How much of your decision making is informed by an outdated version of yourself?
By social and cultural expectations?
How much does performing to the expectations of society get in the way of your relationships?
I have a little story…
I can’t tell you how many times that I casually mentioned to other parents that my kid would sleep in the bed with me and my husband, and this was met with a look of shock and discomfort that was followed by a sigh of relief, “well mine does too, but I don’t tell anyone.”
But I don’t tell anyone...
That struck me.
It made me wonder exactly how much the culture around parenting, the expectations around the ways that we as parents interact with our children, dictates our relationship with our kids, with others, and with ourselves.
The fact that these other parents weren’t free to admit their reality really made me feel for them. I won’t get into the circumstances of my life that may have contributed to my feeling like it just makes sense to put it all out there right now, and I am not saying that being the way that I am is any less isolating or frees you from judgment at all (it doesn't), but I couldn’t help but see a correlation between how isolating parenting can be in general, and how then there is this added layer of expectation and pressure that further isolates us. It surprised me that so many of us just accept this performance of “normal” parenting, this lie, as a given.
I came across so many parents who had this very same reaction, which told me that all of these people were doing the same thing: co-sleeping with their children under a veil of shame. As parents, they felt pressure to hide this aspect of their truth, their experience, their relationship to their kid, their spouse, and to themselves. How incredibly isolating! It was especially surprising to me because parents have co-slept with their children for thousands of years all over the world, and still do in so many cultures. Why would anyone feel the need to hide this? Why pretend? I began to look at the other things that we hide, that we perform, in the interest of protecting normalcy. To me, it just made sense to investigate the many approaches and practices to sleeping and childrearing without judgement so that we can decide what personally works for our families. And I know many other people who feel the same way. But for some reason, in the world, in the culture, there still are prevailing ideas about how we should manage our relationships to our children, to our spouses, to just about everyone, instead of living with them, cooperatively. Instead of acknowledging the reality of the situation that we exist in and moving through it together, in relationship, from there.
What I mean when I say manage our relationships is that we impose our ideas of what the relationship should be, instead of seeing it for what it really is. We often do this without thinking about it. We manage the public perception around us by lying about who we are and what we do. Even in small ways, we are building a narrative around this idea of who we are, creating a story around our identity.
Story building can be inspirational in some scenarios. Say you want to go to college to be a biologist and you decide that you are going to refer to yourself as a student of biology from now on. You have started studying biology and you are taking it seriously and moving forward to become the thing that you have decided to align your identity with. In this situation, the story of being a biologist is helping you to become the biologist.
It is when we build stories in the service of others, narratives that we believe fulfill their ideas of who we are but that go against the actual reality of who we are and how we navigate the world, that things become fuzzy. When we do this we are creating and sustaining a self limiting narrative. This for of story building is, in many ways, a form of self harm through rejection of our actual selves. When we build narratives to protect ourselves we embody the very shame we are attempting to avoid. Instead of validating the reality of our actual lived experience, we are validating the narrative that we have created to protect ourselves. The story of our shame.
The self limiting narrative develops deeper roots as we foster and maintain it through the management of the relationships that make up the story that we are telling. We do this through coercion, punishment, lies, transactions… We ask our children to participate in the story with us. We may tell them that if anyone finds out that they sleep in the bed with us they will be judged or punished (reinforcing fear). What seems like a harmless lie tells your child that the story is more important than their lived experience. The story then becomes part of the foundational reality through which they learn to navigate the world. A narrative built around interacting from fear, shame, and protecting the sensibilities of others.
This is just an example of one way in which I see identity aligning with a story versus reality, but when you start to see these patterns, you start to notice how the ways in which we navigate the world collectively and as individuals is built around avoiding shame and judgement. How much of it is built around fear.
Is your life built around protecting a story?
Are your relationships part of that story? Are your interactions with others determined by the story that you tell? Are the foundations of your interactions with others rooted in establishing control?
Does a veil of shame and expectation buffer your experience of life? Your relationships?
I believe that we can change the way that we navigate the world and our relationships by getting honest with ourselves. By uncovering, embracing, and accepting the truth of who we are, without the narrative, without the veil, and without judgement.