In the months following the death of my 4 month old daughter, friends, family and even those I hardly knew would repeatedly comment on ‘how strong I was’ and how ‘well I was coping’ and how unlike me, ‘they could never have handled something so tragic’. Whilst grateful for the acknowledgement, I found myself thinking more and more about this strength everyone talked about. If they all saw me as so strong, should I continue to ensure that they never saw me as anything else? If I wasn’t being strong, if I was in fact having a really bad day…would they therefore think me the opposite of strong, or at the very least, not doing as well as they thought or were led to believe? Or if I was so strong, when they ‘could never have coped’…did they think I didn’t feel enough sadness? Did I need people to know how much pain I was really feeling? Did my smile really mask the pain that I was shelving for a later moment in time? Or what about the notion that it happened to me because I could handle it? Well give me a fragile persona that has a low tolerance for anything bad…and give me back my daughter instead. But the world doesn’t work this way of course. Bad things happen to all sorts of people.
What I have come to realise however, is that I am not strong, I do not feel any less pain about the loss of my daughter, and I am not getting over it. I am learning to live with what happened however, because I am resilient. I am resilient because I have been down but have gotten up again. I am resilient because one of the worst things happened to me, yet I can still keep moving.
How did I get this resilience? Is it my parents and my childhood, my character, my support network, my friends, the things I have learnt at University, my husband and other children? These are all things that I believe have given me the skills to get back up again, to find joy, to love my life and to continue to thrive. Every day we see examples of people rising to enormous challenges, of surviving heinous situations and of thriving despite constant setbacks. Helen Keller summed it up beautifully with the quote, “although the world is full of suffering…it is also full of the overcoming of it”. But how do we pass on these skills? How do I ensure that my children and others that I hope to help will be able to live a life of resilience? For I and those around me will more than likely be taken down low again. It may not always be as serious as losing a loved one. It may be everyday stressors, big or small. But stressors nonetheless which need to be overcome in order to live the life you want.
What I have learnt throughout this journey is that resilience is not gained by one teaching technique, by one particular environment, be one psychological theory or by one particular parenting style. There are however ways we can help our children and others around us build this resilience by giving them not just a couple of useful tools, but rather a whole toolbox full of experience, environment, and teaching. They need to be able to experience the whole gamut of emotions that come with failure, loss, disappointment and frustration. They need to be exposed to challenges in order to take the risks, in order to learn to cope with the inevitable pitfalls of childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
The figures for adolescents suffering from anxiety and depression is rising at an alarming rate. Very few of us would not have witnessed this to some extent in either our own or other children. “My child just doesn’t cope with…..” is becoming a very familiar statement, but one which I think needs to be addressed.
It is for this reason that I strive to ensure that I can provide the tools for my children and for others, the environment, the skills, and the strategies that will give them the best chance of rising up again, and of overcoming the inevitable challenges and everyday stressors that will confront them throughout their lives.