Life is beautiful…and difficult; a paradox that is almost always exacerbated when raising children. Parenting is a challenging career. Most jobs offer training and experience. However, when it comes to the job of parenting no proper job description has ever been written. No interview is conducted to determine whether you are qualified. Sometimes we step into parenting with expectations vastly different than what occurs.
As a clinical psychologist, I work with “difficult children” and their parents. My first line of intervention is to stop identifying the child as a problem. I also know this journey first hand. In our family, my husband and I have had to navigate the parenting obstacles associated with highly sensitive children. We have supported our kids through speech delays, sensory processing disorder, dyslexia, anxiety, and ADHD. However, raising any child, “easy” or “challenging,” requires flexibility, adaptability, courage, and tenacity; all core components of resilience.
“Resilient parenting recognizes that challenging moments with children can offer growth opportunities. We raise resilient children by discerning when and how to provide support, building a strong sense of community, and embracing your child’s differences. It is easy to get seduced by the ideal of perfection. There is no perfect parent. Moreover, our inevitable imperfections truly make us who we are.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Raising any child asks us to grow as a parent. Raising a child with a learning difference, or sensory processing disorder, or ADHD can take us to our edge. So many feelings come up: anger, disbelief, sadness, overwhelm. So many questions arise; some which focus on the problem and some the focus on the solution.
Problem questions typically sound like this:
- “What did I do wrong?” This question implies that you were at fault. Is that line of inquiry really necessary or helpful?
- “How can I fix my child?” This question presumes that your child is broken. Is that the message you want to be sending?
- “How can I save my child?” This question suggests your child is helpless. Stop and think. Does your child really need to be rescued?
Resilience inquiry proposes an alternative set of questions:
- How can we learn and grow from our experiences? Often there are advantages to a child’s unique difficulties in the world. These can get overlooked if we only see them as a problem. In what way is your child a better person because of his or her experiences in the world? How might these challenges ultimately contribute to his or her gifts or capacities?
- What supports can help my child become the best that he or she can be? While there is nothing broken that needs to be fixed we recognize that support is needed. Perhaps there are specific teachers, schools, therapists, or interventionists that provide the right assistance for your child.
- How can I provide enough support and yet not prevent the necessary hardship that my child needs to grow and mature? Think about the last time you challenged yourself to learn something new. It isn’t easy right? You don’t decide to learn a new language and expect to be fluent in a week. Watching our children be uncomfortable isn’t easy but tolerating your own discomfort teaches them to do the same.
There are endless opportunities to bring resilient inquiry into your parenting. For toddlers you might notice what happens when you stop “helping” your child learn how to walk and let them struggle and find their own way. With older children you can explore sitting down together, discussing their dilemma, and writing up the pros and cons instead of telling them what to do. How might you bring resilient parenting into your home?
It Takes a Village
When we moved into our home we lucked out in having a friendly mailman. He not only delivered our mail but became a companion. Our son especially loved to run down to the mailbox to greet the mailman each day and soon became his “assistant”; helping as he walked aside the truck up and down the street. Last month our mailman retired and on his last day our son spent the morning of in the kitchen making cookies. He carefully placed the cookies in the mailbox and waited patiently for our mailman to arrive. Neither cared that the cookies had melted into a clump inside of the hot mailbox and the joy on both of their faces was priceless.
A few days later our mailman and his wife stopped by the house with a special delivery, his postman’s hat! Having wrestled with a learning disability my son has struggled with a sense of his future. However, the day he received his hat my son sparkled, “Mom, there are so many things I can be when I grow up, it is hard to choose!”
Developing a sense of purpose, accountability, and responsibility in the world arises when the adults in our families and communities tell us we are important and that we make a difference. If a child is allowed to shirk responsibilities without consequence we are telling them that their contributions do not really matter. When my child’s teacher talks to her about not turning in homework I tell my daughter that her teacher cares about her and her work. We are a team.
Both of my children have jobs. They mow lawns and walk dogs. Our neighbors are physically able to do these jobs on their own; however, they give our family a gift by allowing our children valuable opportunities to be accountable to our community. It is a win-win. Everyone benefits from the gift of meaningful connection.
Last week I had a wonderful day with my 12-year old daughter; a delightful balance of quiet time and engaged time together. At one point in our “perfect” day she asked if we could cook a meal together. We got out the ingredients, we mixed, we chatted. Then she asked if she could pick out some music for us but somewhere in the process she got distracted and then next thing I knew she had grabbed the ipad and had disappeared into her room. I was hurt and angry. I called out to her but got no response. Of course, she couldn’t hear me past her music. When I finally got her attention I fumed, “Here we were cooking together and then you were gone! What were you thinking?” She shrugged her shoulders, “I guess I wasn’t thinking.” She felt bad for leaving. I felt bad for losing my cool.
After a bit I calmed down enough to talk about our experience. I turned to her and said “You didn’t expect that to hurt my feelings, did you?” Silently she shook her head. I shared with her that the Navajo will always weave an imperfection into the corner of their rugs. I told her that while the rug looks perfect from the outside that they intentionally include a mistake. She lifted her head and asked, “Why would they do that?” The Navajo say that this is where spirit moves in and out of the rug, that our imperfections are what make us whole.
“I’m sorry mom,” she said. “me too,” I replied, “and it didn’t ruin our day.”
Resilient parenting recognizes that challenging moments with children can offer growth opportunities. It is easy to let these moments pass by unnoticed. However, we raise resilient children by slowing down and staying engaged in conflict until you reach resolution. It is easy to get seduced by the ideal of perfection. There is no perfect parent. Moreover, our inevitable imperfections are not meant to be fixed or rescued from; these are where the spirit moves in and out of us, too.