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Diving Into Vulnerability

written by Homaira Kabir 8 October 2015

Homaira Kabir is a positive psychology practitioner currently working in Muscat, Oman. She inspires and supports women to live engaged and fulfilled lives of purpose and well-being. She also enables adolescents to harness the brilliance of their age through programs in middle school. She is a writer whose work has appeared in media around the world. She is currently completing her MAPP from UEL. Web site. Full bio pending. Homaira's articles for Positive Psychology News are here. She plans to write monthly on the 7th.

When the kids were little and life felt like an exhausting treadmill, I often wished they would grow up with the flourish of a magic wand. Now that they are older and moments of mental anguish have replaced physical churn, I long for those days when washed pudgy fingers and well-brushed teeth were the most controversial items on my agenda. Even my youngest no longer needs Mommy to comb through her silky locks or read her a bedtime story.

Life with adolescents (and wannabes) is like a permanent position in a lighthouse, as most parents with teens would agree. We go through an endless mental chatter of where they are, who they are with, what they are up to, how do I know, how will I respond, how will they respond, and on and on in a desperate desire to ward off danger and build up resources.

Maternal Instincts

I wish maternal instincts had an expiration date, and one well before our own! I do try and keep a check on my urge to helicopter parent my children’s lives and have refrained, for the most part, from perfecting their projects and hand holding them through assignments. But when it comes to friends, foes, relationships, and the kinds of experiences that build emotional resilience, I find myself often succumbing to an unconscious desire to plaster everything before it is quite broken.

I know that this is not good. Research shows that suffering leads to learning and growth. People learn lessons that no amount of tip-toeing around adversity can instill. But it is so hard to stand by and watch our children falter and fall without rushing in to heal their hurt. It is hard to allow them to suffer the pain of emotional turmoil without hauling them to the “happily ever after” ending.

A Quandry

I experienced this (again) over the past week as my oldest struggled with a serious issue of grave consequences with her roommate. The solution as advised by family, counselor and lawyer alike was evident based on the facts. My daughter had to get her roommate to leave through any legal means possible. But facts can trivialize the complexities of the human experience. In forcing her roommate to leave, my daughter was potentially inciting the rage of a very disturbed individual.

She turned to me for help as she struggled with her decision. I longed to relieve her of her anguish, but truth be told, I was myself struggling with the correct answer. I longed for clarity, but could not find it.

In hindsight, that was a good thing. If I knew what to do, I would surely have flung myself into the midst and sorted it all out before my daughter had the chance to learn from her experience. We live in what Brene Brown calls “a Gilded Age of Failure,” where we revere recovery stories but gloss over the long and dark struggle that precedes the redemptive ending. As a result, we have little tolerance for the moments of chaos, agony, and brokenness that are a part of the journey. When it is our children, the tolerance is close to zero.

Watching Someone Else Struggle

As I watched her struggle, I doubted myself a hundred times over. Would she be able to get out of this? Would she suffer as a consequence? Would she think I had let her down? Would others judge me for not doing the legally correct thing? All these fears played out in my mind, unrelenting, accusing, harsh. In my inability to fix her world, I fell apart and felt broken.

Perhaps that too was a good thing. For when I came to realize my brokenness, the fears that I harbored, the fragility of my capabilities, the hollowness of my powers, I felt my own vulnerability. Through this vulnerability, through giving myself permission to fail, I witnessed the paradox of human nature. I was unable to make a difference, yet standing below with outstretched arms. I was struggling with my own fears of failure and judgment, yet fully open to all possibilities. I was living with my own brokenness, yet hopeful to bring out the best in my daughter. The more I accepted the opposing truths within me, the more I became whole again.

I needed to let the same happen for my daughter. I needed to step back consciously, so that she too could witness her brokenness. I needed to give her the space to experience the turmoil within her so that she too could embrace her wholeness.

Maternal Instinct Makeover Needed

Maternal instincts in the 21st century need a makeover. Our children no longer need the protective urges that evolved in the vast savannas of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Instead, they need our emotional strength to hold them through their struggles, and stand on the shoreline as they make their way out of the dark and gloomy waters of adversity.

This kind of selfless love is way tougher than the endless chauffeuring from one activity to the next, of sitting arduously through recitals and performances, of entertaining noisy play-dates, and planning exquisite birthday parties.

It requires that we sit with our uncertainties and fears and yet assure our children that they are not alone. It requires that we refrain from fixing the cracks and fissures in the urge of making their lives perfect. It requires that we contain our impulses and desires and live in the hope of creating something far more beautiful than perfection.

A hopeful and whole being.




Brown, B. (2015). Rising Strong. Spiegel & Grau.

Palmer, P. J. (2004). A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Image Credits
Cape May Lighthouse Full Moon courtesy of Joseph Evangelista and the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC)
Happily ever after courtesy of Steve Snodgrass
Maternal instincts courtesy of Gareth Williams
Broken glass courtesy of Nesster

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Judy Krings 12 October 2015 - 3:30 pm

Wow, Homaira, you struck to the core of my humanity again. I so empathize with you, a terrific Mom, and always wanting wanting to nurture your kids in the most appropriate manner. Yet you want to allow them to fly, even if their wings sometimes do not want to take flight. I pray your daughter gains the insights, learnings and supports she needs to process this horrific situation.

You remind me of how much the world has morphed from when I was a college freshman in 1976, scared to death. Mom dropped me off at college and I was told, “You’re on your own!”. After a couple great autumn months getting to know my 16 year old genius roommate, things began to tank. She had no family to speak of. My Mom lived 8 hours away. We became fast friends. I had little materially, nor did she, but we shared and laughed and all was well…until it wasn’t.

Out of the blue she began to leave me nasty, untrue notes about how bad I was. I was very unassertive and said nothing to anyone. I tried to be nice to her and did everything I could until she began to threaten to kill me. Only then did I go to the Dean and show her the notes. The Dean apologized. She told me my roommate had mental illness, and they purposefully paired me with her thinking I would be the perfect person to help her. I was playing varsity field hockey, working, taking 18 credit, and knew no one at college. I got depressed for the first time in my life. Sadly, she was taken to a mental institution yet again. I felt guilty. Back in those days, life was hush hush. I got a letter of apology from the college. That was it. No coping help.

Homaira, your kids are so lucky to have a Mom to love them and want to defend them…yet one who gives them space to learn about life. Times have changed. Emotions can be discussed now and thank heavens for that! Life IS learning.

I had totally forgotten about this episode of my life until now. I am smiling recalling how quiet, fearful and unassertive I was. I chose to change that but it took years. Remembering this sad scenario offered me the chance to see mental illness sadly up close and personal. I always wondered what happened to my roommate and wished her health and love.

Homaira 14 October 2015 - 4:10 am

My dear Judy! You are always so kind with your comments!

What a scary situation you went through! It really helped you grow, but what a journey it must’ve been, with no end in sight. Aren’t we lucky we live in times of accountability – for the college to have roomed you with someone with a mental disorder without letting you know, nor providing her with adequate support! I’m so glad some higher power watched over you and kept you safe!

I wonder how I would’ve coped. Or how I would’ve watched my daughter cope with it. Parenthood is a strange journey. Full of the best and the worst. And yet, it is the deepest journey we’ll take, for our children have a way of playing back our inner worlds to us, don’t you think?

I don’t know whether it is my children who are lucky to have me, but I do know that I’m lucky to have children to make me a more conscious human being.

Judy Krings 15 October 2015 - 8:29 am

Thanks for your wonderful feedback, Homaira.

I love your powerful question how YOU would have coped had your daughter have come home with this issue. Back in my day, many told their parents very little about serious life issues. I never told my parents.

You are right, yes, I learned and that is what life is all about. And that I needed to be more assertive.

RE: being a partent, to me, it was the most challenging gift/work/play/concern, responsibility-check time of my life. I remember when my biological son was 18 thinking, “OK, he is out there on his own!” I had a bit of a mild depression when he went off to college, and that surprised me. I smile now thinking he is 35, and we are so close, can talk about anything, but we can go 2-3 weeks between chats. Why? He is independent, working hard, and very happy. But I do smile and miss his youthful days when we had so much fun. I tend to forget about his serious health challenges when I would worry.

Aren’t we lucky and grateful to remember the good times (if we are wise!!!)? I am reminded of peak end theory, how we remember the end of an event more easily. Not that parenting EVER ends!

Homaira 16 October 2015 - 3:56 am

Dear Judy, our children guide us through the stages of life by showing us the joy of each stage – if we develop the mind to appreciate it. This negativity bias is one pesty habit! But you have ample resources to open yourself to it and I always learn lessons through your words. Thank you!

Judy Krings 16 October 2015 - 6:30 am

Thanks, Homaira, and my pleasure. Here’s to openness and wholeness that comes along with it!

James Baek 17 December 2015 - 11:21 pm

Although I may not be a mother, but I have a mother that worries as much as you did. My mother learned that I need to learn from my own struggles making me into the man I am today. This article really reflects back and appreciates my mother because for how much she has done for me and at the same time kept her distance so I can learn from my own actions.

Homaira 18 December 2015 - 12:09 pm

Dear James, thank you so much for your comments! It was indeed reflective of you to go beyond your own self and think of your mother’s world as she raised you. She obviously did a good job in raising a sensitive and appreciative man!


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