Remember Brene Brown? The woman who gave that great TED Talk on how vulnerability makes you a better person and parent? Well, I just came across another bit of magic of hers, via The Huffington Post. It’s an excerpt from her new book Daring Greatly, in which she talks about a parenting lesson she learned from the writer Toni Morrison. During an interview, Morrison told Oprah — the Queen of Actualized Living — that children learn everything they need to know about themselves from the way our faces look when they walk into a room.
Brown says this bit of insight totally changed the game for her. She writes:
Ms. Morrison explained that it’s interesting to watch what happens when a child walks into a room. She asked, “Does your face light up?” She explained, “When my children used to walk in the room when they were little, I looked at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or if their socks were up. . . . You think your affection and your deep love is on display because you’re caring for them. It’s not. When they see you, they see the critical face. What’s wrong now?” Her advice was simple, but paradigm- shifting for me. She said, “Let your face speak what’s in your heart. When they walk in the room my face says I’m glad to see them. It’s just as small as that, you see?”
Wow. I get why Brown was so blown away by what Morrison had to say. I mean, we all sort of instinctively know this, but it’s one of those things that once you actually say it out loud and articulate it in a clear, powerful way that makes sense, you think, “Oh shit. I guess I’ve been doing it wrong, even though I meant to do it right.” And while yes, I can see that I do this to my daughter sometimes (“Oh, you’ve got food on your shirt!” is a big one), I’m sooooo into supporting my daughter, making her feel loved, helping her be confident, doing everything I can to make sure all the ticks of toxicity that touch the fringe of her life don’t bury themselves down within her precious little soul that sometimes I think I’m probably too into it. I’m trying too hard, making something out of nothing. I catch myself forgetting about my daughter’s innate strength, her God-given resiliency, her own special genius that shines through her words and actions all the time. It’s not just the unintentionally critical face some of us have to worry about; for me, it’s also the overly-cautious micromanage-y caregiving that unintentionally becomes worry that I need to curb.
What would happen if instead of over-talking and over-explaining out of a desire to be sure my daughter has all the coping tools she needs, what if I just let my face beam, letting her know that everything is alright? Just a hug and a smile – both of which I give freely – maybe I could start to let them do the talking. This time of transition for me from married person to single mother, from naive young girl to informed, empowered adult, has been so interesting, such a mind-blowing journey. And in spite of the fact that I try diligently to keep the concerns of the adult world out of my daughter’s life, she has witnessed me transform in front of her eyes. I’m sure she’s learned more from the example I’ve set than from any single thing I’ve said to her, no matter how well-meaning. And that’s Ms. Morrison’s point, right? What we do is more important than what we say. How we *are* is what tells our kids the real story of how we feel.
Brene Brown closes her piece on HuffPo with a parenting manifesto that she wrote inspired by Toni Morrison’s advice. You can go to Brown’s website and download a nice colorful copy to print out, if you like. I did. But I won’t show it to my daughter, carefully going over it with her, over-explaining to her why I care about these ideas and why I want her to know she’s loved. I’m just going to pin it up in a place where I can see it and then I am going to do my best to be it. To tell the story silently with a smile and a hug.
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