“The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting” (based on Brene Brown’s Presentation)

“We all know that perfect parenting does not exist…

Yet, we still struggle with the social expectations that teach us that being imperfect is synonymous with being inadequate. These messages are powerful and we end up spending precious time and energy managing perception and the carefully edited versions of the families we show to the world”. ​

This is how the description for a brilliant recording called “The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting; Raising Children with Courage, Compassion, & Connection” by Brene Brown, PhD, began. This recording is based on twelve years of Brene’s research on vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Brene “walks her talk” by sharing her wisdom in a non-shaming, humble tone and with wonderful humor beginning with her debunking the “parenting expert” label as an oxymoron.

In this blog, I will summarize Brene’s 10 Guideposts for “Wholehearted Parenting”

(along with her introduction to the guideposts) I recommend you listen to her CD or download (Soundstrue.com) to learn more.

I am going to begin with my two favorite nuggets of wisdom by Brene:

1.) Who we ARE is a much more accurate predictor of how our kids will do than what we know or understand about the science of parenting.

I think who we are is also more influential than what we do. Yet, I have found that many devoted parents run themselves ragged by their well-meaning attempts to provide their children opportunities that they didn’t have (ex. Over-scheduling extra-curricular activities for their children).

It is completely natural and loving to want to give our children the best experiences in life. This only becomes a problem if it compromises the parent’s marriage and/or each parent’s emotional and physical health. For example, if two parents are constantly driving two different children to activities each day and consequently miss time to reconnect with one another each day and/or lack time for weekly exercise or personal time to recharge their battery, the parents not only suffer for neglecting their marriage and/or themselves, but are also TEACHING their children that parenthood is about complete sacrifice. Instead, consider modeling the importance of self-care and carving time out for you and your partner to connect each day.

Brene extends the importance of parents modeling with every guidepost because

“We can’t give a child what we don’t have.”

2.) Parenting is making a journey with our children toward wholeheartedness. It’s about learning and growing alongside them.

There is a myth that when we have our children, the goal is to have it all figured out, to be completely wholehearted, and then we have kids and we teach them to be wholehearted. This is not true! For most of us, our lives are more lived after we have children. It’s how we live after they’re born that defines how we’re parenting. So, I don’t have to have my perfectionism solved before I have a child. Instead, be able to talk about your perfectionism struggle with your children!

We don’t forsake our journey for theirs because by doing so we’re not handing them anything of value. This quote is the most poignant because when a parent embraces this idea and takes action steps to work on one of their own areas of needed growth (versus solely focusing on their child’s issues) and perhaps discloses that s/he is in therapy to their child, s/he is modeling working through one’s challenges and asking for help, which is exactly what most parents want their child to do in therapy! I have found that children are more likely to change when their parents MODEL it!

Guidepost #1- Cultivating Worthiness in Our Families

Worthiness means that no matter what gets done or is left undone, I’m enough! Love and belonging are my birthrights. Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites.

On the other hand, SHAME is the enemy of worthiness.

Some of Brene’s family rules in cultivating shame-resilience are:
1. Zero name calling
2. “86”ed derogatory words about people outside our home too.
3. We create a safe container to allow people to live, express their emotions, to be who they are, to share their struggles, and we will work very hard to never use their vulnerabilities against each other.

Siblings are witnesses to our best moments and most difficult challenges. So, they have ammunition to hurt in some very powerful ways. Brene advises parents to be mindful regarding the relationships between their children’s siblings.

When Brene interviewed adults who had very disrupted (didn’t get along or even communicate) relationships between their siblings, they tracked it back to physical altercations and shaming between them. The siblings’ anger, hostility, regret, and grief stemmed from their parents inaction. They asked:

  • Why didn’t my parents step in?
  • Why did my parents allow us to talk to each other like that?

Guidepost #2- Being Vulnerable with Our Children

The most profound moments that we share with our children, that shape who they are and who we are, happen in vulnerability- theirs or ours. They happen when we take off the masks, completely able to see and hear one another, feel safe to “show up”.

When we see our children in pain, our first response is fix it! A more helpful and compassionate response (even if counter-intuitive!) is empathy. By providing empathy (reflecting someone’s feelings, thoughts, and experience- positive or negative), our children feel understood, supported, and are learning this valuable relationship skill too!

We can also model vulnerability with our children by sharing appropriate (content, intensity, and frequency) personal struggles with them as well. These discussions provide our children the opportunity to practice empathy with us!

Guidepost #3 Perfectionism Versus Healthy Striving

Perfectionism is 100% externally driven. It’s all about, What will people think?” It’s a defense mechanism. Brene calls it the “20 ton shield” that says, “if I look perfect, live perfect, etc. I can avoid shame, blame, and judgment.”

Brene thinks PERFECTIONISM is a PROCESS ADDICTION. “We can never let it go.” In families, it’s incredibly contagious.


Healthy striving is giving things our best shot, our all, pursuing excellence, feeling good about what I’m producing, etc. It is internally driven, ex. setting a goal for myself based on what I want to achieve.

Guidepost #4 Hope is a Function of Struggle

Tenacity and perseverance contribute to HOPEFULNESS. This contrasts with parents’ intervening.

Which lesson would you like your child to learn?

A. Struggle + MY tenacity & perseverance = MY ability to accomplish things I want (increases MY hopefulness, confidence, and independence)


B. Struggle + MY PARENTS’ tenacity & perseverance = THEIR ability to accomplish things that I want (decreases MY hopefulness, confidence, and independence)

I have observed many parents struggle with allowing their young child or even adult child to struggle. If this describes YOU, have HOPE because there are many resources, including Love and Logic, parenting support with a therapist or coach, and even Codependents Anonymous.

Guidepost #5 Gratitude and Joy

Our children are steeped in a culture of privilege. What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude. The“ never enough” cultural message can change if we stop to be grateful for what we have and as a result we bring more joy into our families.

Guidepost #6 Setting and Maintaining Boundaries

Kids are hardwired to push boundaries with their parents, and it’s our job to hold them. The tension that this creates is an incredibly important experience for our kids to experience (and often a growth opportunity for parents).

Boundaries = security, safety, and feeling cared for. What allows our kids to grow up to be well-adjusted young adults are not always going to be things that make them happy. I think we need to suffer through not always being understood or liked by our children.

Children learn how to hold boundaries based on how parents hold boundaries. In other words, when we model saying and sticking to, “No”, our children can do the same. If setting and/or following through with boundaries is very difficult for you, consider utilizing some of the parenting resources mentioned under guidepost #4.

Guidepost #7 To Be Human is To Be Creative

Brene defines creativity as “something you can’t do perfectly, involves exploration, expression, and individuality, and is not going to work out exactly as planned.”

There are people who use their creativity and there are people who don’t, but there is no such thing as non-creative people. Unused creativity is not benign! It metastasizes, turns into grief, rage, and judgment.

We can make our families a safe and inviting place for creativity and expand the expression of this beyond arts and crafts. Creativity can be music, woodwork, storytelling, building an old car together, etc.

Guidepost #8 The Importance of Play

Brene defines play as “time spent without purpose, we don’t want it to end, we lose a sense of ourselves, we don’t feel inhibited.”

Brene also found that the opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression!

Stuart Brown’s research found that Play is essential to developing creativity, empathy, trust, boundaries, & how we grow our imagination.” By figuring out what “play” is for every member in a family, you can plan more enjoyable leisure time with one another.

Guidepost #9 Respect and Hard Work

So often, because we’re rescuing our kids from struggle, we’re instilling in them this idea that hard work is not important and not valued!

Brene’s words of wisdom, “I don’t know if we’re being honest enough with our children about the journey to accomplishment…how many times we have to fail to succeed, how much work has to go into something. I think we are picking them up and plopping them into the celebration of the journey and they’re benefiting from our promotion or our job, but they don’t get the story behind the work. And if we want to develop in our children a healthy respect for their work, we need to have honest conversations about the efforts that we put into our own lives, and we have to encourage them to keep showing up and keep trying.”

Guidepost #10 The Dangers of Being Cool

Being cool is a huge part of our culture and seeps into our family lives in destructive ways. It hooks back into belonging. Being cool is primary in schools. Even in Kindergarten, kids are altering their behavior to be perceived as cool. If being cool is highly regarded, we’ll engage in high risk behaviors and “cool” kills learning.

We need to get comfortable with “uncoolness”.

How can we create a home where parents and children… Feel free to be themselves? Have fun and cultivate joy in their homes? Sometimes kids push back when parents get silly. Brene reassures her children that she would never do anything in front of their friends to embarrass them, but asserts that “In this house, we get to be as goofy, silly, lame, uncool, as you can imagine.”

Brene ends her recording, as she began, with a HOPEFUL message that:

There are “a million ways to be a good parent”

Therefore, she implores, support other parents regarding their own decisions!

Throughout this program, Brene illuminates the overarching values of the 10 guideposts for wholehearted parenting:

  • the courage to be authentic
  • the compassion to love herself and others
  • the sense of connection that gives true purpose & meaning to life

Brene’s invaluable research and recording will undoubtedly change and/or improve the way we parent today and in the future. I think this work is her greatest contribution yet. Her message about the importance of parents modeling the values we wish to cultivate in our children and her insistence that we make the journey with our children toward wholeheartedness offers both parents and children a golden opportunity to grow together.

If you would like help in discovering your gifts as a parent and making the journey, with your children, toward wholeheartedness~

Contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III, Certificate in Marriage & Family Therapy at 720.432.5262, [email protected] or schedule your session or free consultation today on my online calendar