Let’s talk about what it looks like to be a hero in the eyes of children—specifically, your own children. We see a lot of images on TV and in books, but those images are sometimes misleading when we look at our own lives.
But kids see more truth than we do in many moments.
For the past three years, my wife and I have taken our kids to the Sioux Empire Fair with their grandparents. This, in and of itself, is a hero move in my book. This year was no exception.
As we walked through the fair together, the kids were lit up with excitement. My wife, in her first trimester of pregnancy, was doing her best to maintain positivity while feeling miserable. Hero status earned. Grandma was running two of them beside her, Mom was pushing one in a stroller, and I had one by my side.
After getting our wrist bands, we ventured onwards to a couple small rides. Our three oldest—Grayson, Izzy, and Gibson—were loving the carnival rides, and our youngest was jealous. After a couple rides, the big three jumped into one of the crazy-looking funhouses on the midway and ran through the mirror maze and up the ladder to the slide. But at the top, Gibson hesitated.
Last year, on this same slide, he came down so fast that he almost flew off the side. He remembered that quite well. He let kid after kid go ahead of him before he finally went down without issue. Man, I thought, I’m glad we are through that panic!
I was wrong.
At the next funhouse, they went through again without issue. Until the slide. The tunnel, rope ladder, and janky bridge were all okay, but that big slide at the end was not going to work for Gibson.
Moment of Truth
We tried to encourage him through. The older two went around again and tried to go down the slide with him. Other kids were encouraging him. Gibson didn’t budge. The moment of truth came: what was I willing to do for my son?
So all six feet of me climbed into that frighteningly fragile-looking kids’ attraction. After a solid ten minutes of trying to convince my four-year-old son that all would be alright, we finally managed to backtrack through the maze of obstacles and leave.
At that moment, I had become a hero to him—I had come in to save him from something he couldn’t handle. No, it wasn’t a dramatic or life-threatening situation. But to him, in his little four-year-old body, it was absolutely paralyzing.
What Is A Hero?
I realized at that moment that being a hero isn’t about doing the dramatic for your kids. Instead, it’s about knowing when to stay on the sidelines and let your child figure it out and knowing when your child is so overwhelmed that they can’t overcome the situation.
So here’s what I feel are the basic tenets of being a hero in your kids’ lives:
- A hero keeps their children safe—especially when it’s necessary, but also when the children perceive their safety as lacking.
- A hero knows when to step in and save the day, but also when it’s time to let their children work through something on their own. It’s never fun to fall down, but sometimes it’s the getting up that gives the best lesson.
- A hero is there to talk through the tough things and make sense of the hard parts of life, even when it doesn’t seem that urgent. It might not be urgent to an adult, but to a kid, the world is a different place.
- A hero cheers on their children, even when the children feel like they’re not worth cheering on. We are the ones who will always see them as incredible, and we are necessary for our children’s ability to see their own worth.
- A hero commits to crazy things for the sake of their children’s experiences, knowing that half the time they won’t appreciate it until they’re much older and wiser. Personal well-being and sanity sometimes need to be set aside, knowing that the messy moments in life can often be the best memories.
At the top of the funhouse slide, on a hot August day, my son came to a moment where overcoming wasn’t an option on his own. Next year may be different, but at that moment he needed someone to guide him back to the ground.
There are still moments to this day where I feel like I need someone else by my side to guide me back down to reality. It’s not my parents anymore, but it’s often my wife.
Being a hero means being ready to step up when things are beyond your child’s control or more than your child can do on their own. It also means being there to cheer them on when they meet challenges, letting them know they can overcome when they work hard and put in all their effort.
Don’t sell yourself short as a parent. You are the hero your child often needs, even if you feel like a failure on a daily basis. Heroes don’t just save the world: they save people. You are there to save your little people when they don’t know what might come next. And you’re there to help them learn how to be a hero themselves through perseverance, hard work, and courage.
Love strong. Be passionate. Keep striving.
You’ve got this, parent-warriors.