“Lying facedown in the (parenting) arena”

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt (quote taken from Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong)

I’m in the midst of Rising Strong, written by the incredible researcher, author, and person that is Brene Brown. And I have to say, it’s hitting home given my day yesterday. After an exceptionally trying morning, I was lying facedown in the parenting arena and it sucked. In fact, it physically hurt.

While Brown writes about how we need to courageously feel and face the suck, she also writes passionately about how we get up, how we “rise strong” after getting knocked down in whatever arena we are fighting in. I imagine this will resonate with many people, not just parents, as we are all faced with challenging and life-altering arena moments.

So back to the “suck” for just a moment.

I’m an emotional person. A very emotional person and while this can be a wonderful and beautiful thing, it is also a challenging aspect of my personality. I also do very, very (very) poorly with little or interrupted sleep. With a newborn and a toddler, sleep isn’t always acquired easily (what a revelation, I know). You think about it constantly, you crave it, you dream about getting more sleep (this is a real thing). You understand why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. You understand how and why people can enter a state of psychosis after prolonged wake time. You get it because you sometimes live it. Well, I have. Thus, after a fairly challenging night, an early awakening and a clingy / whiny toddler waking up the baby, I lost my cool. I lost my cool on my husband in front of my daughter and son.

Shame. It oozed through my being all morning (the only bright spot was my daughter’s music lesson). It seeped into my afternoon. It kept me awake when I tried to squeeze in an afternoon nap. The physical ache I felt (partly due to another potential round of mastitis) gnawed away at me. Why? Because while I believe in expressing emotions and being my authentic self, I don’t believe in displaying emotions the way I did in front of my children. Furthermore, my husband was deserving of my emotional explosion at six o’clock in the morning. It isn’t healthy and is potentially damaging. Hence, the shame and the guilt.

Brown talks about shame and guilt in Daring Greatly (another great and highly recommended read). She talks about the healthy aspects of guilt – that it can motivate behaviour change and help us grow. But, shame, oh nasty, nasty shame can keep us locked up inside ourselves unable to move forward. It stops us in our tracks; it stops us from opening up, sharing, exposing our dark moments and true selves because we believe this will threaten our social security, our status, our place in the world. What if people don’t like how I behaved? What if people judge me for what I said? What if people cut me out? What if they stop liking me?

Yet, by not sharing, we are not our authentic selves, and thus unable to meaningfully and deeply connect with those around us. And being the social creatures that we are, we crave and more importantly, need, social connection to survive and thrive. Hence a significant and troubling conundrum – how do we live honestly and courageously and still maintain our relationships? 

In her research, Brown has found the happiest individuals are those who move into vulnerability and prevent shame from taking hold. It’s not surprising. If we give ourselves the permission to show up how we need to and speak our truth (to use that ever-so-corny expression), we allow ourselves to be the unified and unique human that we are. And furthermore, if we are who we are, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get up after falling face down in whatever life arena we are playing in.

So, yesterday, when I was facedown in the parenting arena, a good girlfriend reminded me of Brown’s words: it’s not how we fail, it’s how we get up.

I’m getting up by sharing my facedown moment instead of letting shame work its nasty dark magic and keep me silent. I am getting up by continuing to explore and utilize strategies such as mindfulness (and sleep…oh I will be finding ways to get more glorious sleep) to prevent my emotions from getting the better of me. I am getting up by striving to do better next time in the presence of my family.

But don’t let that last paragraph fool you. I’ll fall again. And again. I’ll be facedown in the muck a few more times over the next ten months of this maternity leave…oh and the next 20 years raising my children, but each and every time I will get up. I will strive to do better. And each time I will talk about it. That’s all I can do.

Facedown moments are inevitable. They indicate that you are trying, that you are willing to take risks and play in whatever arena you’re playing in. You’ve likely had some mega and not-so-mega setbacks. And you’ll have more (well, only if you’re in the arena taking risks). But next time it happens, why not change the ending? Why not ask yourself, “how am I going to get up?”

M

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