Like Mother, Like Superhero

I’m delighted to be able to share the parenting wisdom of one of my favorite writers, researcher and social worker Brené Brown, here on Letters to a Parent. If you haven’t found her site yet, set aside some time, click over, and prepare for a treat. This post is especially appropriate this week as we put away our holiday trinkets & relaxed schedules and return to our routines at school, work, and home. Enjoy! {And thanks, Brené!}

* * *

In January, Ellen and I ran into Nordstrom so I could pick up some make-up. While we were there, we decided to check out the sale in the children’s shoe department. I had on my workout clothes and was looking pretty ragged. When we got to the shoe department, there were three moms picking out shoes while their young daughters tried on boots and sneakers. These women were stunning and their daughters were equally beautiful.

As I tried to stay out of the swampland of comparison, I saw a strange blur of jerky movement out of the corner of my eye. It was Ellen. They were playing a pop song in the neighboring children’s department and Ellen was dancing. Or, to be more specific, she was doing the robot.

At the very moment that Ellen looked up and saw me watching her, I saw the magnificent moms and their matching daughters staring right at Ellen. They looked horrified. Ellen froze. Still bent over with her arms in rigid formation, she looked up at me with these eyes that said, “What do I do, Mom?”

I remember thinking, “Break the cycle! Be on her side.”

I grew up with a suffocating fear of not being cool enough and not belonging. I grew up with a gut-wrenching fear of this moment. My default would be to shoot a look at Ellen that said, “Don’t be so uncool.”

I glanced up at the mothers, then I looked at Ellen. I reached down into my courage, as far as I go, and I smiled. “You need to add the scarecrow to your moves.”  I let my wrist and hand dangle from my extended arm, then I pretended to bat my forearm around. Ellen and I stood in the middle of the shoe department and practiced our moves until the song was over.

Back-to-school is always emotional around our house. Today was Ellen’s first day of class and my first day of class. This morning, she walked up to me in the kitchen and looked at me with those same eyes. The eyes that say, “No matter what happens, I believe what you tell me about myself. Can you put your own fears away long enough to make me feel safe? Can you tell me I belong here – no matter what?”

She said, “I’m scared. Are you scared?”  I said yes. Then, I went into my bedroom and got my incredible superhero necklaces. I put one on her and the other on me. I told her, “My friend Andrea says that we are our own superheros. I believe her. Let’s practice that today.”

I was able to snap a picture of Ellen in her superhero necklace, but I had to get in my car to get a picture of my necklace (talking about goofy).

We both did OK today. We’re both tired and emotionally exhausted, but we have just enough energy left to bust-a-move.

Brené Brown is a mom, researcher, writer, activist, wannabe photographer and lover of twinkle-lights (not to mention a former 2-year old beret-wearing free spirit).  She is a member of the research faculty at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, where she’s taught graduate courses on shame and empathy, global justice and women’s issues for the past ten years. She spent the past eight years studying shame, empathy and vulnerability and how these powerful emotions affect the way we live, love, parent, work and build relationships. You can read more about her work here and on her blog, Ordinary Courage.

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4 responses to “Like Mother, Like Superhero

  1. What every girl needs is a mother willing to bust a move in front of the magnificent moms, in order to help us when we’re so unsure. This was BEAUTIFUL. Thanks a million for sharing.

  2. I am already a believer! But I enjoyed this post. I love my mother, but I grew up in a home where my mom took the other person’s (stranger, mean friend, crazy neighbor) side on everything. I suppose she was trying to teach me to look at things from someone else’s point of view or maybe playing devil’s advocate to get me to think; but most of the time, I just felt like no matter what I did or what point of view I held, I could never manage to get on “her side” of things. Great post. Thanks.

  3. These questions are worth a jot down on a post it note for the computer screen: Can you put your own fears away long enough to make me feel safe? Can you tell me I belong here – no matter what?”

    How hard it is to turn away from our own need for affirmation and turn around to affirm the next generation.

  4. What an insightful mother! Thank you for this awesome post.

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