Updated: Aug 22, 2022
Vulnerability is something all of us men struggle with frequently. Feeling vulnerable is defined as feeling emotional uncertainty and feeling at risk of being exposed emotionally (Brown, 2012). But what does it mean to be vulnerable as a dad and how does it deepen relationships with children?
Feeling vulnerable is something many of us men silently struggle with.
We create these narratives in our head which ultimately become our source of programming in a culture that doesn’t reward us for being open. It takes conscious effort, reminders and repeated trials before it’s possible to change the conversations we have in our heads. But as fathers, it is even more essential for us to become vulnerable and role-models. If not just for us, then for our children.
Currently, mental health challenges have evolved and become more prominent in men. At the same time, our knowledge and conversations around mental health have also grown. Men struggle with vulnerability and mental health because these are two sides of the same coin. For example, we can't get help without being vulnerable and saying we need help. Without opening up, mental health can decline.
Why is it important to know and manage our emotions?
To know our emotions helps us to manage them. Managing emotions effectively is called emotional regulation (Rolston & Lloyd-Richardson, 2017).
If men are to raise children with heightened emotional regulation then we men need to role-model that. Children watch and learn more than listening and learning. Children watch their parents all the time. If we tell our children to manage their emotions and then act dysregulated (e.g. by losing our temper), we are setting them up for failure. We confuse their worldviews.
To parent is to be human
At the same time, we are human. We will not manage to control our emotions all of the time. Once we make mistakes we can role model learning from our lapses in composure. We can apologise. We can teach children that it’s ok that we have not mastered ourselves, and perhaps never will; sometimes we will fall short. When we fall short, it is an excellent opportunity to show vulnerability, admit our mistakes and repair them.
How do we learn from mistakes and practice vulnerability?
How can we do this? Well, repair consists of apologizing and giving our children the space to feel their emotions, just like we would for another adult in our life—children to learn how to communicate their need for space and express themselves when they are ready to talk. Repair can also consist of holding space for their emotions (letting them cry or be sad or be angry). The reason why this is a vulnerable experience is that we are sharing a human experience with our children.
We are showing them that it is okay to make mistakes because we are not perfect.
But when we make mistakes, we also need to take ownership and apologize.
As adults, the strongest relationships are built on active care and repair
Think about when you have these experiences with adults, when you make a mistake and then apologise; they are such an amazing opportunity to build a connection with someone. By having these types of conversations with our children, we are teaching them valuable skills and building healthy and lasting connections. Authentic connections. Our children will reflect on these connections when they become adults. Role-modeling and vulnerable conversations are the best gifts we can give our children apart from quality time. In my experience, these conversations have brought many tears between my son and I. But we are sharing these experiences rather than having them alone.
What if we hide our emotions?
When we do not demonstrate emotional vulnerability to our children, they grow up thinking it is not okay to have emotions or fail as part of daily life. Unfortunately, this is really common and contributes to poor mental health as emotions will fester inside.
As a father, if we do not want a role-model vulnerability with our children, we deprive them of meeting their real dad.
About the author:
Furkhan Dandia is a men’s coach and therapist in training. Furkhan is also an author and host of the EZ Conversations podcast. After working in the corporate world for many years and realizing his life lacked meaning, he went through a significant transition in his life with a divorce in the middle of it. After that transitory phase and relying on therapy to come out on the other end, Furkhan decided to become a therapist himself and help others. Furkhan can be found on instagram @eunoiazen and his website: www.eunoiazen.com