, and preparing ourselves and our children for a world in which we need to be courageous, value-driven, and authentic.  She explains that we must become comfortable in places of discomfort, and in so modeling for our children, we are preparing them to show up to their lives without the undue burden of anxiety, fear, or pretending.  She teaches the daily practice of self-compassion, giving ourselves permission to say that “I am enough” even if I am not perfect, or perhaps because of not being perfect.  When we are kind to ourselves, we are better prepared to be kind and authentic to others.


One potential pitfall is the idea that our kids need to be happy all the time.  In fact, they do not.  If we have a large family, and plans are made, we do not need to fear if someone in the family is not thrilled with the plan.  They will get over it!  Hemming and hawing over making everyone happy will result in no one being happy and the adults feeling exhausted and disappointed that everyone is not chipper in the moment.  Moments with our families fluctuate in terms of who feels happy when, who gets along with who when, who is acting “proactively” when...and that is okay.  Being a partner with kids sometimes means just allowing them to work through things, helping re-frame their feelings, and giving them space to learn how to maneuver an unpleasant moment without the adult swooping in to save the day.  The trust that we impart to kids that they are “enough” and they have what it takes to solve problems is a much greater predictor of their future success than doing the work for them or making them feel afraid to fail or to feel upset.  Feeling upset happens in life, for all of us sometimes.  The earlier we can acknowledge and allow for a variety of emotions from our children, the more adept they become at trusting themselves to move through various emotions to a place of thoughtfulness and reflection.

The other day, I put this practice to use when my youngest daughter asked me to pack her water shoes for the end portion of a family hike in the White Mountains.  I thought I’d packed the shoes.  As we reached the base of the mountain, she asked for her water shoes and we quickly discovered I’d left them in the truck.  The old me would have felt terrible, tried to hike back to the car and back up to the spot so she could have the shoes.  The new me took responsibility for the mistake and apologized for not putting them in as I said I would.  However, I also allowed her feel disappointed while reminding myself that “I am enough” (I had, after all, packed lunches, waters, hats, sunscreen, and many other things for the hike).  The old me would have wanted her to quickly return to a happy place. I might have done what I could to get her there quickly.  The new me understood her feelings, gave her space to process the new set of circumstances and to create her own ending. Eventually, she skipped rocks barefoot down the meandering river, without my need to “fix” her by over-apologizing or over-discussing or even over-worrying about it.  Had I hiked down and back, it would have been 45 minutes of missing out on family time due to guilt for not packing the shoes, impatience with allowing a portion of the day to be uncomfortable, and unwillingness to trust my daughter to adapt to an unexpected circumstance that actually provided a great learning opportunity for all of us.

Brene Brown also talks about the human need to make up stories based on feedback we get from others, and how quickly we turn to our own stories about what just happened even if those stories may not be true.  For example, we might interpret a facial expression by our boss, our spouse or our child that we think means one thing, when in fact it may not have been intended in that way.  The courageous path for teachers and parents is to teach children to circle back to interpretations and feelings.  In other words, from an early age, it is so important to check in with each other and say, “I noticed that you looked … when …. happened.  Were you upset because …?  Or did I misinterpret that cue?”  Regardless of the response, daring to be present and authentic with other people leads to wholehearted living.  It takes courage and hard work to constantly work on culture in relationships in the context of learning and growth.  We must teach our kids (by modeling with each other) that there are no shortcuts and that the path can be uncomfortable.  But we cannot live wholehearted, meaningful lives unless we are brave enough to circle back with the people in our lives that we care about the most, accepting feedback and even criticism in the spirit of increased compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and connection.  

Brene Brown's research illustrates that striving to be perfect can be our downfall.  The idea that we must strive to be the perfect parent and have the perfect children results in failure, shame, guilt, regret, and sadness.  If on the other hand we acknowledge our mistakes, own up to them honestly, and try not to fix our children, we give our kids the opportunity to move from disappointment to baseline and permission for them to feel worthy even as we work with them to do/act/behave differently the next time. Her research results distinguish between guilt and shame - the former being associated with positive traits in kids and the latter being associated with negative.  If we feel guilty, we tend to be motivated to change.  When we feel shame, we freeze and put up "shame shields" that foster unhealthy habits, beliefs, and response patterns.  The same is true for our kids.

Teaching Character Skills - Embracing Vulnerability

Raising children is not a simple task, and implementing the “just right curriculum” for social-emotional development is not a straight and narrow path.  Doug Bonnema and I will share some of our favorite books on the website as recommended "reads" for parents. We encourage your feedback and stories. All the books we suggest point to various truths, including the reminder that relationships are the foundation to all learning and that mistakes will be made along the way and that we cannot experience joy without struggle or hope without disappointment.  The more that we can partner with our children as they sample the wide variety of emotions in their lives, and allow them to be uncomfortable for periods of time as they navigate, wade and struggle through challenging circumstances, the better we prepare them for inevitable “knock downs” in life.  If we try to fix, blame ourselves, divert, protect, shield, guard against or lose our temper with respect to discomfort in our children or about our children, we do them a disservice and feel miserable in the process.  

I’m hoping that by sharing stories and perspectives about parenting, we can re-examine the manner by which we define success, we can nurture our kids as wholehearted human beings, and we can encourage courage - the ability to show up, to be seen, to be authentic and value driven, and to reach for dreams and goals even as we experience failures along the way.  When we model these concepts for our children, in our own lives, they follow our lead.  We all share a seat at the table, doing our best in our own situations with the tools that we have, expanding our own repertoires to display compassion and empathy. Perhaps this blog can become a launching pad for all of you to find your voice, to start conversations with each other, and to let me know if you disagree or if something written does or doesn’t resonate in your own lives. Please feel free to ask questions and join me on this path to creating safe spaces and conversations about raising our kids. (