When I first told people our family was moving out of town, right after the requisite flurry of questions there was one word that cropped up again and again: Resilient. I’d say something like, “I’m afraid the move will be hard on the kids.” And the next words out of anyone’s mouth were always some version of “Oh, don’t worry—kids are so resilient!” And I clung to that particular type of reassurance because, well, I needed to. The move wasn’t optional, and I wanted to have faith that my kids would be alright.
The reality on the ground was more complicated; not only were we moving halfway across the country, but the whole plan came together quickly. My husband and I had contemplated the idea for a long time, but once we committed—BAM!—we were packed up and gone in under four weeks. Goodbye dear friends. Goodbye amazing school. Goodbye too-small-for-us house. By the time we settled into our new place, the kids were a little shell-shocked and a little spent from all the drama and legwork. (And so was I.)
In some ways, they’ve taken to our new lives fantastically well. They had no problem adjusting to finally having their own bedrooms, living walking distance from their new school, meeting new friends. Yes, my dear littles were resilient. And yet, there were many tears shed over old friends. There were challenges adjusting to the new school’s homework policy. And then the weather turned cold and it was my kids’ first time living with real seasons. It sounds silly, but that in itself was an adjustment.
All the challenges, bumps, bruises, and false starts my kids have faced since moving has me thinking about 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 I have vowed to do these 7 things:
1. Let your child follow that idea or plan, even if you 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 your child see your imperfections. (And let him or her see you 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 your kids. To your 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 your kid.
It’s way too easy to get caught up in all the have tos of family life — namely getting kids places they need to be while keeping them alive, fed, clothed, and in possession 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 your child that reading tutor or therapist.
I understand that driving kids all over creation can be a real bummer—I’m definitely not one to jump up and schedule a new activity at the drop of a hat. But there are moments when we all need a little extra support. Everybody needs help sometimes. 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 your child take on a new challenge, responsibility or privilege — even if it’s a smidge before you’re 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 school 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.
Despite—or thanks to—the many rocky moments post-move, I can tell by the way my kids treat themselves, their friends, and each other that their resilience is growing. And 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. But if these ideas don’t help you, you could always try moving your family out of state with four weeks’ notice. Just a thought!