I used to pride myself on being able to say goodbye easily. I’m a free spirit! I would say, as I’d run off into the sunset…ALONE. I assumed this was a normal part of choosing self-preservation, but really I was just making excuses to be a butthole. (For real, it’s true.)
I would blatantly hurt people all of the time just because I figured it was better than getting hurt myself. But then I met my husband (bless his unbelievably forgiving soul) and he changed me, even though I didn’t deserve it.
(And I really didn’t: I broke up with him so many times it was ridiculous!! And then when he finally started dating someone else, I was FURIOUS! The nerve of him, right??! But that’s what brought me back to him — good old fashioned jealousy — and thank God too. Otherwise I’d probably still be a jerk today.)
My other greatest lesson in vulnerability has been motherhood…because you can’t really be a good parent at an arm’s length away. (Except for at the park…then you should obviously let other people push your kids on the swing.)
This kind of vulnerability seems natural to us, though. I mean, “mama bear” wouldn’t exist if we shirked our responsibilities, right?! But what about parenting someone else’s kids? Or dealing with our friends and co-workers? The lines of vulnerability aren’t as clear here. Yet, these are the lines our kids will walk for many many years before they become parents, and I don’t want them to miss out on the COURAGE that awaits them just because the world tells them to walk away.
Recently I got a big dose of “practicing what I preach” when I said goodbye to my foster son. You guys, the level of vulnerability I felt was right up there with begging Peter to take me back!
I was surprised, too, that my old ways of self-preservation flared up again: I didn’t want to grieve or feel sad; I just wanted to ignore it all and feel happy!! But that’s when God piped in and said, Jonna…you will never feel joy or relief if you don’t feel the grief first.
Yuck. Who wants THAT??!! Still, I knew it was true.
In order to be the best foster mom I could be, I HAD to allow myself to love him, even though I knew one day I’d have to say goodbye. I didn’t want to hide all of my emotions from my kids either: A) because I can’t hide them anyway, and B) I figured this was a good chance to teach them about vulnerability. And it was.
The day after our foster son left, my six-year old had this conversation with me:
“I miss him mom.” It was 6:00 in the morning and my eyes were still glued shut.
“I do too, sweetie,” I said as I rolled over to let her crawl into bed with me.
“Why can’t we adopt him?”
I slowly opened my eyes. “Well, you know why, honey….he belongs with his mom and dad. They want to raise him….just like I want to raise YOU three crazies!” I reached out to tickle her.
Laughing, she added, “Well…are we going to foster again?”
“Baby D, you mean?”
”No, other kids. There are more kids out there, mama.”
And I knew she was right. But because I didn’t have an answer for her, I did what any vulnerable mama would do. I just hugged her and let the tears flow. Sometimes that’s all you can do, right??
Vulnerability has this AMAZING way of creating a ripple effect. It’s like Mother Theresa said: I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples. And I can’t WAIT to see what my middle daughter will do someday because we chose to foster our son!
The bottom line, then, is this: our kids need to know that being vulnerable means that they’re strong and courageous. And since I happen to believe the best way to teach them anything is by modeling it ourselves, here are a few ways you can start doing that:
1. Admit when you’re wrong.
Saying you’re “sorry” to your kids is a great way to teach them about the power of vulnerability. After all, no parent is perfect, so they need to know that we screw up too!
2. Verbalize your emotions.
Explain to your kids what you’re feeling and why. Many children have a hard time naming how they feel (my oldest daughter is like this), so explicit instruction is key to helping them develop this skill.
3. Encourage them to be vulnerable.
When your child is expressing an emotion, even if it’s a BIG one, try saying, “Thank you for showing me that feeling,” instead of “You’re fine” or “Stop that”. (Unless they’re in Target. Then just throw veggie straws at them and call it a day.)
4. Show them how to argue well.
There’s some compelling research suggesting that showing our kids how an argument ends (by hugging or apologizing instead of walking away, only to work it out “behind the scenes”) is actually better than cutting the argument short.
5. Let your kids fail.
There’s nothing more vulnerable than experiencing failure, amirite??! This is SO HARD for me to do as a parent, because I obviously want my kids to feel JOY 100% of the time; but if I swoop in and “fix” every problem they have, how will they ever learn to rely on God in those moments??
So remember, saying goodbye is never easy, and neither is teaching our kids about vulnerability. But it’s worth every ounce of discomfort – for them and for us – because that way we’ll ALL learn how to heal from pain faster, attach to people more appropriately, and trust in God better. Hooray! #vulnerabilitywins