All great organizations need two key elements: strategy and culture.
Strategy is the game plan: your goals and what you plan to do to achieve them.
Culture is the way you do things and who you are in the doing.
Culture is often thought by leadership experts to be the more important of the two in terms of success.
Your family is one of the greatest organizations you will ever be a part of, yet how many of us actually intentionally build a meaningful family culture?
The good news is we can intentionally build a family culture that teaches our kids arguably the most important thing in life:
Do your kids feel worthy?
Researcher Brene Brown spent 6 years studying human connection and shared the findings in her fascinating book, Daring Greatly. Her research uncovered two main types of people:
- People who feel a deep sense of love, belonging and connection
- People who struggle for it
The main variable separating these 2 groups is a feeling of worthiness.
People in the first group, which Brown calls the Wholehearted, believe they are worthy of love and belonging. They have daily practices which nurture this belief.
They enjoy deep friendships, thriving marriages, and rewarding family relationships. They have a willingness to be vulnerable, which according to Brown, is at the heart of meaningful human experience.
Wholehearted people are ok being imperfect and letting their imperfections be seen. Their willingness to be vulnerable is the very essence of Daring Greatly.
Being vulnerable is an act of courage.
The majority of the 2nd group was parented in a culture of shame. They grew up thinking they were not good enough, and at their very core, not worthy of love and belonging.
How can we avoid such a heartbreaking outcome for our own children?
We live in a “not enough” culture
According to Brown, it’s no surprise people don’t feel worthy given the “not enough” culture that surrounds us. There are cultural messages everywhere that say an ordinary life is a meaningless life.
The messages say we’re:
- Never good enough
- Never thin enough
- Never powerful enough
- Never productive enough
- Never successful enough
- Never smart enough
- Never certain enough
We live “not enough” every day. It is so draining.
“Not enough” breeds shame.
Brown defines shame as, “the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished, makes us unworthy of connection.”
Shame says I’m not worthy or good enough for love, belonging, or connection. I’m unlovable. I’m deeply flawed. I don’t belong.
What makes our kids feel “not enough?”
Shame is not a good parenting tool and yet so many of us do it because it’s how we were parented and how our parents were parented.
Even if we do our best to shame-proof our homes, kids can still feel shame in their everyday lives through:
- Not getting good enough grades
- Not being popular enough
- Not being athletic enough
- Not being attractive enough
- Not being smart enough
- Not being cool enough
- Not being extraordinary enough
Combat shame with a family culture that values vulnerability and love
Brown’s greatest lesson about shame is this:
“If we’re going to find our way out of shame…vulnerability is the path and courage is the light.”
If you haven’t seen Brown’s amazing TED talk on vulnerability, one of the most popular TED talks ever, you can see it here.
We need to make our home a place where it’s safe for our kids, and ourselves, to be vulnerable and loved as the imperfect beings that we are.
We need to acknowledge that we are all imperfect and on a learning journey of growth together.
According to Brown, love is when our kids can let their “most vulnerable and powerful selves be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.”
When we truly love and accept our kids, they won’t need to hide the not-so-pretty parts of themselves from us. They’ll know that we’re on their side, fighting courageously together.
Brown says, “Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them-we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
Love and trust are chicken-and-egg, you have to risk a little to get a little, and the more you get, the more you risk. This is true whether in families or in friendships.
The key is to be an engaged, interested parent. Disengagement is the opposite of connection.
Is perfectionism worth it?
In all of Brown’s research, she’s never heard one person attribute their joy or success to being perfect.
Actually, it’s quite the opposite.
People said the most valuable and important things in life came when they cultivated the courage to be vulnerable, imperfect and have self-compassion!
According to Brown, perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth or striving for excellence. It’s a defensive move, to avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame. Perfectionism is about earning approval.
Scientist Carole Dweck recommends we avoid labeling our kids (i.e. You’re so smart!) or praising attributes like grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, or sports.
If we acknowledge effort instead, kids focus on how they can improve rather than what people will think.
Brown says that perfectionism is a form of shame. The core belief is, “If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
Perfection simply does not exist. It’s an unattainable goal. It’s ok to let it go.
Who we are as parents matters a lot
Brown says, “If we want our children to love and accept who they are, our job is to love and accept who we are.“
How frustrating. We parents still have to work so hard on ourselves. Damn.
Brown says we can’t use fear, shame, blame, and judgment in our own lives if we want to raise courageous, Wholehearted children.
Brown cites the research “Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.”
No matter how many parenting books we read, the rubber meets the road in how kindly we engage with ourselves, our loved ones, and the world around us.
Child development expert Joseph Chilton Pearce says, “What we are teaches the child more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become.”
Ways to build a family culture of love, connection and belonging:
- Don’t criticize kids, empathize with their vulnerabilities and imperfections
- Give feedback to kids about their actions, not about them as a person, in a way that lets them know you’re on their team
- Be empathic and use phrases like, “me too,” “that also happened to me,” and “I know what that feels like”
- Really listen and help your kids feel like you ‘get’ them
- Praise and acknowledge effort
- Value hard work, perseverance, and respect
- Light up when your kids walk into a room, don’t look them over head to toe and tell them what needs to change
- Recognize your own armor and model for your children how to take it off and be vulnerable
- Honor your children by continuing on your own journey toward vulnerability, love and connection
- Parent from a place of “you are enough”
- Practice the values you want to teach
Check out Brown’s inspiring parenting manifesto here.
The point of parenting is not to be perfect. The point is to be engaged, involved, vulnerable, courageous, imperfect and connected.
Creating a family culture of belonging and acceptance starts with us parents being courageous enough to show our true selves to the people we love and trust.
We’re all in the same boat and together we can Dare Greatly.
What sort of family culture do you want to create? Please click here and scroll down to leave a comment.