If I knew then what I know now….

Being an active participant in a Brene Brown Discussion Group has opened my heart and my perspective in the most profound way. Brene’s Discussion Group is incredibly diverse in ages, cultures, experiences and challenges. The honesty and vulnerability that people are willing to share with strangers underscores how much we need to be heard and supported especially when we are struggling. This group of people is committed to kindness and not passing judgment. For many it is a refuge — a safe and trusting place to take their stories.

As I hear these stories in our Discussion Group, my empathy runs deep. Throughout the many chapters of my own life, I have lived similar experiences that others share. And although I have healed and moved on, I can recall the deep pain and disconnection I felt during some of my toughest adversities. This meaningful Discussion Group helps fill that void of isolation and disconnection for people who are in the “arena”. The support of others serves as a foothold for many who need a boost to keep doing their personal growth work.

What has struck me so profoundly is that many of the personal growth changes that people are genuinely working on are the same — feeling worthy, needing to be heard, speaking their truth, setting boundaries, self awareness, etc.

And the reason we need to work on these life skills is that we were not taught them when we were younger. In fact many people struggle because the cycle of dysfunctional behavioral patterns got passed along from one generation to the next.

When I began my mindfulness journey 4 years ago, I had a strong desire to share what I was learning with younger people in hopes of offering them some valuable tools to lighten their life load. I kept wishing I had known about mindfulness when I was a young adult. When I discovered Brene Brown I wished that I’d known all that she teaches when I was a young mother of 3 with a career and a boatload of stressful life challenges. When I added meditation to my resources for personal growth, it dawned on me that this beneficial practice would have alleviated a lot of sticky attachments to draining emotions and would have enriched my life throughout all my decades.

What if I had entered parenthood armed with some rock solid healthy behavioral skills along with my personal values about how I would treat my innocent children?

I’ve shared before that I had a very dysfunctional childhood and that contributed to some of my learned behavioral patterns such as being an enabler and co-dependent, and possessing a strong desire to avoid conflict. I had some pretty strong ideas about what I did NOT want to do as a parent for my precious children. So I did my best to create a very safe, loving, trust-filled and playful environment for my children. While I succeeded at avoiding saying and doing the things that my parents did that hurt me or shut me down, I missed some things that are critically important to living a wholehearted life.

Because I did not have good coping skills for high conflict situations, I taught them to be conflict avoiders too. I’ve witnessed both withdrawal and angry outbursts from my children over the years. Admittedly I was guilty of showing both of those behaviors when they were growing up. I surely could have taught them from an early age how to process their emotions and not to react to them immediately. And I could have role modeled respectful, calm ways to achieve conflict resolution.

I instilled a strong work ethic in my children but did not teach them (or show them by example) boundaries and balance. I brought a lot of work home and often worked weekends all while donning the supermom cape to make up for it by being a Cub Scout leader, Sunday school teacher, and making homemade Halloween costumes to prove to myself (and others) that I could “do it all”. I was exhausted but I could check off all the boxes. Today I see my adult children putting in long hours at their careers and finding the work-life balance challenging with their young families. While I can impart some wisdom to them now, it would have been far better to have taught them from an early age about boundaries and balance. I realize now that although I was physically with them for much of the time, my mind was always racing with that endless to do list. Being fully present for life provides one of the best frameworks for both boundaries and balance.

Another area where I could have done a lot better as a parent is asking for help — and most importantly, being able to “receive” that help . I know that I had a lot of pride mixed with insecurities that prevented me from admitting when I was overwhelmed and subsequently asking for help. And all too often, I would refuse help that someone would offer to me because I felt that it revealed some kind of weakness in me. Of course I now realize that accepting help is not only beneficial for me (the receiver) but so rewarding to another person who genuinely wants to lend a helping hand.

As I reflect on what I have learned in the past four years on my own personal growth journey and what I am now learning from my involvement in Brene’s Discussion Group, I find Brene’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto resonates with me deeply as a parent and a grandparent. If I knew then what I know now, I would have embraced my wholehearted parenting with broader, deeper skill sets.

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