Parents, How Do You Appreciate Your Window of Vulnerability

A new mom was telling me how anxious she became when she went to a breast-feeding support group led by a lactation consultant who told her she had missed her window of time to introduce a bottle. She was now convinced she was doomed to only be able to feed her child by breast-feeding for the next several months until the baby could take solid foods. Yikes!

The beginning stages of learning

As a former nursing mother’s counselor, I was able to reassure her that this was not some kind of cast-in-stone truth and that many people, myself included, successfully introduced a bottle much later into one of my baby’s lives.

When a person is in the beginning stages of learning, whether it involves absorbing new information, understanding a new concept or acquiring a new skill, typically that person is much more psychologically vulnerable than at other times, either before he or she had any of this knowledge or after he or she has successfully acquired this knowledge.

Learning occurs on a continuum

During the experience of learning, a person is deciding to what extent he or she is capable of successfully acquiring new information, of understanding it as well as knowing when and how to use it.

Because the person is simultaneously deciding how capable he or she is while doing the work of acquiring the new information, he or she may be exerting a lot of energy, may be under a fair amount of stress and can more easily be swayed to believe he or she is or is not capable of successfully acquiring the information, concept or skill or perhaps has made some irreparable mistakes, based on hearing the advice of an “expert.”

Depending on how important acquiring the new information is and how confident the person is with regard to his or her ability to acquire it, the intensity of vulnerability can fluctuate up or down.


No knowledge——Beginning of learning—–More learning——–Fully knowledgeable

WINDOW OF VULNERABILITY: What people need when in the window of vulnerability

Someone in this extra-sensitive state needs to be treated with more sensitivity, more affirmations and more nurturance.

If a person is criticized, chastised, questioned, mocked or discounted while this Window of Vulnerability is open, he or she is more easily thwarted, discouraged, or shamed. Once the learning is well under way, the person becomes more confident, and the window begins to close so the person becomes less and less vulnerable.

A key principle with regard to the Window of Vulnerability is the higher the overall confidence levels, the less vulnerable the person is.

Since much of parenting involves new learning about children, about the roles of parents and caregivers, about making adjustments, about balancing one’s life, about dealing with the stress of new situations and responsibilities, parents can feel very vulnerable. That vulnerability can occur in the company of other parents, when being scrutinized by family members—especially parents and in-laws, and in general when voicing their parenting concerns or beliefs with others.

Parents are encouraged to find people who will affirm them, gently share information without being rigid about what they must or must not do, and to find people whose expertise is reliable and based on real science and proven theories, aligning with the acknowledged best practices of parenting, such as authoritative parenting (check out the work of Diane Balmrind for more information on this.)

Fortunately my young friend was visibly relieved to find out she had not made some kind of huge mistake by not introducing a bottle before the magic 12-week timeframe.

Inviting parents to relax and enjoy the many experiences of parenthood, especially when they are highly vulnerable, is important for all of us who care for parents to share.

Invitation to Reflect

  1. To what extent and in what areas are you probably in a Window of Vulnerability? How is that impacting you?
  2. Who can you turn to who will nurture you and provide gentle guidance without being critical, judgmental or pushy?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network