Although we may not quite fit into the sleek spandex superhero suit that dominates our children's entertainment, there certainly are other ways in which we can become a hero to our children. The problem for many parents is that they want to become friends with their children, rather than heroes. Our children do not need more friends, and they certainly do not need their parents competing with their friends for their attention. A hero does not beg for attention or approval. Children do not need us to be cool -- they need their parents to be parents. But, do our children need us to be hero's to them as well? The answer to that is yes. But to understand this we should look at what a hero is first.
A hero is not perfect. In fact all the most interesting heroes have vulnerabilities. Superman has his kryptonite, Iron man has a weak heart, Batman is haunted by past trauma and the Hulk struggles with his emotions. Sounds pretty human and vulnerable to me! One of the first rules of being a hero is to accept that you are flawed. In my book MORE: A New Philosophy for Exceptional Living I discuss the concept of the double-edged sword. On one side of the sword is our greatest strength and on the other is our greatest weakness. They are two sides of the same thing. We can transform our flaws into something exceptional. The superheroes mentioned above each found a way to transform challenge into growth.
Parents do not have to be perfect to be heroes to their children; in fact they need to be quite the opposite. They need to accept their vulnerabilities and their struggles, and in doing this they can begin to be a hero to their children. A hero works through challenges in order to contribute to the greater good. A hero keeps on falling and getting up again. Being a hero is about tenacity, service and ultimately contribution to others. Children look at heroes in order to help develop their morals, their empathy and their resilience.
So what does it take to become a hero to your children? We do not have to save the world, and a cool Batmobile is not required. The following are the requirements for the position of hero parent.
1. Show up! Yes, the superhero tends to make a dramatic entrance and shows up just in the nick of time. As a parent hero you just have to show up. The drama is not needed, but your presence is. This does not mean you have to be with your child every minute of every day, but rather you find ways to be there when they really need you, and often when they don't.
2. Pay attention. The superhero usually has some sort of super power. The parent hero does not need to have super senses, but they do need to pay attention to their child. Children want to be seen and known by their parents. Enjoy them when they shine but challenge them when they are testing the limits. They want you to see them in all their wonder and all their imperfection. That is how they know that you truly unconditionally love them.
3. Listen to your gut. You know your child best; as they grow there will be times you know them better than they know themselves (much to their chagrin!). A hero often knows when something is going wrong. If your gut is telling you something is up, investigate. Don't let fear paralyze you as it will keep you from what needs to be done. Listen to your intuition when it comes to your children, it is the best guide of all.
4. Don't be afraid of the difficult conversations. A hero can handle the discomfort. Let your children know you are willing to do the job even when the going gets tough. If you feel your child is on the wrong path, tell them. If something difficult has happened that you want to protect them from, do not sweep it under the rug. Dig in and show them that they can meet challenges head on. Model this for your children by leading them through the difficult conversations and challenging experiences in life.
5. Set limits. A hero has boundaries, and although they want to contribute to others they respect boundaries. The only way to know boundaries is to experience them. Setting boundaries also helps your children know that you are truly operating in their best interests. It is not about what they want, but rather about what they need. A hero is willing to do what is needed for the best interests of others.
6. Do the right thing. The hero does the right thing, even when it is not easy. In fact, the right thing is seldom easy. If you are doing the right thing as a parent you will need to say no to your child, and you will need to deal with your child's upset. You will need to pay attention, risk difficult conversations and act on your intuition. You will need to be present in your life and the lives of your children.
Here is one last piece of parenting advice. Being a hero to your child will bring security, connection and great growth to the whole family...but please save your superhero outfit for Halloween!
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