Motherhood: finding the courage to be vulnerable
I think my son was less than an hour old when the feeling started to creep in. When the relief of his safe arrival and overwhelm of becoming a mum started to settle, then the feeling of incompetence started to take root. I felt:
- the incompetence of not being able to deliver him without an unplanned c-section (giving birth was the most natural thing in the world wasn’t it so why couldn’t I do it?!)
- the incompetence of not being able to get him to latch on for breastfeeding straight-away (if it was such a natural instinct for a baby to breastfeed I must be doing something wrong!)
- the incompetence of not knowing why he was crying (all good mums could differentiate between their baby’s different cries couldn’t they!?)
These feelings of incompetence continued and I began to feel more vulnerable and fragile the more I came to terms with becoming a new mum.
What was most surprising about this was how unexpected it was. Not only because so many other mums had told me how they were overcome with feelings of bliss and love in those early days. No one had shared their experience of having the kind of feelings I was having. But also because I had spent most of my life occupying a place of competence. Feeling incompetent was not only unusual for me but deeply uncomfortable!
I came to discover that competence was my comfort blanket and I had relied on it for most of my life. In fact I had prided myself on my ability to feel competent in any challenging situation. I strived to challenge myself to be as capable, strong and as damn near perfect as I could be without being neurotic. Not sure how familiar that will sound to you but this is a particularly strong profile of the high achievers I tend to work with as an Executive Coach.
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But on becoming a new mum I wasn’t able to access the feeling of competence. And without that comfort blanket the feelings of vulnerability became overwhelming.
I saw this as a weakness in myself that I didn’t admire. That was until my beautiful friend Jennifer brought me a book – ‘Daring Greatly; How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love parent and lead’.
This book, written by a research professor Brené Brown, is good….I mean really good. Her TED talk* on the same subject has received over 16 million views so I’m sure I’m not the only one to think this.
If like me you don’t like being vulnerable then it’s important to understand the impact this has. Brené Brown’s research suggests that most of us believe vulnerability and weakness to be the same thing – as a result we avoid vulnerability. The problem is that vulnerability is the birthplace of emotions. So by avoiding feeling fear, shame, grief, sadness and disappointment, we also deny ourselves the true feelings of love, joy, courage, hope and authenticity.
Brené states that “vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weaknesses.”
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Ironically it is the impact of vulnerability that we admire most in others but judge so harshly in ourselves. I don’t know about you but I don’t admire others for their perfectionism but I do admire their ability to:
- Try something new even with the risk of failure
- Share an unpopular opinion if it’s something they truly believe in
- Admit they’re afraid of not succeeding when they get a promotion
- Share the bad financial projection figures with their boss even when they know it’s not going to be well received
- Admit when they are wrong
- Ask for forgiveness when they know they’ve wronged someone
- Say “I love you” first when they’re not certain it’s going to be said back
Motherhood has the ability to humble the most confident of us. It has a way of stripping us naked (literally and metaphorically) and completely exposing our hearts. Overtime I’ve learnt not to judge this. But to accept that, to fully experience the rich tapestry of life, I need to dare greatly and fully embrace my vulnerability.
To be honest I’ve learnt there is no point fighting it as it kind of comes with the territory of motherhood. That’s not to say I still find it easy to be vulnerable but I hope that I’m becoming kinder with myself when I start to feel those feelings.
Here at Wisdom For Working Mums we all about speaking our truth and daring greatly to talk about the highs and lows of being a working mum. As we believe it’s only by embracing our vulnerability that we can truly enjoy the life we’re all working so hard to live……no matter what that life throws at us.
*If you’re interested here’s th link to Brené Brown’s 20 minute TED talk video: