5 Ways My Children Are Making Me Braver

by Vanessa Heron

I am a chicken shit. The list of things that terrify me ranges from insects and birds, to a wide variety of social situations, to speaking up in a group of more than four people, and being made to try new things. Don’t even get me started on clowns. Or the dark. I also hate making phone calls. Ok, you get the point.

Being an introvert and a worrier to boot, all of these characteristics have molded together to create one giant chicken shit. I lived comfortably in my chicken-shit coop for 30 years and found many effective ways of dealing with (avoiding) exposure to my various fears until one particular life event caused me to address many of my fears head-on, and forced me to be a braver person.

That life-changing event was becoming a mother. God knows I’ve tried to stay in my safe little chicken-shit coop since that cold day 20 months ago when I first became a parent (I mean cold literally—it was -40 degrees outside), but parenthood allows no time for chicken shittery. And so, my children have forced me to step outside my cozy chicken-shit coop and put on a brave face.

Here are five ways that my children make me braver every single day:

1. The Comfort Zone. Becoming a mom quickly made me realize that there is no room for comfort zones as a parent. Comfort food? Yes. But not comfort zones. In fact, I believe the labor and delivery room is where my comfort zone went to die (along with my dignity). Being a parent means wearing bunny ears on your head in public and spontaneously dancing at the grocery store. It means singing silly songs at the library and making goofy faces at the park. It means checking your inhibitions at the door and allowing your inner child to run free. As it turns out, letting out your inner child is way more invigorating than being comfortable, anyway.

2. My Give-a-Damn s permanently busted. Prior to becoming a parent, I put a lot of weight on the opinions of others. Friends, family, complete strangers, it didn’t matter. People’s opinions of me had the ability to affect me to my very core. Enter mommy-hood. There are days when I leave the house and realize once I get to my destination that I haven’t showered and am still wearing yesterday’s yogurt-encrusted leggings. I have learned that to survive parenthood I need to stop putting so much emphasis on what other people think of me. The bottom line is that if my children are clothed, fed and relatively happy then that is all my give-a-damn has time for.

3. Children = Cheap Therapy. There is no better way to get over your fears than to expose yourself to them over and over again on a daily basis. Parenthood forces me to do this every day of my life. Scared of making phone calls? Too bad, you have to make 20 appointments for your kids in the next two months. Don’t like going to new places? Bad news, all of your child’s appointments are in locations you’ve never even heard of before. Afraid of snakes, and birds, and spiders (oh my!)? Tough luck, your child just caught one and is proudly bringing it over to show you. You will likely have to kiss it or show it affection of some kind. People pay good money for sessions in exposure therapy. I just had to become a mom, and I get daily sessions free of charge.

4. Be. Assertive. Be. Be. Assertive. As a born introvert and a perpetual people-pleaser, being assertive comes about as naturally as headlining a rock concert or saying no when a friend asks for a favor. Parenthood has forced me to find my voice and exercise assertiveness skills that have been dormant for….ever. Learning to be assertive has served me well when fighting the ongoing battle that is setting boundaries with my strong-willed daughter. Finding my voice has been even more important when standing up for the rights of my children and being their voice when they are unable to stand up for themselves. Though it is a small, seemingly insignificant act of bravery, having the courage to find my voice and modeling this for my children is a gift I believe will last a lifetime.

5. Reach for the Stars. I have so many dreams for my children—dreams that I was too scared and shy to reach for myself. Now that I am a mom, I realize that the best way to encourage my children to fulfill their dreams is to continue in the pursuit of my own dreams. For me, that means ensuring my big-girl panties are securely fastened, allowing myself to be vulnerable, and taking risks creatively and professionally. For others, it might mean asking for that promotion, running a marathon or going back to school. Knowing that my children are watching intently as I reach for the stars motivates me more than any paycheck, personal trainer or professor ever could.

I realize that these five acts of bravery may seem small and insignificant, especially compared to the acts of bravery people perform around us every day. I am OK with that, for I have come to believe that bravery can be defined in an infinite number of ways. For this recovering chicken shit, these five tiny acts of bravery inspired by two fearless children may as well have earned me a superhero cape, or at least permanent residence outside the chicken-shit coop.