Overview of Chapter 2: What Drives Our Shame

A little earlier than suggeested, but here is a sneak preview of what will be included in the 2nd chapter of Connected Living. This was a bit of a struggle, and quite challenging. So feedback will be much appreciated. Personal messages are helpful. If you do like it please feel free to share with others.

Our shame diminishes us, it stops us being vulnerable and therefore connected with those around us. Shame can quickly turn into blame, and jealousy, it encourages us to search for what disconnects us rather than what connects us.

When I think about what I am ashamed of, I realise that I have heard a lot of the descriptions I use from other people. We share a lot of our shame with the people around us. How ridiculous is that? So we all share common themes in the very thing that causes us not share and drives disconnection!

Now not all of our shame is shared by everyone, however the broad themes of our shame are. To illustrate this I will list a few things that create feelings of shame in me;

  • Not being handy; I am completely inept at all things DIY, every time a craftsman, my brother-in-law, or my brother does some work around my house I feel that I am somehow less of a man. (I know it makes no sense and what I can and cannot do does not define me, but that is my initial feeling).
  • Having poor mental health; when my mental health is poor and my mood is low, I instantly go to a place of shame. I want to hide it away, I am afraid that I appear weak and flawed. Now this is an initial response, and I am able to overcome this shame, however every time I feel low I go straight to feeling ashamed and wanting to hide away.
  • Being overweight; I am not comfortable with how I look, it makes me feel like I am somehow a failure. I can hear you all shouting “go on a diet then!” You are right, I could do something about it. I have made attempts in the past with varying degrees of success. This then drives that shame of being weak-willed and a complete failure. Oh god I can feel my jaw getting tight with shame just writing about it.

Some of you will recognise those feelings of shame that I have described. There are a lot more where they came from, but lets not over share.

You will notice that our society and culture drive the three triggers of shame I have described. If you are going to be a successful man in our society you have to be able to build and maintain your home, keep your shit together and be pleasant on the eye, amongst many other things, which I probably do not possess.

Our shame and vulnerability is shaped by our map of the world (our paradigm). It is probably best to describe paradigms before we start to talk about how to tackle our shame and lean into our vulnerability.

Stephen Covey describes paradigms as our maps of the world. What is important to remember though is that a map is an interpretation of the territory before us and not the actual territory. It is important to make this distinction, as we will all have different interpretations of our territory even though we may share that territory with others. Our experiences and how we interact with our territory will determine how we draw/paint our map. The stories we are told will all add to the detail of our maps. The stories we hear come from a variety of sources, not just our families, but from our local community, news media, social media, and fictional media. This therefore creates a rich and detailed map that does share some similarities with those people we share a culture with. Below is a picture that is used frequently to describe paradigms and perception. Some of you will recognise it, and be able to see both the old lady and the young lady. Some of you will only be able to see one or the other.

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Once you see either the old lady or the young lady for the first time, your paradigm has shifted and more detail is added to the map of your world. You will forever be able to see both. As we interact more with our surroundings the more detail we add to our map. These interactions, create more data, which is then incorporated into our ever-expanding map, however how we view this data is dependant on our previous experience with similar data. The problem is those previous experiences may not be our own, and may come from stories, many of which might not be completely factual. Can you see why parts of our map of the world might not be completely useful to us, and in fact can be destructive. It is important to challenge our paradigms if we want to start to step out of this shame that our paradigms can generate.

So how do our paradigms shape our shame? It is probably best if we dissect some of the shame I experience and discover where it comes from. Let’s look at the shame driven by my body image. This is based on a few different paradigms. Firstly I see that our culture values men that are slim, muscular and athletic, and I am none of them, however if I ate correctly and exercised regularly I would have a body like this. Our society values people who eat healthily and exercise well, therefore I see people that live up to this ideal as successful. I do not live up to this ideal therefore I am not successful. Occasionally I will make half-hearted attempts to live up to this ideal and then give up, therefore I am a failure and therefore I am less valuable as a person, and that is where my shame comes from. If we don’t live up to our paradigms we can feel less valuable as a member of our community and this makes us feel ashamed. There is no reason why I don’t live a healthy lifestyle other than I choose not to, and if I don’t challenge my paradigm I feel really ashamed of this.

Up until a few years ago I was a smoker, this was a source of great shame. Everyone knows smoking is unacceptable (another paradigm), therefore every time I lit up a cigarette I would feel ashamed, every time I tried and failed to give up I would feel more ashamed. To all of you out there that smoke, you know it is bad for you, you know all of the reasons why you should give up, however the reasons you continue to smoke are just as valid. By all means feel guilty for smelling like an ashtray, and making others cough. But you smoking does not diminish you as a person, I would still like you if you are funny and caring, you being a smoker does not change that, so don’t be ashamed, feel guilty but not ashamed. Guilt does not diminish you as a person, it accepts that you are as complex and flawed as the next person, and that we make mistakes and make poor decisions.

So how do we keep our shame in check? I don’t believe we can ever defeat our shame but we can keep it in check. The first thing to do, is to think more critically about why we feel ashamed. What is our view of the world based on? Is it based on fact, or from stories we have been told? If it is based on stories, how accurate are those stories? Our paradigms come from our memory banks, and the problem with our memory banks are that they are generally a mix of fact and fiction. Therefore how reliable are our paradigms. If our paradigms struggle to stand up to critical review, why do we put so much store in them, and why should they drive so much shame? Just asking yourself why you think that way, can start to diminish your shame.

Let’s put this to the test with my body image shame. My shame is partly driven by my inability to stick to a diet and healthy lifestyle. When I think about it, the paradigm I am stuck in, is that I should find living a healthy lifestyle easy and therefore my inability to do this means I am somehow less of a person.

Now how does this stand up to scrutiny?

What evidence do I have that supports this paradigm?

Pictures of smiling toned healthy people on social media telling me how much they enjoy drinking kale and beetroot smoothies, and doing the plank.

How reliable is this source? Have I ever seen someone drinking a kale and beetroot smoothie or doing the plank in the flesh?

No I haven’t.

Have I ever drunk a kale and beetroot smoothie, if so what did it taste like?

Yes I have and it was the most disgusting thing ever.

Have you ever done the plank, and if so did you feel like smiling when you were doing it?

Yes I have, and no, I tried not to be sick if I am honest.

Just writing this has reduced my shame.

When you start picking apart your shame and what drives it, you start to treat yourself with empathy, you start to understand your own emotional response to your shame, this allows you to show yourself some compassion. Brene Brown in her books Daring Greatly, and Dare to Lead suggests that empathy is the antidote to shame. Empathy and compassion shine a light on that shame.

We are more accustomed to hearing about empathy and compassion in the context of showing them to others. This comes next as being empathic with others really does put that shame in a box. Brene also points out, that to truly be able to show empathy to others you have to be comfortable showing yourself empathy.Once you have started to diminish your shame you are able to successfully articulate your emotions when feeling that shame. When a friend is experiencing shame you are then able to draw on your own experience of shame, and can share those emotions with them. When we start sharing what shames us we start to recognise that many of the paradigms that drive our shame are shared by the people around us. When we notice that we share those emotions, it diminishes that shame further.

By being present and responding to what is really happening rather than anticipating what might happen based on what we believe has happened in the past or what we believe people will think of us and sharing those feelings we can keep our shame in check. I don’t think it is possible to banish our shame completely but we can prevent it from ruling our lives.

We can often confuse guilt with shame. Now guilt is an emotion we feel after we have behaved badly or done something wrong. Guilt is nothing like shame. When you behave badly and feel subsequently feel guilty you are acknowledging that you have behaved in a way that you do not find acceptable, and that you are sorry that you behaved that way. Guilt provides the opportunity to make amends, to show accountability. By expressing guilt you are saying that you are not less of a person because of your behaviour, and you want to make it better. Shame says that as a result of your behaviour you see yourself as a bad person. For example if I feel guilty that I have not been able to stick to a diet, I am saying that I am not happy that I have not been able to stick to it, but I am not a failure, I do however need to find a diet and adjust my attitude to having a healthy lifestyle. My shame however says that I am a failure and I deserve to be fat and unhealthy, and I will always be fat and unhealthy, because I am useless. I much prefer to feel guilt. Guilt demonstrates dissatisfaction with the current status quo without diminishes my sense of self-worth.

 

If we want to tackle our shame, and start making meaningful changes to our lives we have to challenge our paradigms, start practicing empathy and sharing what drives our shame with the people we care about. It is possible to manage our shame, we just have to start being kinder to ourselves and each other.

Well that didn’t go as I thought

 

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You will remember on Monday I was planning on inspiring a group of teenage boys to consider Nursing as a career.

I have worked with children for the past 25 years, so you would expect that I would understand how teenagers react to something that is new and maybe challenges their view of the world. Well I would have thought that too, but no I didn’t. For some reason in my head I had them all having a light bulb moment, and thanking me for raising their awareness and asking me where they sign up. I imagined my self being the Robin Williams character in ‘The Dead Poet’s Society’, but no one stood on their desk and shouted “Captain, my Captain….” with me staring wistfully into the near distance, with the hint of a tear in my eye. Who was I kidding!

Twelve boys came to my lunchtime tutorial/assembly. I thought to myself wow, that is a really good response. I then looked at them and saw twelve sets of arms crossed and 12 sets of eyes looking at me (not in a good way). Do you remember that feeling that I described I had before my Rotary Club talk? Well this was like that but slightly more terrifying (teenagers are way more intimidating than 60-70 year olds). My mouth went dry and all my plans went flying out of the window. I reminded myself, that I knew my subject, I knew what i wanted to achieve, so just step off and go for it. So I did, they sat there and listened very politely to me. Then I asked them what would stop them considering to be a nurse. I was met with a wave of silence. My initial reaction was to throw my marker pen on the floor and run. But I am a professional, so I stood firm, and held the silence, I held it for slightly longer than is comfortable, the silence was broken, and thankfully it was not broken by one of the teachers present in the room. A young man proclaimed that Nursing is for girls, then another boy stated it was not as good as being a doctor. All the expected, yet still very depressing gender stereotypes came flowing. I noticed that there was only 3-4 boys that were contributing, but that was fine as they were playing their part well. So I wrote down all that they were saying on the white board.

Lunch arrived, it then became abundantly clear why the silent majority in the room were there. That did make me smile, and I must admit the samosas were really nice. Whilst they were enjoying their free lunch I invited them to think about a man that they looked up to (a role model). The same 4 took part the rest ate their sandwiches and samosas and stared out of the window (the room did have lovely big windows, perfect for staring out of to be fair). Once they had finished eating I wrote down some of the attributes they thought were worth aspiring to. Then I asked them if they were ill, what attributes they would expect from a nurse. I got the obvious sexist wise crack, although it was toned down. “She has to be good-looking”. I agreed it helps if your nurse is good-looking whether that nurse is male or female, they should have a friendly look on there face, be smart and well presented, so yes good looking is very important. I mentioned that because I was quite proud of my adult response to a teenager clearly trying to wind me up. They then listed some very useful attributes, that they have to be kind, caring, hardworking, etc.

We then looked at the lists I had produced. I went through the barriers to becoming a nurse and corrected some assumptions, such as salary and some of the activities that nurses can now do. We then had a look at the attributes of their role models, and wondered if any of those would be useful to a nurse, and then some of the attributes of a nurse and whether they would be out-of-place as attributes of their role models, such as being strong-minded, clever, hardworking, physically strong, kind, a listener.

I left them with a question. “If a female friend of yours told you they wanted to be an engineer would you think it strange?”

Over half the room couldn’t wait to get out of there, clearly thinking, ‘well that is 30 minutes I will never get back….’

I was never going to get more than that response from boys who have never considered nursing as a career. That is fine, I was probably the first person to challenge some of their assumptions on careers and gender. It is so important that these unhelpful and quite frankly harmful assumptions about what men can and cannot do is challenged. Otherwise we a just putting our young people in boxes and not giving them a chance to explore all the options that they have before them.

Encouraging Men into Nursing

Over recent years I have noticed fewer and fewer men choosing nursing as a career. In fact in my own speciality of Children’s Nursing we haven’t trained any men in training in Hull for a number of years now.

There is so much men can offer as a nurse that it would be terrible to see us disappear. Not only do we provide support and dignity for male patients, we are also positive role models for young men. We demonstrate that it is OK to be kind, caring, and compassionate and it not effect your worthiness as a man.

This is where I feel the problem lies. Over recent years there appears to be a polarisation of the gender paradigm.

Men are supposed to be strong and resourceful, providing a home and protection for their family. There is no room for care and compassion as they are too busy being strong. Care and compassion are female traits, and therefore should be avoided, for fear of being labelled as weak or even worse gay.

Were as women are encouraged to be kind, caring, nurturing and all things homely with no room for drive and determination. However we also expect women to be successful, clever and beautiful, but not pushy.

We expect men to be strong, but now we want them to be sensitive and in to be in touch with their feelings and share their worries but not be weak.

If we listen to the paradigms our society creates for us no wonder young people want to keep things simple and opt for the old view of male and female roles. Men become engineers and soldiers, women become teachers and nurses.

So with this in mind how do I present nursing to young men as a worthwhile career choice.

I have had some thoughts on this and it centres around looking at themselves first and their value base, along with their view of the world, and then challenging their possible view of nursing, including highlighting values they share with nursing. Hopefully providing a paradigm shift for a few in the room. But most of all encouraging those present to be comfortable with their view of the world and showing them that they do not have to feel shame if their view of the world does not comply perfectly with the impossible ideals our society imposes on us.

If I get 2 or 3 young men interested in nursing and create a debate I will be happy.

Entering the arena, sharing and taking feedback with grace

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This week I shared with you all the overview of the first chapter of my fledgling book.

I copied and pasted it from google docs, put it in italics so you could tell which bit was the exposition. I added a picture than hovered over the publish button, asked myself, ‘should I, or shouldn’t I’, then I closed my eyes and sent it into the ether. It felt good, a lot better than I expected. I was prepared for people not to like it, I wanted people to tell me what needed adding or changing. I have got feedback, maybe not as much as I wanted if I am honest.So if you have read it and would like to give me some feedback, then please message me. The feedback I have had, has been very useful and heartening so thank you to all those who have given me feedback. That was my first entry into the arena this week and I came out unscathed.

I have entered the arena on 3 other occasions this week, twice delivering Human Factors training to new registrants and yesterday I co-delivered Compassionate Clinical Supervision with Janis. Every time I deliver a course, it always feel like I am entering the arena. I never know how I will perform or how I will be received. This is more exaggerated when delivering solo. You have nowhere to hide when you are up there by yourself. When I am delivering solo I always go through a routine, of preparing my space and my materials. I like to be there an hour before, so I can set the chairs how I like them and write-up my flip charts ready for the day ahead. When I am co-delivering with Janis it is different. There is still the vulnerability of how I will be received as well as learning to work with someone else (learning to dance with each other without stepping on each other toes). This week it worked really well, I felt confident to speak when I wanted to and we just worked in harmony. When I deliver programmes I am always acutely aware that I may get my arse handed to me at any point, and I am okay with that. It will hurt but I will get over it. I have been in the arena and felt that, so I know I can recover, I know it does not mean I am less of a person. Because I make the arena my own everyday I feel at home.

When it comes to feedback whether that is about my writing, coaching or delivering training I am learning to take it with grace. I am practicing not taking it personally, whether it is positive, constructive, or negative. Feedback does not make me a better person, it should make me better at doing and that is all. It is really hard not attach it to my self-esteem. When people give me positive feedback it is hard not to feel a little awkward and proud. Then when someone gives me feedback where I need to improve I feel crest fallen. What I am practicing is to take feedback with grace and use it to improve performance. All feedback is good as it gives me the opportunity to improve my performance. (Can you tell I am still practicing this, hence the little pep talk via the blog).

All I can say is, entering the arena and accepting feedback with grace is still a work in progress.

Keep daring.

Memories of Leaving Home

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Earlier in the week, I was talking to my eldest son about his University application, where he would like to go and what he would like to read. I do love our conversations, especially the ones that take place in the kitchen, whilst we are both busy doing stuff. It seems the more involved we are in doing stuff, the more honest the conversation. In terms of transactional analysis you would say it was an adult to adult conversation, rather than a parent to child. As we talked we got onto how his friends that have just left for University are getting on. It was clear that there is mixed experiences, with some really struggling and others getting on and embracing the experience.

That got me thinking about 29 years ago when I left home to come to Hull to start my Nurse training. I wanted Ben to know that, the worries his friends are having are normal and almost certainly transient.

For the whole of the first month being in Hull I wanted to go home, most days I sat in my room and cried. Now it wasn’t Hull that was the problem, far from it I loved (and still do) the place, the people and the hospital. If I could have transported my friends and family, this place would have been perfect.

The issue was coping with the transition of my old life to this new life without my Mum, Sister and my friends. I remember suddenly feeling very young and useless. I know my Mum had prepared me for leaving home and had shown me how to use a cooker, a washing machine and an iron. But all those lessons left me the minute she waved me goodbye. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing I was lost.

The minute those hormones start surging through your body when you hit puberty you start pushing against your parents in preparation for being an adult. You start insisting that your parents treat you as an adult, that they give you the freedom you deserve and accept that you can make your own rules now. Then on that long journey to University or in my case School of Nursing, you start to panic. Shit this is it, I’m not ready to be an adult yet!

That was the feeling I had for the first month, the reality of this is it I am moving to my new beginning.  William Bridges would describe it as me moving through the neutral zone between leaving my old life behind and forming my new life as a Student Nurse. It was uncomfortable. I made loads of mistakes, like washing a new red t-shirt with all nearly all of my other clothes. As a result nearly everything I wore was pink! I remember eating cold tinned meat and beans, because I didn’t want to look stupid in front of me new friends in the communal kitchen.

I now realise all this is normal and most people go through this pain and discomfort, those that don’t probably didn’t leave home.

After the first month it started to get, I got friendly with some other men in residence that were a little older than me, who taught me how to cook and gave me the space to be me.

A few years later I spoke to my Mum about this time and she told me it was like having her arm cut off saying goodbye to me. I have spoken to other parents who describe that feeling as some kind of bereavement. I so relate to these feelings, as the thought of Ben leaving home next year makes me feel very emotional. It is the same process as described earlier, us parents have to travel through that neutral zone between our old life as parents of children to our new life as parents of adults. We always look back fondly on being a parent of young children and them being dependent on us. Our new life requires us to be interdependent with our adult offspring. We have to learn how to belong in our new life. It is uncomfortable but at least I will never have to sit on my bed crying into a can of cold stewing steak wishing I had paid more attention when my mum was teaching me how to cook.

A message to all of us, it is uncomfortable but so worth it, hang on in there, we are all feeling it together.

Mind The Gap

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Below is a blog I wrote this morning for my coaching network blog at work. I have adjusted it slightly to make it more generic and accessible for people who work outside the NHS. I liked so I thought a slightly wider audience might like it too.

This week I have been preparing for an interview, for the Coaching Lead role. During this preparation I starting thinking about my values and those of the hospital. This got me thinking about how often I really examine the hospital’s values. When I do an appraisal I look at the values and talk to the member of staff about how their work reflects the hospital’s values, but I rarely examine what they mean to me and whether or not I really live up to these values on a daily basis. That then got me thinking about times where I have seen a gap between these values and the behaviours I see around the hospital, from all grades of staff, including myself. If you take account and think about it yourself, do you show Care, Honesty and Accountability everyday at work, or do you get caught up in the busyness, complexity, and stress of work. That drive to get things done within a timeframe to a certain standard, can often get in the way of these values, and we ignore them to enable us to get the job done. So we don’t always show care towards each other, we can let our mood show, we do not always own up to mistakes for fear that people want show us care and won’t blame us, we can blame others for shortcomings. It is sort of vicious cycle, that if left unchecked we can rapidly get sucked into. Our intentions are honourable, we want to get the job done and do our best, but our methods are not as effective as they should be.

Before you fall into a pit of despair, all is not lost. We are all still good, kind, caring people. Where ever we work we want to make a difference. We just need to pay attention to our values and challenge ourselves to live up to them. We have to ‘Mind The Gap’.

Recently I have discovered the work of Brene Brown, she is an American Researcher, with a background in social care. She specialises in personal, social and organisational leadership, through compassion and empathy. So for anyone who knows me, she is right up my street. Through her research Brene developed a checklist that you can use to check yourself against when you are working with others, whether they be staff that you manage, your colleagues or your patients. She calls it BRAVING

Boundaries; Have you set you own boundaries and made them clear to all those around you? This is what you accept and what you will not accept. Do you respect other’s boundaries

Reliability; Do you do what you say you are going to do? Do you turn up when you say you will?

Accountability; When things go wrong do you own up to your part in it? Do you look for ways to correct it? Do you take credit for when your actions work?

Vault; Do you keep confidences? Do you not engage in gossip, that highlights others failures or shortcomings

Integrity; Do you choose courage over comfort? Do you choose to do what is right over what is fun? Do you practice your values rather than just profess them?

Non-Judgement; Can you ask for what you need, and listen to what others need?  Can you sit down and talk with them about what you think and feel without judgement?

Generosity; Do you extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words and actions of others?

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I invite you to copy this checklist and periodically, check yourself against it.

It is normal to not live up to our values when we are under pressure, it is however our responsibility that we attempt to keep ourselves in check and ensure we do not widen the gap between our common values and our behaviours.

If you are a manager, it is more important than ever to ‘Mind The Gap’. In addition to BRAVING I urge you all to seek out a coach to help you narrow the gap.

The Shame of Being a Parent

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I don’t know about you, but in our house for the past 18 years we have had almost daily discussions on our parenting skills. We would often fall in to the trap of comparison, especially when our children were younger. Everyone seems to be doing it better than us. “Tabitha and Timothy at soft play are always polite and quiet, never ask for sweets, and are always eating carrot sticks and drinking kale and beetroot smoothies.” My wife would exclaim, whilst our 2 would either by clinging to our legs, nattering for sweets, or kicking the shit out of each other. When we did relent and by them a fizzy drink and some sweets, it would be like buying a football hooligan 10 pints of Stella Artois right before a crunch match. When I say we relented I really mean I relented, and would then have to brave the judgemental looks and eye rolling from all the mums around me, whilst trying to manage a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old completely losing their collective shit (I miss though those days). My theory was and is that Tabitha and Timothy were so lacking in sugars that they just didn’t have the energy to misbehave.

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When you are in it, doing battle trying to acquire some control and bring your kids up with a sense of right and wrong but have fun on the way your fail to notice that your kids are normal and everyone else’s kids are just as demonic as yours. All you feel is shame when your child does an impression of a screaming ironing board down the cereal aisle in Asda. You feel shame because society says that children should be seen and not heard, good well brought up children do not have tantrums in public. This is backed up by the looks of disgust and judgement you get from people.

I remember collecting one of my children from nursery. As we did everyday we went home on the bus. On this occasion he was tired and grumpy, and no doubt just wanted to go home and sleep. But he was 2 and was unable to quantify these feels and articulate his expectations to me. So he did what 2 year old’s do. He screamed at the top of his voice whilst trying to  loosen my grip on him. The more I tried to calm him down the worse he got. By this point the whole bus was staring at me. I could hear people passing judgement on my negotiating skills, I could feel there stares burning into the back of my head. In the end the shame got too much and I got off the bus about half a mile away from my house. That was a long and painful half mile. Saying that he did fall asleep in my arms, carrying a sleeping 2 your old for half a mile is not easy though.child-3089972__340

Now my boys are young people, I now see that really they are no different from any other children really. Supermarkets, buses, trains, town centres are full of kids losing it and parents experiencing that shame. If you are a parent of a young person and have survived that shame and you see a fellow parent going through this pain, give them a little smile. You know that smile that says I feel your pain, you are not alone, you are not a bad parent. We picked up our shame from our parents, we don’t have to pass that shame onto our children.

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If you strive to be the best parent you can be, there is a very simple question to ask yourself. Are you the type of adult you want your children to become? If your answer is no, or ooh, erm, maybe, then perhaps you may need to address some of your behaviours so you start living up to that person. It is worth look at the gap between what your family values are and our behaviours. If you tell your children to be tolerant and not to lash out when someone upsets you, and then they see you berate the dickhead that cut you up at the junction, then they see that you don’t live up to your values so why should they. Now don’t get me wrong you don’t have to become overnight angels, but you maybe do need to be open and honest about proportionate responses and consequences. If you swear at the news don’t be surprised when they do.

Maybe be a good parent is being the person you want them to be.

I have a coaching program that helps you raise your self-awareness and connect with who you are, which then helps you be the best parent you can be. I also have a 2 hour talk on connected living that invites you to connect with yourself before connecting effectively with others.

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If you are struggling in the mire of parenting and cannot see the wood for the trees, get in touch.

matt@mattycoach71.com