A few days ago Claire was having some digestive issues. I don’t know if it’s the mangos or what but it was interesting. Claire is also getting use to the whole potty training thing, which started of well, but now we have now regressed. So we are hanging out playing with her toys and suddenly I notice that Claire is doing this weird dance. I ask her if she needs to go to the potty and she says “no”, which means she really does have to go. I put her on the potty and she sat for a minute and kept trying to get up. Finally, I had enough and picked her up from the potty. I guess that the upward motion of picking her up followed by gravity pressing her butt back down onto my arm caused bombs to drop on the floor. It kind of startled me at first and when I looked at my arm and saw a giant lump of poop I was brought back to reality.
My wife took Claire, changed her and I cleaned up. A few minutes later we had restored order. My wife went to work and Claire and I continued playing. After 10 minutes or so I got a big whiff of Claire’s work…again. I picked Claire up and changed her and we continued playing. Another 10 minutes went by and Claire moved away from me and hid. I was confused. “Baby what are you doing?” Claire continued to move away from me, her face showing what I first thought was concern, mixed with fear. I had never seen her do this before. Was she scared? Did she see or hear something that caused fear? Finally, my nose told me what was wrong. Claire had pooped again. I approached her and she coward with that same weird look on her face. Finally I recognized what was happening. I had seen this look before in others, but I did not expect to find it on my baby girl.
Shame. My daughter felt shame…
I slowly walked up to Claire and she began to cry and yell, “no, no!” She continued to run away from me. I bent down and took Claire’s hand, “It’s okay baby. Lets go change your diaper.” Claire wasn’t sure what to do. She resisted some more and continued to have that shameful look. I picked her up and changed her diaper. I wiped away all the filth and told her how much I loved her. Claire’s shameful look disappeared with each wipe that took away her stains.I put Claire down and she went back to playing. I watched my little girl run, shout and laugh. I smiled and had one of those moments where you just take it all in and thank God that life is so good.
Its difficult to put into words how painful it was to see my innocent daughter experience shame. I don’t know how Claire could ever think that she needs to hide from me, even if she pooped 3 times in a row. I guess we all experience shame at some point, I just didn’t think it would begin this early on in my daughters life.
Shame is never helpful to a person. Guilt is the recognition that we’ve done something wrong and our conscience responds appropriately (at least it should). Guilt helps us to make the change or seek forgiveness for the wrong we have done. Shame however, is different. Shame tells us that the wrong we have done is bad and that we are bad as well. Shame diminishes us as a person. Shame tries to rob us of our dignity. Shame makes us run away and hide. We do this with God all the time. We fall and think that somehow what we have done is too bad. Unforgivable. Yet God the Father comes searching for us—as if we could actually ever hide from Him.
As a father I recognize that I must do whatever it takes to help my daughter process her emotions in a healthy way. When she is guilty of doing wrong she needs to properly recognize this and respond accordingly. There is no room for shame in anyone’s mind and heart because all it does is distort and lead us away from those who love us, especially God. My hope is that in any occurrence where shame tries to creep its head in my daughter’s heart and mind I will be able to help her recognize it so that instead of hiding she runs to her Fathers arms for healing, forgiveness and peace.
Ah, well said! I love that, the way you model what a relationship with God looks like, because that is how she will learn to perceive her relationship with her heavenly Father, too.
Shame is actually defined as feelings of unworthiness and it really can become a toxic thing. It’s also the flip side of pride, which always fascinates me. Where there is no pride, there can be no shame. So in a religious context, that’s why we strive for humility, because shame does not belong to us.