Joy & Vulnerability

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As I have written about in previous posts, I love the work of Dr. Brené Brown. I recently watched her new special “The Call to Courage” on Netflix and it is a great reflection of the her decades of research on shame and vulnerability and the path to living a whole-hearted life. I highly recommend that you check it out.

In watching the show, I was reintroduced to a concept that I have been thinking about all week. I would like to share with you, as it really resonated with me:

When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.

When experiencing overwhelming feelings of love, we are at our most vulnerable; and it can trigger a dress rehearsal for tragedy. Brené outlines the example of a parent standing over his/her sleeping child. In that moment, the parent is filled with deep joy, followed by feelings of terror that something will happen to take the child away from him/her.

Worrying about things that have not happened does not protect us from pain. These thoughts only prevent us from truly experiencing the beauty of the moment before us. The next time you are worrying about “what ifs”, Brené suggests that you follow it with an acknowledgement that: “I am feeling vulnerable.” This creates space from the worry and brings you back into the present moment: revealing it to be a thought, not reality.

She encourages cultivating a regular practice of gratitude, as the most grateful people are the most joyful. When fear is triggered by joy, she suggests making a conscious effort to remember the things you are grateful for: then speak your gratitude or capture it in a journal.

Lastly, she outlines how to appreciate the ordinary moments. In a culture of scarcity, we are taught to seek the extraordinary; this leads us to miss out on the beauty of the ordinary moments unfolding before us on a regular basis. Take note of the small things that you appreciate about your family, work and friends: the fresh smell of your child’s hair after a bath; laughter at the family dinner table; the enjoyment of a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. It is these things that help us to connect with joy on a regular basis, appreciate the present moment, and lean into the discomfort of not knowing the future.

The good news is that joy, collected over time, fuels resilience—ensuring we will have reservoirs of emotional strength when hard things do happen; and the remedy for fear is gratitude.

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A Juggling Act

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As a single, full-time working parent, I often feel caught up in a juggling act. The balls flying through the air represent my various identities – mother, friend, daughter, employee, community member – and each of them demands time, effort and attention. More often that not, a ball or two drops and I am left scrambling to get it back into the air. Then the act starts up all over again.

Life is busy and time is finite: this is a fact. As I walk along this parenting path, I am realizing more and more the importance of prioritization, self-discipline and self-kindness. I simply cannot do it all. Some things need to be set aside and let go. The question then becomes – what is most important to my family and me? What do I need to live my best life?

Most recently, I took time to evaluate my jam-packed weekend routine. After a full work week, I was jumping right into a schedule of “to do’s” on my precious days off. It left little, to no, time for being fully present and engaged with my daughter. I finished each weekend depleted and without rest; and my child was often asking for more of my attention. The worst part is there is no end to it all. As a wise friend once told me: “You will die with an unfinished to-do list.” Amen.

I asked myself – Why am I doing this? What is most important to me? After some reflection, I identified the following:

  1. To be an engaged and loving Mom;
  2. To ensure that we are eating healthy and well;
  3. To keep us safe and protected;
  4. To savour the time that I have with my daughter while she is young (and still wants to spend time with me).
  5. To cultivate more joy and fun.

I then reviewed the activities I was doing most weekends; and it turned out a lot of time was time spent on chores. I considered my list and decided other than laundry, budgeting and keeping the house generally tidy (e.g. changing sheets), a lot of it could wait until another time.

After deciding what chores to prioritize, I decided to create a standard two-week, rotating meal plan. While not as exciting as providing new meals on a weekly basis, it removes the guesswork, and it saves creative cooking for special occasions: like when we host friends and family.

I picked healthy meals both my daughter and I enjoy; I also tried to choose ones that produce multiple servings and allow for portion freezing. When I take the time to cook more labour intensive meals (e.g. Shepherd’s Pie), I know I am also investing in meal preparation offering value and time savings (e.g. two to three dinners). On a busy weekday, there is nothing better than pulling a well-balanced meal out of the freezer and putting it right into the oven.

Lastly, I started to on-line grocery shop, rather than drive to the store. Many stores offer this option now. Not only can you shop in the comfort of your own home, you can set a time to pick up the groceries for free, or have them delivered to your home for a small charge. I place my order mid-week and I track the grocery bill costs as I shop. It is much more efficient than walking up and down the aisles of a store; and my monthly grocery bills have greatly reduced since I started.

Lastly, I asked my daughter to help me identify more fun activities that we can enjoy together over the weekend. She likes to play school, build forts and dance to “Just Dance” videos on YouTube. I enjoy taking her on walks with our dog to Mt. Doug Park, Thetis Lake and in our local neighbourhood.

Although weekends are still really busy at our house, we talk, share and laugh a lot more now. The same is true for those weekday evenings where I am not scrambling to cook a meal. Even though it is still a juggle, my life is also a work in progress; and I am doing my best to evaluate, streamline and adjust as I go.

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This article was written for the April 2019 edition of Island Parent Magazine.

Learning How to Date…Again…

“Thankfully, relationships aren’t like baseball, where it’s three strikes and you’re out. The universe keeps pitching us new opportunities to redo, repair, and reinvent ourselves with another person.” ~ Dr. Stan Tatkin

Give Love Man Holding Red Heart In Hands For Love Valentines Day

I never enjoyed the dating experience as a teenager. It always felt awkward and uncomfortable to me. I think this is, in part, because I am an introvert: so making small talk with strangers is a challenge. I much prefer spending time with people who I know and love well and engaging in deep, intimate conversation. This is generally not a great fit for the superficial nature of the dating scene.

I met my ex-husband when I was nineteen years old; and we stayed together for twenty-one years. I was overjoyed at the thought of having found my special person so young and I loved the idea of staying with him ‘forever’. I never wanted to date again. Check!

For a variety of reasons, I found myself at the end of my relationship two years ago; and now here I am starting all over again.  After experiencing deep heart-break, it is hard to imagine re-entering the arena of love. The vulnerability required to play the game is truly intimidating. You have to bring your whole self to the dating experience; and this means taking a deep breath and jumping into the unknown.

To start the process, a friend of mine recommended that I look into the work of Dr. Stan Tatkin. His is a relationship expert and his work focusses on how to build secure, functioning relationships.  He draws on principles from neuroscience and attachment theory to first help you better understand yourself and then your potential partner. I am currently reading his new book, Wired for Dating. It is a great resource and I highly recommend it to anyone considering entering the dating scene.

The interview with Dr. Tatkin posted below, hosted on the podcast Relationship Alive with Neil Sattin, is a good capture of his work and overall approach:

I really appreciate Dr. Tatkin’s description of the various attachment types (anchor, wave or island). I found it to be very revealing and I now much better understand my own preferences and approach (I am a wave). Additionally, I like the traits that he describes of a secure functioning relationship. It provides me with a clear outline of what needs to be in place for a romantic partnership to succeed. I also love it because it is so relevant to parenting my daughter and nurturing a healthy relationship with her as she grows into adulthood.

Traits of a Secure, Functioning Relationship

Security: We protect each other.

Sensitivity: We are aware of each other’s needs.

Justice and Fairness: We quickly repair any hurts that occur.

Collaboration: We are in this together.

True Morality: What is good for me, is good for you.

Although I am still nervous about the journey ahead of me, I feel like I have some really good tools on hand now to help me enter into this experience with an open heart and mind. I will let you know how it goes!

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Something to Inspire

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One of my favourite writers and thought leaders is Dr. Brené Brown. She a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Brené has spent the past thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.

She is the author of three #1 New York Times Bestsellers: Rising Strong, Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection. Brené is also the Founder and CEO of The Daring Way and COURAGEworks – an online learning community that offers eCourses, workshops, and interviews for individuals and organizations ready for braver living, loving, and leading.

I am currently taking her online “Kitchen Sink” course on the gifts of imperfect parenting. I am really enjoying it so far and I look forward to telling you more about my experience of it in the coming weeks.

Brené’s 2010 TEDx Houston talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world, with over 25 million viewers. It is definitely worth a watch.

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