When I started out as a parent I didn’t realise that parents grow through their parenting as much as their children grow through being parented. I now understand that a little more.

Over the last year I’ve been digesting the writings of Brené Brown and found her not just helpful but often inspirational. Her insights into human relationships – including parenting – are sharp and wise. I’ve been a pastor for over twenty years but it’s been through Brown that I’ve seen the simple difference between guilt and shame (ie. guilt is about feeling bad about what you’ve done; shame is feeling bad about who you are). In Daring Greatly Brown applies this to motherhood and parenting, encouraging us to resist shaming children and instead to model and teach wholeheartedness to them as we learn from our mistakes and life’s experiences. If you want to know more, read her books!

On this Mother’s Day/Mothering Sunday weekend in the UK, here’s an extract from Brené Brown that inspires me that it’s never too late to grow as a parent and for children to grow as they learn from their parents:

We can’t shame proof our children. Our task instead is teaching and modelling resilience, and that starts with conversations about what shame is and how it shows up in our lives. The adults I interviewed who were raised by parents who used shame as a primary parenting tool had much more difficulty believing in their worthiness than the participants who experience shame occasionally and were able to talk about it with this parents.

If you have grown children and are wondering if it’s too late to teach shame resilience … the answer is no. It’s not too late. The power of owning our stories, even the difficult ones, is that we get to write the ending. Several years ago, I received a letter from a woman who wrote:

‘Your work change my life in a very strange way. My mom saw you speak at a church in Amarillo. Afterwards she wrote me a long letter that said, “I had no idea that there was difference between shame and guilt. I think I shamed you your entire life. I meant to use guilt. I never thought you weren’t good enough. I did not like your choices. But I shamed you. I can’t take that back, but I need you to know that you’re the best thing that ever happened to me and I’m so proud to be your mother.” I couldn’t believe it. My mom is seventy-five and I’m fifty-five. It healed me so much. And it changed everything, including the way I parent my own kids.’

Brené Brown, Daring Greatly (London: Penguin, 2011), pp.227-228

What a courageous mother to write such a letter!

Like that mother, some of us have experienced shaming from parents who didn’t realise what they were doing, and if they did they’d be quick to say ‘I’m sorry’. Some of us parents have unintentionally but similarly used shaming as a parenting tool and we need to say ‘I’m sorry’. And many children have also done the same, perpetuating the cycle. Isn’t it time this changed? It probably starts with us all saying ‘I’m sorry’.