When two of my grandsons aged 3 and 6 came to stay with us for ten days a couple of weeks ago, I became aware of something I do. Every time I see the boys, I smile. I beam at them. I hold my arms open wide for hugs and cuddles and I express wonder and joy at everything they say and do.
Last weekend I was in Berlin to celebrate the birth of my 5th grandchild and again each time I saw the new baby and his little brother, my face lit up. They bring such joy.
I’m writing this blog on a flight over to NYC to see my two granddaughters and I know exactly the same thing will happen for the two weeks I’m with them. I will rarely express annoyance, correct them or tell them what to do. Instead I will just bask in the joy of being with them. Yet I don’t remember it being like that when their parents were young!
Brene Brown says that one of the very best pieces of parenting advice she ever received was from the writer Toni Morrison. Sadly, Morrison died this week in New York, aged 88, leaving a legacy of wisdom. Morrison said that it’s interesting to watch what happens when a child walks into a room. “Does your face light up?”
We think our children know we love them because we care for them. But it’s not like that. When we see them, are our first words of criticism or correction? Or are they positive expressions of their worth? When our children walk into the room let’s make sure they know, ‘I’m glad to see you’.
Brown says, ‘I literally think about that advice every day — it’s become a practice. When Ellen comes bounding down the stairs dressed for school, I don’t want my first comment to be “Pull your hair back” or “Those shoes don’t match your dress.” I want my face to convey how happy I am to see her — to be with her. When Charlie comes in the back door and he’s sweaty and dirty from catching lizards, I want to flash a smile before I say, “Don’t touch anything until you wash your hands.” So often we think that we earn parenting points by being critical, put out, and exasperated. Those first looks can be prerequisites or worthiness-builders. I don’t want to criticize when my kids walk in the room, I want to light up!’
With her usual practical outlook, Brown has created 10 guideposts for wholehearted living and suggests these work as well in families as they do individually. They are:
Above all else, I want you to know that you are loved and lovable. You will learn this from my words and actions—the lessons on love are in how I treat you and how I treat myself.
I want you to engage with the world from a place of worthiness. You will learn that you are worthy of love, belonging, and joy every time you see me practice self-compassion and embrace my own imperfections.
We will practice courage in our family by showing up, letting ourselves be seen, and honouring vulnerability. We will share our stories of struggle and strength. There will always be room in our home for both.
We will teach you compassion by practising compassion with ourselves first; then with each other. We will set and respect boundaries; we will honour hard work, hope, and perseverance. Rest and play will be family values, as well as family practices.
You will learn accountability and respect by watching me make mistakes and make amends, and by watching how I ask for what I need and talk about how I feel.
I want you to know joy, so together we will practice gratitude.
I want you to feel joy, so together we will learn how to be vulnerable.
When uncertainty and scarcity visit, you will be able to draw from the spirit that is a part of our everyday life.
Together we will cry and face fear and grief. I will want to take away your pain, but instead I will sit with you and teach you how to feel it.
We will laugh and sing and dance and create. We will always have permission to be ourselves with each other. No matter what, you will always belong here.
As you begin your Wholehearted journey, the greatest gift that I can give to you is to live and love with my whole heart and to dare greatly.
I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you. Truly, deeply, seeing you.
This blog is the second of a series of two on parenting. You can read the first one here.