This Week at TDS – September 5, 2019

During our opening meetings, the TDS faculty discussed Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, a book which several teachers read over the summer. Brown has spent years researching and highlighting the importance of vulnerability, which she champions as “the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity,” or the key to leading a full, wholehearted life.

While Brown explores many factors affecting our vulnerability, she saves her final chapter for a conversation about parenting. She begins by reframing the question that has so many of us preoccupied. Rather than focusing on a particular style or formula, we should ask ourselves a seemingly simple question: “Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?” Brown offers research to support her assertion that “who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.”

I’ll admit that her words stopped me in my tracks. For the first several years of my teaching career, I keenly observed parenting styles and philosophies, as well as how those appeared to play out with different children. By the time Will, Emily, and Kate came along, I knew how I wanted to parent. This summer, Brené Brown taught me something that I should have known all along: essentially, my children are likely to ‘do as I do, not as I say.’

While Brown asks parents to first focus on themselves, she does offer some advice for orienting toward our children:

  1. Avoid perfectionism. We must communicate to our children that what they think, or how they feel, matters more than how others judge us. This sounds easy enough, until we remember that we must lead by example.
  2. Understand the difference between shame and guilt. While guilt (“you did something bad”) can be a constructive feeling, shame (“you are bad”) can derail one’s development and lead to a fear of being unlovable. Since our children are bound to be exposed to shame at different points, Brown encourages parents to discuss personal stories in order to help our kids develop “shame resilience.” Of course, she cautions that “we can’t raise children who are more shame resilient than we are.”
  3. Make sure that home is a place of belonging rather than fitting in. Our children should be accepted for who they are, both at school and at home. Brown suggests that, before we quickly check this one off the list, parents should consider how we handle the situations when our children don’t live up to our expectations.
  4. Finally, let children experience adversity. It’s hard to read any parenting article from the past ten years without coming across this message, but Brown explains that “we can’t stand the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure, even when we know that it’s the right thing to do.”

Perhaps Brown’s suggestion that parents first shine a light on themselves is not so remarkable. For years, I have guarded against seeking to fulfill my unrealized athletic aspirations by pushing my children to excel in sports. Parents who maintain a healthy body image or relationship with technology help their children on the path toward doing the same. I even discourage parents of the children I teach from expressing their apprehension about math, explaining that our children are quick to pick up on these signals. All that said, Brené Brown has pushed me to recount moments of embarrassment and failure, along with my realization that these moments don’t define me. I encourage you to have similar conversations with your children.

Daring Greatly has quickly ascended to the top of my recommended reads. If you’d prefer a smaller dose of Brené Brown, try this TED Talk, or read her one-page parenting manifesto.

Doug Norry
Head of School