Resilient. It must be one of the most oft-uttered words of this past year. “The kids will make it through okay, they’re resilient.” But we parents worry! There’s no minimizing the challenges and setbacks the pandemic has brought. Personally, I’ve been thinking a lot about that quality — resilience — namely wondering if there’s a way to teach it. So, I crowdsourced. I dug through my stacks of parenting books. I even thought back to my own upbringing. And I realized that the key to teaching resilience is the very thing that makes it so tricky: On one hand, we must get out of our kids’ way and let them do their thing; on the other, we need to step in to support them at crucial moments. It’s a precarious balance, and I’m not going to nail it, but moving forward I have vowed to do these seven things:
1. Let my child follow that idea or plan, even if I know it’s going to go south.
That means don’t stop him from entering the talent show with that bonkers comedy routine, even if your instincts tell you he’ll get laughed off the stage. Even if you think only a few people—or zero people—will actually get it. Even if you are so sure it’ll cause your child embarrassment or heartache on talent show night. It’s super challenging to sit on your hands like this; after all, moms want their children to be happy and not experience too much pain or disappointment. But it’s also really important and here’s why: 1) You could be wrong. His act could kill. You stepping in to save him from embarrassment could deprive him of the joy of being himself and being seen. 2) You could be right and he may be laughed off the stage and refuse to come out of his room for the next 24 hours. But there are few better opportunities for kids to find their resilience than failing, being loved anyway, and realizing that the sun will still rise.
2. Let my child see my imperfections. (And let them celebrate those imperfections!)
That looser tummy you’ve had since your pregnancies? Let it fly and don’t talk sh*t about it. Do I love the grey streaks growing into my hair or the lines that have emerged around my eyes? Not necessarily. But I also believe that it’s totally and completely okay to be human—with all the many, many imperfections therein. And I want my daughter to know that I’m more or less at peace with my flaws. Think about it: If a mom tells her daughter she’s perfect just the way she is but constantly beats herself up about her own weight or skin or hair, that daughter will notice. Love yourself, and your kids will learn that they have the space to be flawed while at the same time being worthy of self-love and respect.
3. Apologize. (To my kid. To my spouse. To whomever.)
Show your kids how it’s done so they learn that everyone gets a do-over. But! Because women are socialized to apologize reflexively, remember the flip-side, and don’t apologize if you have nothing to apologize for. Be humble, sure, but stand your ground when you know you’re right. Your kids will pick up on that, too.
4. Date my kid.
It’s way too easy to get caught up in all the have tos of family life — namely taking care of every last logistic and keeping everyone alive, fed, clothed, and on top of at least some of their homework. And on weekends, a lot of families—mine included—can get stuck thinking that every second of leisure time has to involve everyone. But there’s a special magic to a mother-son trip to the ice cream shop or a mom-and-daughter-only evening stroll. In other words, nurture your bond.
5. Get my child that reading tutor or therapy, if and when it’s needed.
There are moments when we all need a little extra support. Everybody needs help sometimes. So teach that. Get her that smart and understanding therapist to talk about her gnarly nighttime fears. Get him that magical reading tutor who’ll help him over the hump. Part of owning true resilience means knowing that outside help and support is available when we really need it.
6. Let my child take on a new challenge, responsibility or privilege — even if it’s a smidge before I’m ready.
Allowing our kids out in the world alone(ish) is tough to negotiate for moms because our job — and our instinct — is to protect our children. We take that gig seriously. But let’s say your daughter wants to walk to the park alone. Obviously it depends on her age, where you live, and what hazards are involved. But just think about how strong you feel when you stretch yourself to tackle something a little out of your reach and you’re not 100% sure you can do it and you’re scared and—gasp—you succeed in doing it anyway? Yep.
7. Take a ‘slow day.’
When kids have a chance to pause and hit the reset button they’re get to process their latest wins and losses and clear the slate for the next ones. So find ways to deliberately slow down. Build it into your family’s culture. Disconnect from tech, or spend an unhurried Saturday or Sunday with nothing to accomplish besides hanging out with your family. It’s possible if we prioritize it.
My guess is that you’re probably doing some or all of these things with your kids already, without even knowing what a genius resilience-builder you are.