Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. ~ Ambrose Redmoon
As parents, we are often faced with the decision to put the welfare of our children above that of our own. Being a courageous parent can range from rescuing your child from near death or other peril, to fighting for your child’s right to feel safe at school and not bullied, to telling the truth about your decision to separate, to holding your child’s hand at their hospital bedside, to canceling that belated wedding anniversary vacation (the first one in 10 years) due to your child’s unexpected flu bug, to waking each morning early to ensure that you keep your job and your child has shelter, food, and the many other necessities modern life now seems to require. Any number of opportunities present themselves everyday to us as parents to muster and model the six types of courage. Sometimes we even fail to recognize what courage it takes to be a parent. It takes courage to walk through the fears about our own eclipsed needs after deciding to have a child. To accept the risks associated with loving another human being so fully and completely that they one day walk out our front door with the keys to their own castle in hand (God willing). Courage is telling the truth about who we are, apologizing when we mess up, and loving ourselves and our child in the process.
As a child and family therapist, I frequently witness the courage and compassion parents have in advocating for their mentally ill child, their child who struggles in school because of a learning disorder, their obese child facing long-term health issues if they don’t lose some weight, or their child banished to the outskirts of social acceptance due to the arbitrary judgment of an individual or group with more social cache. I see the heartbreak on these parents’ faces when their child is called fat, gay, stupid, or weird. Then, I witness the tears brushed away and the smile return to greet their child’s gaze with unconditional love. The child, in turn, is looking for that acceptance as fuel for their own courage to face the battles they must. Sometimes as parents we feel powerless about what to do to help our child through a tough time. But it is the decision to keep moving forward, digging together for solutions in the dark, that inspires our children to have faith in the kindness of others, hope for their future, and to develop the necessary courage associated with resilience. We don’t have to have all the answers. No one does. We just need to keep moving through fear towards hope. When I work with children who are anxious and afraid of the dark, I learned from a fellow therapist to bring in flashlights, nightlights, candles, and those sweet little Guatemalan worry dolls (they disappear worries while tucked under pillows at night) to help make friends with the dark. As parents, sometimes we need to call in reinforcements, ask for help ourselves, and make friends with our own fears so we can be present, brave, and our child’s own personal hero or heroine. As parents, we are the light that can shine when our child’s world seems dark, when the monsters under the bed give fright, and no one at school seems friendly.
I remind myself each day that having courage does not necessarily end worry or disappear fear. Courage is the catalyst by which we move beyond fear and into faith. We may not know exactly the right words to say when our child is sad or anxious or unhappy. But, we can decide to push aside our petty worries and pernicious fears. We can tell stories from our own life to offer comfort and perhaps even some inspiration. We can hold their hand and just breathe together through the pain and confusion. We can place our trust in the fact that as in nature, after darkness comes light.
Part of the purpose of this blog is to collect stories from parents like you, about how you nurture courage in your children. I am curious what has required you to have courage as a parent? What have you found powerful and helpful in teaching your own child about courage? How has your child inspired courage in you? If you’d like to be interviewed, too, please send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We’d love to hear from you!
For more inspiration, read some of my previous profiles of parental courage: