Ignorance truly is bliss.
If only ignorance was easier to get hold of…knowledge blots it out so quickly and indelibly that I’m much too far from it to ever grasp it again.
I can’t be ignorant about the impact junk food has on our bodies. (Darn. My tongue still likes French fries and chocolate…and ice cream.)
I can’t be ignorant anymore when it comes to plastic toys my 1-year-old loves to teethe on. (It would be easier if I didn’t wonder what was leaching into his mouth every time he grabbed something in our NON-100%-organic-wooden-toy-filled house. Yes, we have plastic toys around.)
And the worst one is the hardest to even talk about: As a student of human nature, education, child psychology and emotions, I understand exactly what I’m doing when I’m stressed out or cause a problem in my kitchen, and then I choose to snap at my kids.
It’s nothing they did. It’s me. It’s me, projecting my inability to accept my own vulnerability, wanting to be perfect and lashing out because I’m not.
Listening to Brene Brown’s TED talks will do that to you.
It’s about the worst feeling in the world to look at yourself from the outside, even in the moment, know that you’re doing something wrong that could harm your kids’ psyche (or at least their mood that day), and still feel yourself doing it anyway.
Ignorance sounds great.
Except that I’m too smart for that. I know it wouldn’t really be better.
Should we Feel Guilt or Shame?
If I can’t have a blissful cover over my eyes, might I be able to achieve joy in its absence, and be better off in the long run?
In her two TED talks, Brene Brown, a researcher about shame and vulnerability, says that vulnerability is the birthplace of joy. That if we try to numb the negative emotions we have – fear, shame, vulnerability – that “we also numb joy, gratitude, and happiness.” Then we feel depressed and vulnerable, and the cycle starts over again.
I was reading an article about Brene in The Costco Connection magazine, and it struck me that moms in our society in particular feel shamed into doing so many things.
The world is veritably yelling:
Are you a good enough parent?
Are you busy enough?
Are you doing enough?
Are you spending enough time with your kids?
Mired in that cacophony, we play the comparison game, we see other people’s “perfect” lives on social media, we read parenting books and blogs and make lists of all the activities we think we should be able to do with our kids. Schools send home lists of skills they need to practice at home to be competent – and to “keep up” – in their grade. Doctors have checklists of milestones they should pass to be healthy. Statistics come out in the media about the many ways in which failing parents are messing up their kids’ lives…
and we feel fear.
We don’t want to let our kids be “that kid.” The one whose potential was wasted, or worse yet, the one on the news about whom everyone is saying, “What happened to him? How did he get to that place?”
We fear. We worry. We work hard to try to compensate.
Now that I’ve listened to both TED talks after reading the article, I realized that my question isn’t, “Do we feel shamed into spending time with our kids?”
It’s actually, “Do we feel shame or guilt about not spending enough time with our kids?”
And the real question: Which one should we feel?
It’s Human to Feel Shame
Brown defines shame as a fear of disconnection, that there is “something about me that if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy for connection.”
Everyone feels shame, except for sociopaths, so it’s okay to feel it. But I don’t think it’s okay to act on it, out of fear.
The opposite of shame, she discovered, was what she calls worthiness. Those who have discovered the ability to climb on top of shame and remain worthy – which gives those lucky ones a “strong sense of love and belonging” – have exactly one thing going for them.
Just one thing.
They believe they are worthy.
They believe that they are worthy for someone else to connect to them, and in so doing their belief becomes their reality.
I don’t know how often that happens, that your thoughts can direct your life, but it’s pretty amazing to think about. It means that, as a parent, I don’t need to help my child be the best in his or her sport, be successful or even at grade level in school, or look beautiful or earn compliments.
I simply need to show them that they are worthy of connection. That they are loved. That they belong.
I need to demonstrate through my own life how to be vulnerable, because to be loved, one must open oneself to the unknown, which is the definition of vulnerability.
I need to let them see me make mistakes and keep trying anyway.
It’s Helpful to Feel Guilt
It turns out that feelings of shame, although universally human, are “highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, eating disorders” and more. It’s not something to embrace, but to acknowledge and work through, work beyond.
Shame is not the same as guilt, although it’s easy to miss the distinction.
Shame is a focus on self; guilt is a focus on behavior.
–Brene Brown, Listening to Shame TED Talk
Shame says, “I am bad. I am a mistake.”
Guilt says, “I did something bad. I made a mistake.”
Shame tells parents, “YOU are not good enough. YOU are a bad parent. YOU will never live up to the standard your kids need. Just by being YOU, you will mess them up.”
Guilt, on the other hand, says, “You had a miss there. You messed up. What are you going to do about it?”
While shame sends people toward self-centered destructive behavior, guilt is actually inversely correlated with all those things.
I guess guilt can be constructive. (Maybe the Catholics have been right all along with that “Catholic guilt” thing!)
What Does This Have to do with the Kitchen, Katie?
There are times on Kitchen Stewardship when I digress quite a bit from real food and natural living topics, but this isn’t one of them.
I think our drive to be true to real food, to live a natural life, and to be good parents can all create unfortunate shame in our lives.
The stakes are so high, and there are so many voices telling us to avoid a multitude of environmental and dietary evils.
It’s almost impossible not to let guilt seep in (I haven’t done enough) and then to let guilt morph into shame (I’ll never be enough). The wealth of information that we are so blessed to have access to comes with a curse as well: The bar.
The bar against which we measure not only our lives but ourselves, because we’re human, gets raised higher, and higher, until it is at an impossible pinnacle.
No one can reach it.
But we’re all so busy looking up at it then we fail to look around and realize that we’re in good company.
We’re among other moms doing the best they can for their families.
And we’re all “enough.”
That Parenting Thing
If you want your kids to start feeling that independence of “I made this,” you’ve got to try my knife skills video on YouTube!
I’ve been able to see photos of happy kids feeling challenged, competent, and confident in the kitchen:
Shared with me on Facebook after this 5-year-old watched the knife skills video.
I’ve heard from moms who feel empowered to let their kids do things they never thought they would do at such a young age.
The joy is evident, and I’m loving it.
But underlying that is the knowledge that I know how these moms feel.
I know that a little piece of them, many of them at least, felt fear when they saw the kids cooking eCourse cross their screen.
You’re not doing enough, the little voice whispered. You are a failure, because your kids don’t know how to cook yet.
And the other little voice, saying, You don’t spend enough time with your kids. You are a bad parent. Other people are doing more than you.
Don’t you just cringe reading those words written down?
Marketing gurus would tell me to exploit that. To make moms feel awful and subpar because they’re not doing enough, and to position my eCourse as the solution to all that shame.
But you know what? I want better for you, because I want more than that for my family, too.
I don’t want to spend time with my children because I feel obligated to.
My shame shouldn’t be the reason I make time for the most precious gifts in my life!
I want to do it because I love them and treasure that time.
I want to enjoy it, to enjoy them, to be vulnerable enough to be free to show them their own connectedness, to show them how much they are loved. To let loose my control in the kitchen enough to foster their own creativity, to let them try something new with no guaranteed successful result, to give them wings lifted up by vulnerability, not shame or guilt.
I can’t do that if I’m teaching them to cook to check off one more box on the “lists of things kids should have to make me a good parent.” I can’t do it if I’m stressed and letting it show, or if I’m unsure where to start and how to teach them.
Lots of folks would rather not have their kids work with them in the kitchen, and I absolutely feel that ways sometimes too.
Keeping Kids Out of the Kitchen
Why DO we dislike working with kids in the kitchen so much?
Is it just that they are slower, messier, and take up our space? (Yes, that’s a huge part of it, I hear from so many women.)
But is it also because we don’t want to look vulnerable in front of them?
It is a vulnerability to invite our children into the kitchen, especially when we don’t want to. It’s vulnerable to let them see us making mistakes…to let them see that we don’t always know quite what we’re doing. Is that why we avoid it so much?
Of course I want to enjoy my time with my children, and I do want to teach them to cook, so then when I hear myself saying, “I don’t wanna!!” I feel guilty about it.
Although I guess according to Brene Brown, guilt may be a little like salt: A little dash makes everything taste better, brings out the true flavors. Too much, and you only taste the salt.
At least with guilt, unlike with salt – you can reverse it if you get too much. Tomorrow is a new day…
We Can do More Than Just Fix This
The good news is that with just a few tweaks in our attitudes, we can not only turn around the ship but send it speeding toward worthiness, picking up other little gifts along the way.
Let’s quit comparing, and just accept that little bit of guilt (not shame).
Just think about what you actually want for your kids.
Personally, I don’t really care if they’re the best at sports or the most well-dressed kid in school (she writes, while wearing scruffy old pajamas). But I do feel really strongly about raising them to be responsible, loving, kind, faithful, and generous. I want them to be incredible husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers.
I want them to be healthy, in body and spirit.
I don’t need to compare to other people, but I do need to figure out where I want my own bar.
For me, teaching them to cook and clean and how to treat other people is part of not just being a good parent, but of accepting the gift from God that they are, of taking my call to motherhood and making it a reality.
If I can do that the way I want, and if I can joyfully invite my kids to learn to cook with me, I’ll reap benefits beyond just avoiding shame and its cronies.
Brene Brown says:
“To me, there’s no more profound finding in this book [Rising Strong] than the role creativity plays in integration of information. Everyone wants to know… ‘How do I integrate [this information] into my life and how does it become how I live?’ And I’ve never been able to answer that until now: It’s clear to me that it’s creativity.
You want to move stuff from your head to your heart? You’ve got to use your hands. You’ve got to write about it; you’ve got to build something out of Play-Doh about it; you’ve got to integrate it through creativity in some way. We were just born makers.”
–The Costco Connection magazine, September 2015, Volume 30, pp. 31-33
In that article, one of her ten guideposts for wholehearted living is “cultivating meaningful work, letting go of self-doubt and ‘supposed to.'”
THAT is what I want for my kids, and that’s why I am so passionate about sharing this eCourse with the world. YES, our children need meaningful work, not just another craft or video game to occupy their time or feign creativity. Making a meal for the family is meaningful (although I know we who do it 21 times a week easily lose sight of that in the doldrums).
And creativity? I talk in the eCourse about how learning to season food is like being an artist, and the children who have been testing out the course the last few months have told their moms, “No, I don’t need measuring spoons. I’m going to measure like a TV chef,” and “I’m using my own seasoning on the vegetables today.”
Our final class – a kid-made meal that they chose the seasonings for!
They’re using their hands, participating in meaningful work, AND being vulnerable enough to be creative and try something in their own way.
I guarantee they feel worthy in that moment.
Katie here, just interrupting for a sec if I may with an exciting announcement about something I’m super passionate about… I just love talking about how to get kids to eat healthy foods – withOUT the power struggles and dinnertime madness I know happens in a lot of families!!!
Want to learn how I manage to avoid our kids becoming picky around here (or at least STAYING that way)? I’m hosting a one-hour live online event for FREE, with 4 dates/times over the next week or so to choose from so it will fit almost any schedule:
Can’t wait to see you there!