Let’s be honest. Parents aren’t superheroes. We’re entirely human.
Sometimes, parents can be super, possessing incredible patience, and an ability to juggle whatever is thrown their way.
Did someone lock you out of the house “on accident” because you asked them to take their shoes off? No problem. You can scale the house for unlocked windows or pop the door with a credit card.
Parents can seem impossibly strong, as they come to the rescue, your hero in a time of need.
Did someone just take a “digger” while trying to escape hot lava in your living room? No worries. You can lift them up and heal them with your magic kisses and boo-boo ice packs.
But at all times, parents are simply human—entirely capable of failure. No, parents aren’t superheroes.
When I became a mom and first held that tiny, fragile baby in my hands, I knew there was nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my child. I thought of the mom who famously—and miraculously—managed to lift a car off the ground so her child could be pulled to safety. I thought, surely in a moment of desperation I could do the same. Nothing could stop me from trying anyway… except perhaps a broken back (because as you may have heard, cars weigh thousands of pounds).
No, I probably won’t be able to lift a car off my child.
So to protect him, I’ll educate him on the dangers of vehicles and on safety measures. I’ll make sure he understands the risks and how he can do his part to limit or prevent scary outcomes.
As parents, we want to protect our children from the troubles of the world, and so we try to shield them from all physical and emotional harm, but what do our children learn if they think we are always there to rescue them? If we swoop in to save the day time and time again, will they bother to retain life lessons that will help them thrive in this world on their own? When I was very little, I saw my parents as these strong, reliable, and unbreakable characters. They provided food, clothing, and shelter. They taught me how to tie my shoes. They placed bandaids on my skinned knees. They protected me from the “stranger danger” forces that lurked in the shadows of our streets. In my eyes, they were superheroes.
I never even considered that my parents might be flawed, until one day, when I witnessed them fighting. As I listened to the raised voices and watched the tears spill from my mom’s eyes, the superhero veil began to lift. As it turns out, my parents aren’t superheroes. They were never wrapped in impenetrable capes. They are not made of steel. They are vulnerable to the quick cut of a word just like me, and sometimes they need to be protected and comforted.
I’ve often wondered how I can prepare my son for the real world if he is sheltered from the ordinary flaws in our life stories.
Yes, I want my son to see me as someone who will always do their best to keep him safe. I want him secure in the knowledge that I will rescue him in moments of great need. I want him to see stability and kindness in our home, and to grow to be kind himself. But I also want him to see truth. I want him to understand that people are flawed and can make mistakes—even his mom and his dad—and that most mistakes are redeemable. I want him to learn compassion, and how to forgive.
I want him to feel confident that when the moment requires, he can rescue himself.
I think we all go into parenthood aiming to impart our wisdom, to teach our kids about consequences and morality. We strive to be good examples for the little people in our lives. In fact, we want to be better than “good.” We pressure ourselves to speak, act, and live in a way that showcases the values we want to pass on to our children.
I think we want our children to see us as their superheroes in order to inspire their own superhero characteristics, but superhero status is a pretty impossible bar for us mere mortals to reach, and that isn’t what will help our children thrive in this real world.
As much as I love my child, I know I can’t lift a car off the ground for him. I can’t save him from all the troubles in this world—the pressure to do so would be too enormous to bear. What I can do is be honest. With the best of my human abilities, I will try to prepare my son for the world in which we actually live. I will try to spare him the heartache and confusion that comes with the facade of perfection. I will try to normalize failure as part and parcel of the human experience, and help him learn from those failures.
It is possible to strive for greatness and give yourself the grace to make mistakes.
Life is complicated, and not one of us here is perfect. Our legacy as parents—just like our parents before us, and their parents before them—is real and it is flawed.