How do you raise kids who are both independent and have a healthy connection to you?
Something happens to you when you peer deeply into the eyes of your new tiny human. For some of us, it happens right away and for others it can be a process. But as a new parent, a powerful realization starts to overtake you…you begin to realize not only the depth of love you have for your new little one, but you find yourself overcome by a fierce sense of protectiveness coupled with the magnitude of responsibility that now rests on your shoulders.
This tiny human is yours to raise. To love, to protect, to teach, to provide for, and to somehow shape into a healthy, independent and well-adjusted adult before they are released into society some day.
No pressure, or anything. 😉
And the last thing we EVER want is for anything or anyone to hurt this precious person who has been entrusted to our care.
My daughter, Gwen, is our rainbow baby. That means she is the child we had following a heart-breaking miscarriage. Needless to say, I had a lot of fear surrounding my pregnancy with her and especially that first year or two of her life.
I had experienced the reality of losing a child I loved and was secretly terrified of losing her as well. In my fierce love and fearful protectiveness, I was quick to position myself as Gwen’s hero. Anything she needed, I was right there and ready to step in.
I have a picture of her when she was learning how to sit up on her own. I had carefully positioned a circle of pillows all around her so, if she fell in ANY direction, she would catch a soft, fluffy landing.
I was determined to give her the safest, most gentle & loving upbringing known to mankind.
So you can imagine my horror when she ended up in the ER with a possible concussion as a 19 month old.
I was faced with a very harsh reality pretty early on: No matter what I did or how close I was, I simply COULD. NOT. PREVENT. every fall, disaster, or even hurt feeling in my daughter’s life. Not only was it impossible, but it was driving me to the edge of my own sanity.
What’s the Problem?
So what’s the problem with being your child’s hero? Isn’t that what we dream of as parents? To someday have your child look up at you with great love & admiration and proudly declare, “You’re my HERO!”
Now don’t hear what I’m not saying. It’s perfectly fine and GOOD for you to be a role model for your child. And if that’s what you think of when you hear the term “hero,” then don’t let me pop your bubble.
The problem is not in being your child’s role model; it’s in being your child’s SUPERHERO.
A superhero is someone who appears on the scene to rescue the victim of the story from impending danger.
What’s wrong with that? Two things, mainly.
First of all, you’re not always going to be there to rescue them. When you position yourself as your child’s “superhero,” then whenever they run into an issue, they will look for you. And what happens when you’re not there? How do they handle that argument on the playground when you’re not there to intervene? How do they set boundaries if you’re not there to lay them out? How do they stand up for themselves in times of injustice without you to make their case? Not sure? Neither are they.
Second of all, your child is learning that he needs someone else to solve his problems, because he is apparently not capable of solving them himself. The victim of the story rarely becomes the hero. Heroes are made when they step into a difficult situation and do the hard thing…for themselves or others…instead of letting someone else fix it for them.
It’s totally normal for us, as parents, to deal with fear and anxiety related to our kids. We want so desperately to protect them from the dangers this world has to offer, both physical & emotional.
But sometimes in the process, we position ourselves as the superhero of our kids’ lives and thus prevent the growth and learning they need to truly become the best version of themselves. Trust me, I’m learning this the hard way.
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What’s the Solution?
Donald Miller wrote a great book called, Building a Story Brand. It’s all about marketing for companies and organizations, but it struck me with a powerful truth for parenting.
Miller talks about how many companies make the mistake of positioning themselves as the “hero” for their customer. They make themselves out to be powerful, competent, and possessing all the customer needs to be “rescued” out of their dire situation.
The problem? The customer doesn’t need a hero. What the customer really needs is the tools & resources to become their OWN hero.
So the companies that are really succeeding in the marketing world are not presenting themselves as the hero of the story, but rather as a guide.
It’s the same way with our kids.
Every time we position ourselves as the “hero” in our child’s life, we are robbing them of their power & independence. Sure, it feels good to be the hero for a moment, but the key to raising independent kids is to help them develop the tools & courage they need to become their own hero.
Think Star Wars. When we meet Luke Skywalker, he is hardly a hero. But imagine if Obi-Wan Kenobi just swept in and rescued Luke and saved the Empire himself. Then that’s the end of the story, right? Boooooring.
Instead, Obi-Wan comes alongside Luke and, with his own wisdom and experience, serves as a supportive “guide” to help Luke grow into the hero he was meant to be.
Our kids don’t need us to be their hero. They need us to be their guide. To come alongside them to teach, to share, to support and ultimately to empower them to be the best version of themselves…who they were created to be.
We are each the hero of our own lives. Meaning, when it comes down to it, the only person we can actually control…is ourselves. When we sweep in and rescue our kids from every problem they face, we are preventing them from growing and learning and becoming empowered in their own lives. We’re also creating an unhealthy connection with them that can cause them to be overly dependent on us or relationally enmeshed as adults.
As tempting as it is to step in and solve problems for your child, whether out of convenience, perfectionism, or protectiveness, one of the best gifts we can give to our kids is to serve as a guide, not a hero.
Want some practical tips for all this? Check out 6 Strategies for Raising Independent Kids
*Disclaimer: There are absolutely times in which we, as parents, SHOULD step in to advocate at a higher level for our children. If your child is being bullied, struggling with self-harm or ideation, using drugs or alcohol, or anything that is beyond the scope of their capability to handle, we play a key role in stepping in to “guide” in a more directed way and provide greater scaffolding to help our child through tough times. But for most everyday situations, we can empower our children as a supportive guide.
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