Someone threw me a rope this week.
A good friend asked if I’d like to attend a parenting class with her. I had already read the book about this parenting style several years ago and it was good stuff…but a class? Sounds like a commitment. Sounds like I’d have to contribute. Sounds like a room full of other people who don’t know me and I’m bound to say or do something stupid and they’ll judge me forever.
In true Laura style, I said I’d think about it. I vacillated between feeling I’d know everything they’d discuss because I had read the book and already picked out all the things I’d found helpful. But then I checked my calendar and I’m available on all the class dates. And there are snacks. And childcare! I may even be able to sip on a cup of coffee while saying stupid things in front of strangers.
The truth is that I’ve been struggling with parenting. First, I have a lot of kids. Sheer quantity of children can turn what could be a relaxing evening with a simple board game into crises of guilt & identity, a trip to the ER, or the constant mediation of bickering. Sometimes I don’t know how to show empathy. The rational part of my brain says, “Well, that was a pretty dumb idea to shove that cotton ball up your nose. Of course it doesn’t feel good. Deal with it.” And I get irritated when my kiddo chooses bedtime as the exact moment to go through the play-by-play of her whole existence. “Mommy just wants to clock out for the day, sweetie. Can you tell me everything you have ever thought about tomorrow?”
I asked my friend if I could go to one class to check it out before committing. *Helpful hint for commitment-phobes: frame it like this and you always have an out.
[This is the part where I get dramatic and make a million assumptions, but that’s why you love me and read my stuff.] I went to the class on Friday and walked in the front door to a perfectly clean home. Our hostess had snacks laid out beautifully on her shiny marble countertops, fresh coffee in the pot, no cobwebs in the corners. Her house had obviously been professionally painted and she had the nerve to finish the job in each room. All the attendees pulled in with their presumably clean minivans which had been parked in their attached suburban garages, their hair in all the right places, their perfect fit jeans, their filed nails. They had probably come from the gym after taking their 5am mindfulness yoga class and eating their organic whole grain, locally sourced soy-free breakfast.
And I decided not to say idiot things to them. Which usually means I don’t say much at all.
But the conversation led its way to me, and I couldn’t help it. I shared what I am struggling with in that awful, shaky, on-the-verge-of tears voice. You see, I have a kiddo that I sometimes feel unfit to mother. Perhaps that insecurity comes from being her adoptive mama, or perhaps I don’t understand her well enough. I often see the job of parenting her as mere management of her inconveniences and behavior rather than knowing and loving her well.
So did I feel awkward after sharing? Of course. None of these women know me at all, and I come a-walking in and share, for the first time, something that I’ve been feeling but haven’t been able to articulate until just that moment in front of a room of strangers. Perfect Strangers.
But I realized something. My friend threw me a rope by inviting me to that class. And I decided to take it. By taking it, I decided that the only way I can really work through all the hard things is by admitting them. Someday, we will have to admit hard things to ourselves, to our family or friends, or to a room full of people we don’t know.
We know that being vulnerable is hard work, which is why we don’t naturally lean that way. But vulnerability is where being known & heard can begin. Finding healing, being encouraged, feeling supported and known, or perhaps just being listened to is so much more life-giving than feeling important or perfect. Our vulnerability offers others freedom to talk about their hard things. They may even tell us what they’re struggling with, which we need to receive as a precious gift.
The truth is, we will feel deeply unsatisfied, unknown and fragile if our real lives don’t reflect those perfect moments we post on Instagram. While we all celebrate those amazing, photo-worthy moments with you, we will all feel like frauds if we don’t talk about the hard things too. We will continue to think that if we tell the truth about ourselves and our lives, people will walk away from us.
I hope to be brave enough to fumble along and tell people the truth about me along the way.
No good plant can grow from shallow roots. No lasting friendship can be built upon maintaining an image because eventually one or both people will feel like they’re not enough, or they’ll grow to resent each other. Let’s work toward being a safe space for other people to be vulnerable by doing the same ourselves.
After the class was over I went over to the Perfect Strangers and thanked them for providing a safe space for me to talk about some hard things. I assured them that I am not a complete train wreck.