I am the youngest in my family by 12 years. You read that right, my sisters were 18 and 16 and my brother was 12 when I was born. Because of the large age gap, my brother and I haven’t necessarily had the typical sibling relationship. I’m not the best at keeping in touch with him by phone but we make time to see each other 3-4 times per year. I spent about a week with him over holidays and loved our time together talking, playing games, and cooking. My brother and I both really love cooking and trying out new recipes. The other day I got a text from him with a recipe for shrimp and grits (YUM). I quickly replied, “Yum! We’ll have to try it out. Thanks!” As I began to move onto other things, I thought about it for a second. Why did my brother send me the recipe? He could have sent it to me for a few reasons. 1. To show off his cooking skills and refined palette 2. Because he knows I like cooking and trying new things 3. To connect with me. Now, I haven’t talked with him to confirm my theory, but I’m guessing it was a mix of all three. My quick response to his text message would have allowed me to miss out on connecting with him more fully. Instead, I decided to call him, which is pretty unusual for me to do. We talked on the phone for his entire 1-hour commute home. I hung up feeling rejuvenated and grateful to be related to such a good human. (more…)
Being braver in our relationships sounds like a nice idea. As we’ve read in previous blogs over the past few months, there are several benefits of moving our relationships towards bravery and vulnerability. But at the heart of things, how do we do this? How can we intentionally create relationships that are brave? Transforming our relationships to brave spaces requires a purposeful decision to exercise bravery every day. Here are some methods of creating and adjusting our relationships towards bravery that you can try out for yourselves. (more…)
In my last post, I talked about the importance of bravery in our relationships. If you haven’t read it, feel free to take a look HERE.
One important aspect of bravery in our relationships is communication. Honest, open communication requires a high level of vulnerability and bravery. Many couples that I have worked with know that their communication patterns need to increase in honesty and vulnerability, but they aren’t sure how to go about making that happen. It can seem scary and overwhelming; many people feel unsure of where to start. Hopefully this blog can be a crash course in some of the best ways to bravely improve your communication, whether with a spouse, child, parent, friend, romantic partner, etc.
The first principle of brave communication is what prolific marriage researcher, John Gottman, calls a soft start-up. Being soft feels a little counterintuitive to bravery. However, a soft start-up sets the tone and creates a space for vulnerability and bravery. Gottman’s research shows that 90% of conversations end the way they start (Gottman, 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work). Therefore, if we want our relationships to be vulnerable and brave, starting soft is a great option. This means trying your best to emotionally regulate beforehand, describing what you see in the relationship without being judgmental, and owning your feelings.
Own Your Own Feelings
One of the difficult and vital parts of communication is owning your feelings—even the difficult ones. This can be challenging because sometimes those difficult emotions feel raw, painful, and far too vulnerable to share, even within a brave relationship. Instead of bravely stepping into the discomfort of those emotions, sometimes we share surface-level emotional experiences that may be masking what’s actually going on for us. An analogy often used in the therapy world is an iceberg. For example, what we might see on the surface is anger, but underneath may be pain, loneliness, fear of rejection, and so on. When we only share the surface level emotions, we run the risk of not having our underlying, tender emotions taken care of by our partners, or are not satisfied with the responses our partners give us.
Owning your feelings by speaking to what is actually going on is brave! One way to effectively do this is by using “I statements.” This helps you stay out of blaming language that can make your partner feel isolated and defensive. For example, instead of saying, “You’re never home on time!” (acknowledging the surface level of the iceberg), you may say, “I feel anxious and a little abandoned when you don’t call when you’re going to be late coming home” (acknowledging the underlying, more vulnerable emotions). Owning your emotions and beginning difficult conversations with “I statements” allows the person you’re communicating with to understand what is going on for you and instantly softens them up a little to take care of those vulnerable feelings.
Avoid Protecting Forms of Communication
Prolific marriage researcher, John Gottman, suggests that there are four unhealthy patterns of communication that, if present in relationships, can often lead to divorce. These are ominously dubbed the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” for relationships. These forms of communication are used to protect oneself. As discussed in the previous blog, it is hard to connect with our partners when we are so focused on protecting ourselves from risk. Evaluate the important relationships in your life. Are these Four Horsemen present? If so, take some time to think about how you could work together with your partner to avoid these and replace them with more constructive ways of communicating, leaving more space for bravery.
Criticism. Criticism is seen when there is an attack on character or personality rather than behaviors. This keeps us out of bravery because it is easier to blame and shame than it is to show that something that the other person did was painful or difficult for us.
Defensiveness. A common response to criticism is defensiveness. We don’t listen when we are defending ourselves. We also might flip the attack on the other person, making our conversation about being right and being safe rather than connection or working on problems.
Contempt. Contempt is criticism’s big brother and involves more hostile forms of attacking, including things like eye-rolling, name-calling, and sarcasm. It’s easy to see how nearly impossible it would be to have a brave conversation in this environment.
Stonewalling. Stonewalling is just what it sounds like: ignoring, running away, or distancing one’s self as a way to avoid conflict or difficult conversations. Stonewalling can foster anxiety and mistrust between partners, making it very difficult to be willing to engage bravely. It is also impossible to have a brave relationship if you’re avoiding it!
You can read more about these Four Horsemen styles in John Gottman’s book, “7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.”
We barely scraped the tip of the iceberg with this blog about brave communication (see what I did there?), but hopefully it’s gotten us thinking about our communication styles with those we love and how we can improve them. Communication is a huge part of good relationships and a great way for us to practice more bravery with those we love. Keep an eye out for the next blog that will discuss how to cultivate more bravery in our relationships.
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Last month (October) is Infant loss awareness month. This is specifically relevant to me as I lost my son to SIDS, seven years ago. Each October 15th, people across the nation, hold a special remembrance for the babies they lost. One way we do this is through a national “Wave of light.” At 7pm, families light a candle in memory of their lost babies and keep the candle lit for an hour. I find the imagery of this “Wave of light” moving across the nation to be very touching. I love lighting a candle for my son and taking time to think of him, while also feeling connected to a greater community of grieving parents. (more…)
I teach a class about multicultural issues at a local university. On the first day, the students did a reading entitled “From Safe to Brave Spaces” by Arao & Clemens (2013). This reading talks about the importance of bravely pushing ourselves in uncomfortable ways so that we may feel a deeper sense of compassion, connection, and empathy towards those who are different from us. As I reflected on this reading to teach in class, I began to wonder if this concept applied to different situations. Could we move our relationships more toward bravery? Could we raise brave children and make our families brave spaces? I’ve pondered this idea quite a bit over the last several weeks and I’ve discovered that bravery is not only beneficial in our relationships, it is vital if we wish to truly connect in vulnerable and meaningful ways and truly see one another. (more…)
During my sophomore year of college, at the age of 20-years-old, I began an online exchange with my grandfather that lasted over six years. He, being well aware of my tendency to over-analyze, once asked what I thought was the worst enemy of “good enough.” I said I didn’t know. He said, “Perfection.” (more…)
The Fear of Missing Out
The term “FOMO” or “fear of missing out” has circulated frequently during the past several years. It even has an official definition on dictionary.com (are they putting everything in the dictionary these days?) FOMO is defined as “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.” As social beings, it makes sense that we are so impacted by the fear of missing out on memories and experiences. We might even feel like life will move on without us and leave us behind. We’ve all experienced a group sharing an inside joke that we weren’t privy too. It feels lousy to be on the outside and we will go to great lengths to prevent that feeling. Some of these great lengths involve overextending ourselves and saying yes too often; leading to feeling emotionally exhausted and neglecting other important aspects of our lives. (more…)
As parents of school aged children everywhere face another back to school season, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences parenting my son who is entering his senior year of high school this fall. Since he was 5, I’ve sent him off to a new year of school anticipating what it would bring- the new friendships, the struggles, the frenzied pace, and-of course, the growth and learning.
And each year, as his mother, I’ve felt myself growing right along with him. I’ve had to learn how to manage the pace, set limits, and say no when needed. I’ve sat by his side, trying not to nod off as he worked painfully slowly sounding out his first little readers. I’ve tutored him through long division, made sure all of the dang science fair projects got done, and sat in the principal’s office with him. Multiple times.
Expectations, Expectations, Expectations
Mark Twain once said, “My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it”. As the mother of a close-to-grown son, I relate to that quote now more than ever!
Because the relationship I have with my children matters so much to me, over the years, I’ve placed a lot of pressure on myself to be a good mom. Additionally, we face messages of cultural idealism around the idea of motherhood–idealism that stressed me out before I could even put my finger on it or had a name for it! I was bombarded with messages in entertainment, at church, and now- in social media- that idealized motherhood, and, as a result- turned up the heat on the pressure I felt. The unrealistic expectations that I allowed myself to build into my life added unnecessary hardship.
Dr. Julie’s Wisdom
Recently, Dr. Julie Hanks gave a talk at the TedX event held in Ogden, Utah. She spoke about the religious, cultural, and historic messages we take in as women, and the damage it can do when we hold motherhood up on a pedestal. She describes the difference between idealizing and valuing motherhood- valuing is to consider something important or significant, and idealizing is to regard something as perfect, or better than reality. Dr. Hanks explains, “When we accept messages from external sources about something that millions of women experience in millions of ways across the globe, it reinforces the idea that there is one right way to be a mother.” She challenges us to think about motherhood as a relationship, and not a role. Roles are rigid- prescribed, scripted, with set expectations and rights and wrongs. Viewing motherhood as a relationship, she shares, allow us to be our authentic selves. It allows us to value the connection between mother and child, and not discount it because it’s in any way different from the idealized standard.
Some of the most valued learning I’ve gained over the last 12 years is accepting and honoring the mom I am to my kids. I’ve kicked mom guilt to the curb and try hard not to let it cross the threshold back into our home– but like every bad ex-boyfriend, it tries to come back around again and again! I’ve learned new patterns and set realistic expectations. I’ve made peace with reality- our lives are not Pinterest boards, my kids get in trouble, and growth is hard. And that’s ok. I’ve learned to honor and value the ways I uniquely mother: with creativity, with humor, and with a little occasional snooping in Instagram DM’s. I’ve realized I’m a good mom because I value the connection I have with my children above all other indicators of success.
I love the freedom offered to us in Dr. Hank’s message- that there is no one right way to be a mother to my children. By focusing on connection in our relationships with our children, it frees us up to parent in the way that works best for our families- conventional or not.
This back to school season, give yourself permission to let go of idealized standards of parenting. You and your children will benefit when you honor the unique ways that you show up as a parent. Neither us nor our children are perfect- we all need space to grow and learn!
Lastly, if the growth and learning your child encounters this year lands you in the chair in the principal’s office, take a deep breath and know you are in good company. Many a good mom have sat in that chair in the past, and many a good mom will sit in it in the future. Consider this your across-the-internet fist bump.
Hanks, J. (2019, July 22). The Costs of Idealizing Motherhood, Julie de Azevedo-Hanks, TEDxOgden. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlC8XqTSLUE
Twain, Mark. “A quote by Mark Twain.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7595047-my-mother-had-a-great-deal-of-trouble-with-me