The Challenges Of Embracing Vulnerability As Parents & What To Do To Get Past It

Doctor of Education By Gertrude Lyons, MA, Ed.D.
Doctor of Education
Gertrude Lyons, MA, Ed.D., has a masters in psychology from Antioch University Midwest and an Ed.D in Transformational Leadership & Coaching from Wright University. She currently serves as the Director of Family Programs at The Wright Foundation, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit dedicated to learning, growing and the realization of human potential.
mother with two daughters laughing and smiling
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It is universally human to yearn to be truly known, to be seen, to be understood, to make a difference, and to be loved. What most of us either don't know or don't believe is that the clearest pathway to meeting these and other deeper desires is by being vulnerable. But therein lies the dynamic tension, because being vulnerable also means risking getting rejected and our feelings being hurt.

This paradox surrounding vulnerability was recently in the spotlight with Chrissy Teigen and John Legend sharing openly about the loss of their son during pregnancy. They chose to bring us into their private world at one of the most raw and painful times of grief and loss.

What is vulnerability, really?

The standard dictionary definition of it is essentially of being physical or emotionally wounded and open to attack or damage. That certainly does not sound fun! Colloquially we also know it to be someone who is completely and rawly open, unguarded with their heart, mind, and soul; also, that being vulnerable happens when you trust completely. This is sounding more inviting. Or there's the definition by Brené Brown, the New York Times bestselling author, who wrote The Power of Vulnerability; she defines vulnerability as "uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure."

I like to think of it along the lines of courage: Being vulnerable is born out of courage, and the original Latin meaning of courage is...to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.

Our current cultural image of courage regales acts of bravery and heroic deeds. I believe both aspects are true, but we have lost the personal side, forgetting how much courage it takes to be open and share our authentic selves. Parenting is a brave and heroic journey, and it takes a lot of courage to expose our vulnerability with our whole heart. But when we do, we find we are living more in integrity, meeting our deeper yearnings, and experiencing more authentic moments in the here and now with ourselves and our children.

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The challenges of being vulnerable.

Why is it so challenging to be vulnerable? We are wired from our upbringing and have family and community cultures that contribute to our tendency to avoid vulnerability. Maybe one of the following contributed to your fear of being open and vulnerable: 

  • It was dangerous to show your soft spots or your underbelly in your family—you were teased or, worse, punished in some way. 
  • Possibly you had a parent who was depressed and spent hours in bed all day, so strong emotions got wired as both debilitating and leading to isolation and keeping emotions hidden
  • Or, like my family, where appearances and looking good to the outside world was valued above all else, you couldn't show any flaws and did whatever it took to create the illusion that all was well. 

These are powerful forces, and they reside in our unconscious, and unless we expose them, we will be run by them and miss many opportunities to meet our deeper yearnings.

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Why you should choose to be vulnerable as a parent.

Parenting is deeply vulnerable—and most of us are afraid to be open and reveal what's really going on behind closed doors. Even if we know better, we compare ourselves to the bright, happy faces on social media, where everyone has it together and is doing cool things. While many will admit our daily lives as parents are filled with moments we would not want to expose—meltdowns, messy houses, doubts, inadequacies, fears we are failing at the job—we are cutting ourselves off from potential care and much-needed support.

I am inspired by the leadership of the Legend family to break the norm of what is deemed "appropriate" to share. In response to this paradigm-breaking choice, gratitude, care, and support flooded in.

As a first step on the road to experiencing the power of our vulnerability, do an inventory of all the mistaken beliefs and rules in our culture and your family that may limit you.

As a result of operating under these mistaken beliefs, we think our vulnerabilities are ugly and should be hidden. I offer a metaphor to help us think differently: Would you say the Grand Canyon is ugly and should be covered up and hidden? I doubt it. But isn't it nothing more than a wound on the Earth's surface—a crack that over time and, being exposed to the elements, has become a wonder of nature, and people sit on the edge of it in awe of its beauty?

If we're not willing to show ourselves and risk being hurt, there is no way to meet our deeper yearnings to be truly seen, known, supported, and loved. When you're in your most vulnerable state, it triggers natural protectiveness from others around you. There are no guarantees, and sometimes we will get hurt, but we are not meant to be impermeable, hardened, or shielded. Our greatest vulnerability can be our greatest strength.

Imagine your life, and our world, if we let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, and we loved ourselves and others with our whole heart. We can choose in any moment to stop screening and editing and start listening to, and acting from our vulnerable, kinder, and gentler voices. And, best of all, to fully experience and acknowledge your vulnerability means you are alive!

How you can be vulnerable day-to-day and right now.

You can flex and build your vulnerability muscles in many ways right now. These are simple but powerful exercises that put you in the vulnerable zone:

 

  • Express your heartfelt gratitude to someone.
  • Give someone a compliment—the more personal the better. 
  • Ask for help: If you are used to doing everything yourself, this can be very vulnerable. 
  • Share with someone the real challenges you are up against (bonus points if you express your emotions related to the upset).
  • When you finish reading this article, name one thing you will do today to allow yourself to be more open, more permeable, more vulnerable.

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