Let’s be clear: Pete and I are not the greatest parents since sliced bread. We really have not known what we’re doing. We’ve done the best we could, and sometimes our best wasn’t great. But what we HOPED to do was make it safe for our children to be themselves around us, and not need to pretend to be someone that they imagined we wanted them to be. However that dynamic was lived out, as I said yesterday, on three occasions (at least) one or the other of our children have come to us with a serious confession.
Each time, I had the same initial reactions, not necessarily in this order:
- Maybe it is easier to be the parent that a child will NEVER tell the truth to.
- I cannot believe my kid just told me this; I would NEVER have told this to my own parents.
- What the heck do we do now that we know this?
- I did NOT want to KNOW this!
I would like to think, although I may be wrong, that our attempts to kick shame to the curb – however sporadic, inconsistent and misguided – managed to create an environment that when push comes to shove, our kids seem to be willing, in some cases, to come to us with hard things and trust us to not screw up too badly in the process.
Sadly, shame can be effective in ways that we might not notice if we don’t pay attention. If we create an environment of shame, the person with the “power” in the relationship is able to avoid a lot of inconvenient truths. Shame teaches people to lie and hide. If we motivate our children or other people whom we have power over to be afraid of shame, then we can avoid all sorts of “nasty” (sarcasm) things associated with vulnerability, like: hearing and telling and dealing with the truth, wrestling through conflict, acknowledging differences of opinion and values, talking about fears and insecurities, failures and frustrations. Shame is a powerful weapon in the fight against intimacy, vulnerability and sharing one another’s burdens.
What role has shame played in your life? It’s easy to think of all the ways we hate it, but in what ways have you loved it?