Resilience

Parent-Friendly Practices to Develop Resilience

Is remote education getting you down?

Posted Oct 30, 2020

Imagine that a good friend who lives in another city asks how your kids are doing. You try to explain the school schedule: “Johnny just started high school, and he is in cohort A so he has classes on Monday and Tuesday. His sister Sarah is in cohort B so her classes are on Thursday and Friday. But it is asynchronous. Wednesday is for deep cleaning of the school. The middle school is similar but it is synchronous. Billy is in elementary school and half the class meets in the morning but the other half meets in the afternoon. I can barely keep it straight.” You pause. “When I try to explain the remote, hybrid, synchronous, and asynchronous model I feel like I’m auditioning for a skit on Saturday Night Live. Only it’s just not funny anymore.”

But here we are. Parenting is hard, for everyone. It’s harder than it was for our parents. Even Dr. Freud called it an impossible profession. And the pandemic has made it exponentially more impossible. Most parents are under so much pressure and have so little support.

In previous decades, we had extended family and community to help. But now, as our world has changed, more and more of us feel alone and isolated and worried. One parent recently quipped, “If COVID doesn’t kill me, remote schooling will. I’ve lost my safety net.”

With parenting, things rarely go the way we imagine they will. And when they don’t go smoothly, we blame ourselves, criticize our kids, push harder, and try to exert more control. We get anxious and depressed, eat more, drink more, turn to substances to help. Our kids get anxious and depressed. We lose sleep, our kids sleep more. Sometimes the whole family feels asynchronous as well.  

Is it working for anyone? It seems like our friends on social media have it together. Their kids are smiling. Even their sourdough bread looks better. But have you noticed that fewer people are posting pictures of their baked goods? That has worn thin as well. One of my favorite saying from AA is “don’t judge your insides by other people’s outsides.”

Most kids are resilient, but what about us? Many people don’t feel resilient at all. But mindfulness and compassion can certainly help in difficult times. We have decades of solid research that mindfulness and compassion can lower our stress, decrease depression and anxiety, slow down aging, make us kinder, less biased, more generous, and increase resilience.

As I work more with parents of young children, I find I’m creating short “parent-friendly” practices to do in the chaos of it all. One mom said to me after a workshop, where I taught a number of short three- to five-minute meditations, “Susan, I have three kids. I don’t have five minutes. I can’t sit down. I can’t close my eyes. If I do, someone is going to get hurt.”

And though I’ve been teaching self-compassion for over a decade, I find that many people misunderstand it and often dismiss it. Parents think it means becoming indulgent, permissive, a doormat. They worry about raising a generation of selfish wimps. So as the writer Gertrude Stein said, what’s in a name? I think of these practices as a way to cultivate inner resilience.

Grab a cup of coffee or tea, a pen, and some paper, and try this reflection on uncertainty, created for these times.

Working With Uncertainty

  • Take a few breaths; let yourself settle for a moment.
  • What is uncertain in your life right now? What are you struggling to control?
  • Is your child having trouble with school? Is remote education not working?
  • Is the hybrid asynchronous Zoom classroom exhausting all of you?
  • Does your child have special needs that aren’t being responded to?
  • Have teachers identified a problem?
  • Are you managing health issues in your family?
  • Are you struggling with difficulty in your job? Have you or your partner lost a job?
  • Are you dealing with loss or grief?
  • Is your child, or are you, struggling with addiction?
  • Are you dealing with the uncertainty of a separation or a divorce?
  • Are you a single parent?
  • Jot down some of the things that feel uncertain or out of control in your life.
  • No matter what is going on, you deserve kindness.
  • Take a breath, and if you like, put a hand on your heart.

It turns out that one of the best ways to develop resilience is to remember a time when someone showed us some kindness. So let’s return to the friend in the beginning of the essay and reflect on how someone who really cares about us would respond.

What Would a Good Friend Say?

  • Take a moment and think of a kind friend. It could also be a teacher, a mentor, relative, animal, or a spiritual being.
  • Notice how you feel in the friend’s presence. What do you notice in your body, in your mind?
  • Tell your friend about the uncertainty in your life and what you are going through.
  • What would the friend say to you? Imagine the words, the tone, even the facial expression.
  • Be open to what comes up. Words, images, feelings. Feel free to jot it down.
  • What would this being do?
  • If it is helpful, write down the response and carry it with you in your wallet or purse, and turn to it whenever you need support or comfort.

These simple practices can help you, as a parent, develop resilience to deal with the uncertainties of life. Mindfulness and compassion are not just tools for exhausted and stressed-out parents who are struggling to stay afloat, they are tools for life. They offer the promise of a different relationship with our burdens and the freedom not to be defined by our histories and the events of our lives.