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How to Build Resilient Kids

This is a photo of our little family at my oldest son's graduation.

This is a photo of post-resilience glow.

When my late husband, Art, and I were young parents, we would tell ourselves (and anyone who would listen) we just wanted our kids to be happy. But happiness is a feeling, not a goal. And as a goal, it can be the recipe for discontent life. I think happiness as a goal fosters sadness and depression. If you expect to be happy all the time and you are not, it leads one to think there is something wrong with them! (If you are not happy all the time, you are a human.)

After Art's first entanglement with cancer, we change what we wanted for our kids. We told ourselves (and anyone who would listen) we wanted our kids to be resilient.

And boy, did they have many opportunities to practice resilience!

As a parent, it's painful to build resilient kids. It's hard to watch them find their footing when it feels easier to tell them where to step. Sitting with my children in emotional pain goes against every mother atom in my system. And the moment Art died, I realized it was all I could do. I could not "fix" Art's death.

This child holding the degree in this photo did not get into nursing school the first time he applied. He called me and cried the day he was rejected. He didn't know what he would do, and as a resilient-practicing mother, I didn't offer my opinion or thoughts. I didn't try to fix anything.

I don't remember exactly what I said, but I remember the feelings I was trying to convey. I wanted him to know that it was ok and good to be upset and sad. I wanted to remind him that the rejection he felt would not last forever. I tried to convey that the rejection had nothing to do with his worth. I do remember telling him, "It will all work out, sweetheart. It really will," and believing fervently that it would. I remember how painful it was to sit with him in his yuck. I have been doing that since their father died, and it never ever gets easier.

A few days later, he called me and said he would continue taking classes and apply to nursing school again. "I really want to be a nurse," he said.

He continued to learn how to study and what worked best for him. He re-applied, and he got into nursing school.

But that was one win in a line of wins. There were more phone calls featuring doubt, fear, and frustrations. And calls where I reminded him of his inner toughness and what he's already accomplished and been through. There were calls of joy, as he passed tests and calls before tests were taken, where he knew he hadn't studied enough and was unsure if he'd pass. There was COVID-19 and his full-time job, which meant he had to be very careful with his time. There were days he thought he should just quit school.

But he didn't quit.

This photo reminds me that resilience IS about doubt and fear and worry and being unsure. It's sometimes about being 99.9% sure you don't know what you're doing, and you should give up. Resilience is about getting up – after a short OR a long period and trying again, sometimes despite yourself.

So this is NOT a photo of resilience because resilience is messy and dirty and full of self-doubt, scraped knees from falling, and sore muscles from trying again. This a photo of post-resilience. This is a photo of the result of resilience, of what it means to continuously take small action steps in the direction you want to head, even if you think you can't do it.

This IS a photo of post-resilience glow.

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