Being a Reluctant Hero: the true role of the parent

27d71d088b682abee8b4e7488530b1c4Last night I was snuggled in my bed with Arabelle. We were all cozied up in a pile of blankets trying to hold off the last effort of Winter to make any real impression on the north Texans this year. It was chilly, but honestly, I think he failed in his attempt–no real winter here this year.

Arabelle had her head on my shoulder and my face was nuzzled into her hair. It was one of those perfect moments that make life just so beautiful.

Unfortunately, the topic of conversation wasn’t quite so beautiful. We were chatting about all the pre-teen drama that little girls create, and boy do they create a lot!

As I listened to Belle’s tales of woe, I found myself thinking back to my own pre-adolescent years, and I wasn’t feeling very nostalgic! I cringed inwardly as the memories of awkwardness, insecurity, and immaturity came flooding back. Those years are just so hard! Doesn’t matter who you are: the outcast, the nerd, the average, or the popular, it’s just downright awful most of the time.

Everybody is insecure, uncertain, and too often hurtful to others, as they try to transition from a child into this strange new world of the preteen. Too often, out of that insecurity, girls can get really catty and be downright mean. I’d lived it, and now my precious little girl was living it.

images (1)I listened to Arabelle pour out her worries and struggles with a twinge in my heart. I wanted to protect her from these years, but I knew I couldn’t. At best I could help her get through them, and part of that would be helping my very sensitive and insecure daughter to not take things too personally, and to help her believe in herself.

With that in mind, when she began her litany of how she didn’t measure up, I countered with all of the wonderful and unique things about her. And I had a big list that I was determined would help her see her worth.

For every positive I laid out, she counteracted with its negative.

Finally in exasperation she sighed, “I wish I was like you! You’re perfect!.”

“Wait a minute, what?” I turned so I could look into her eyes.

“Well you are!” she answered back to my look of shock, and she began a long list of all my attributes.

Idownload (1) was a bit stunned. I sat up and blinked stupidly at her for a while and then finally said, “But you know how imperfect I am better than just about anybody! You live with me! You see the times that I’m impatient or when I lose my temper. When I’m not as thoughtful or as kind as I should be!”

“But mom, you always have a reason for those things.”

“But that doesn’t make them right! It’s still wrong that I do them!”

She shrugged. “I still want to be just like you. You’re my hero.”

Wow. I’m her hero.

I didn’t ask to be her hero. I don’t think I want to be her hero. But I guess it doesn’t really matter if I asked for it or if I wanted it–it’s what she’s made me–a hero, albeit a somewhat unwilling one.

Rather than feeling flattered by that pronouncement, I felt humbled and a little scared.

My mind flashed back to a conversation we had had earlier that day where I had done something that had so clearly echoed my own mother. “Ugh! Grandma just pulled a body snatch on me! Clearly that wasn’t a Mommy thing to do! How does Grandma do that?!”

Arabelle had laughed and said that being like Grandma wasn’t so bad.

I jokingly teased her that she needed to beware, because when she became my age, she would find herself echoing what I do and say in ways that she never thought she would, even in the ways she had vowed to never be like me. “It happens to us all,” I teased her. “I’ll do something and all of a sudden I’ll see a flash of my father doing the exact same thing in the exact same way…it’s kind of creepy!”

She was going to become just like me, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It hit me with a new clarity.

Contest-flier_1I’m her hero. She is watching me. She wants to be like me.

What I do and what I say, how I act and how I fail to act, all of these she sees, and many of these she herself will become. And in time her children, and her children’s children. Passed on from generation to generation…

The responsibility, when you really take the time to wrap your mind around it, is staggering.

All parents, at least all the good ones, realize that they are setting an example for their children. We understand that they are learning based on what we model, but I don’t think we fully understand what it means.

When we become parents, we really are like the potter with a lump of clay, but what we sometimes don’t think about is that, even when we are not actively molding that clay, we are still molding it.

In fact, most of the molding of that clay happens, not from our active working with the clay (active parenting), but rather from the inactive moments. The moments observed by those big, innocent eyes. Not only our observed actions, but our observed inaction. When we fail to act. When we fail to fight for something we believe in. When we let lethargy seep in and cause us to accept less than the best from life and the people around us. When we allow someone to ignore us, disrespect us, or knock us down, and we don’t defend ourselves. When we’re confronted with the obstacles in life and we don’t fight back, but instead give in.

All of these too are children see, and they will follow in our footsteps.

I find myself thinking of all the ways that I don’t want my daughter to be like me. Those are the very things that I need to work on. Yes, there are lots of ways I would be happy to have her follow in my steps I do many things well, but that doesn’t discount the ways that I want her to be better than me, more than I am.

4029757ce58eb958d4137859df44694fAnd I am realizing in a way I never have before, that the best way to do that, is to be more than I am. I need to become what I hope she will one do become, so that she has an example walking before her, one that I feel like is totally comfortable with her following–and I’m not there yet.

I know I can’t be perfect. I know I will fail and I will fall, and no matter how hard I try, those failures may hurt my daughter and she will carry some of that into her future. But I need to know that I did my best, that I became the best I could be so that she can be the best that she can be.

I didn’t ask to be a hero. I don’t deserve to be a hero.

I’d better do my best to become one though. There is a little girl who is watching me to see what heroes do, and one day she will echo the choices I made.

That’s an awful lot to live up to!

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18 thoughts on “Being a Reluctant Hero: the true role of the parent

  1. Wow. You’re her hero for a reason Professor Graham! Keep it up. After reading this, I guarantee you your daughter thinks about you quite often when you are not around. She is blessed with an understanding, passionate, and driven mother.

  2. This is Elizabeth, from one of your psychology courses.
    Although I am not a parent, sometimes I can relate to the obstacles of parent-hood. Last year I was a nanny for a 12-year old girl and she came crying to me all too often. I understand the struggle to find the right words to console a troubled pre-teen and to be a good example. Being a nanny, I also had to deal with the pre-teen drama in regard to the parent-child relationship. It’s hard to listen to a girl cry about not feeling good enough to anybody, but especially when she’s referring to her own parents. All I could do was listen and keep my mouth shut, let her know I was there for her.

  3. This is Elizabeth, from one of your psychology courses. MWF 12:00-12:50
    Although I am not a parent, sometimes I can relate to the obstacles of parent-hood. Last year I was a nanny for a 12-year old girl and she came crying to me all too often. I understand the struggle to find the right words to console a troubled pre-teen and to be a good example. Being a nanny, I also had to deal with the pre-teen drama in regard to the parent-child relationship. It’s hard to listen to a girl cry about not feeling good enough to anybody, but especially when she’s referring to her own parents. All I could do was listen and keep my mouth shut, let her know I was there for her.

  4. Professor Graham you are hero for realizing the impact that you have on your children. They will look always look up to you and want to be like you, and just from having you in class you can telling us about them we can see how much you care and how lucky they are to have a parent that would give the world for them.

  5. cc; prof Graham gen psyc C04
    I am not a parent and I never grew up around my parents, I would sometimes stay years without seeing them. so far it has been 9 months staying with my father, this is the longest we have lived together. Sadly am now 21 years old, there is not so much bonding that would be as the one that would have been if we were together when I was a kid. But even so, for the short time we have been together I see him as a hero, he is a nice man, does not give up until he accomplishes his goals. sometimes I say to myself that am lucky to have him. I have no complains about the past because I have an external locus of control. i believe it was fated to be that way.

  6. Marisa Horne
    Gen. Psychology 2301.C05
    This took me back to when you lectured about learning. Specifically, the little boy who was holding up the two signs about God hating certain people. I believe we were talking about classical conditioning, which plays a role in why kids are easily influenced by their parents whether they realize or not.

  7. I agree that the example a parent sets for their child will have a huge impact on the childs dvelopment and personality. Parents should be aware of everything they say, dont say, and do or dont do around their child. Observational learning happens constantly as children look to their parents for examples on how to act, and imitate them. I really dislike the term (that I hear parents say all to often,) “do as I say, not as I do.” Not only would that confuse a child, who should be looking up to their parent as a role model and not a dictator, but its also useless. No matter what, children will pick up on their parents behavior, so it is important to act the way you would want your child to act as an adult.

    Jessica Bell • class C04

  8. As a little girl, I always thought of my father as my hero. He would always kill the spiders under my bed, pick me up from school, and sing me songs before I went to bed. As I got older, things seemed to change a little bit. My dad and I have had our fair share of hardships, but I will always think of him as my hero. Parents are not supposed to be our best friend, we are supposed to get mad at them and question why they do the things they do. He has always told me that I will thank him in the future for the rules that are applied in the household. And I know for certain that I will.

  9. Dulcie Church Gen Psych C05.
    In Psychology we observe that children learn a significant amount by observational learning. Children will look at what you are doing and will imitate it. While I am not a parent I used to be a childcare worker at my church. This job really showed me how much children take from the people they are around. I would notice the children imitating the things I would do like play with my hair or they would copy the things I was saying. Children look up to their parents and as children often say they want to grow up to be just like their parents; because of this it is important that parents are aware of their actions and live a life that they would want for their children.

  10. Hi Professor Graham. Kieron Fassitt from MWF 10am Gen Psych class. I think this particular story incorporates several of the topics we’ve discussed in class. First of it shows that your daughter is learning just by observing the way you deal with problems, or everyday stresses. I think that there is latent learning and observational learning going on to. As a parent myself, I am always concious of what I do around my kids because I know they are always watching, and are far more likely to do what i do than what I say.

  11. When we are young we sometimes feel unimportant. We think down on ourselves and look for guidance. As we get older we can look back and laugh at how insignificant our problems were. We’ve learned how to deal with life “the real world”. Most of our learning we’ve inherited through biological learning. Our mirror neurons allow us to imitate what our parents have taught us as well as the people that we have surrounded ourselves with throughout life. This makes us who we are. If we could realize this earlier in life I think we can freely choose and feel less guilty about our paths that we travel.

  12. I really enjoyed reading this article, because I often think of the impact I make on the people I’m often with. In particular, my younger cousins came to mind. I still remember when they first arrived in Texas to live with my family for their first few months. I shared a room with the older cousin, and she witnessed my everyday activities, as well as my low points and bad habits I had from time to time. I strongly believe in the modeling concept of psychology. Individuals learn just about anything someone does by observing. After a while, they adapt to this observational learning and incorporate these mannerisms. After experiencing this myself, I try to become a better person.

    -Melissa Prieto, General Psych C04

  13. I just think when we look at kids we see the innocence in them and that it can be changed by us. We see the evil in the world and we choose to show our children how to be the best you could be out of the world that is full of dirt. We are all imperfect humans but our children make us want to be perfect. Heroes can afford to make mistakes I agree with your last statement where you said,” I became the best I could be so that she can be the best that she can be.” That right there is the best thing you can do for your daughter. This links to the topic of lifespan and development. Where the definition of maturation is an influence of heredity throughout development. The idea of maturation fits ideally to this blog post because you try to influence your daughter to be the best she could be. By being heroes to our children helps us become a better person overall.

  14. Megan Sambrano, Gen. Psychology C03. I am connecting this blog when we learned about learning. As a parent, I think about how my actions affect my son, how observational learning is so easy. How every little thing I do can impact my son. He’s only two and there are habits that I have noticed he’s picked up that come from me that I didn’t realize I would be so irritated by. I also notice what an impact my parents had on me and how it has influenced the ways I parent, I definitely agree it’s pretty creepy. Being considered your child’s hero is so amazing, although I know when my son grows up I want him to be better than me, to go further and succeed, being the best he can. I can only hope that my husband and I are setting the right example for him.

  15. Professor Graham, this is Elizabeth Smith from general psych-2301.C05. This post (and parenting in general) makes me think of what we are currently learning in class. Fetal development and early childhood is a period of growth that is so crucial. The physical development leaves people baffled and in awe of the complex and intricate bodies that we possess. But, what about the emotional development?

    I feel like parents often do not realize the role they play in their children’s life. Yes, it is a big deal that you are this child’s guardian and protector. What else are you though? In many cases, you are their HERO. That is a huge deal, and in my opinion, every second of being their hero counts! To many parents, this is evident and they realize the power they have. Unfortunately, many parents don’t understand that they are shaping the future. They go through the motions and provide a good life for their kids. However, a good life isn’t good enough. Early childhood is a time where kids crave interaction, relationship, and community with their mothers and fathers. This is no accident. We were not created to be alone. God created man to be in community with woman and before that, He said that is it not good for man to be alone. Even God himself is three in one. (the perfect community)

    So because we as humans crave interaction and community, I think that is something that every parent should consider. Parents need to be their child’s community in order to represent God in all of his fullness.

  16. Hello Professor, this is Humza from your general psychology class 2301.C05. I am not a parent but I am a role model for my little brother who is currently a 7th grader. It’s a hard time for him, he’s starting to grow that awkward peach fuzz on his upper lip and he’s starting to pay more attention to the way he dresses. I am often the one who he comes to for guidance and even if he doesn’t ask me a question I can tell he is observing the way I carry myself and how I interact with others. This relates to learning in psychology, although he’s not a baby anymore he is still sucking in as much information from the “cool” older kids. It’s important that I watch my language when I’m around him because although he may not repeat the same words in front of me but he most likely will use them on the school bus.

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