My first inkling of the “kids are resilient” myth came from my own mother, when I was 23 years old. I was travelling in Asia and took a phone call about my half brother who had been sectioned. He was a classic case of a drug addict who started young. Smoked his first spliff at eleven. Was taking class A’s by fifteen. A laundry list of mental health problems followed and he was sectioned at twenty.
“I never realised all that stuff affected you kids so much.”
By “that stuff” she was, of course, referring to our childhood. Unstable at best and abusive at worst.
Where did we get the idea that kids are resilient when adults are so fragile?
I can only hope the average child doesn’t have to emerge into adulthood the way I did. Fifteen, education-less, homeless, penniless and broken. Yet somehow, my mother always thought I was so resilient that it would see me through life. Watching how not resilient my own children often are, this astounds me even more than it did when I was a teenager. Getting black out drunk several times a week and willing to sleep in strangers’ beds for comfort.
There is no doubt in my mind that the mental health problems I experienced in my teens and twenties were directly attributed towards my childhood. It’s only been since total mental breakdown and rock bottom – at the end of 2006 – that I’ve been on the path of self awareness and truth seeking. The notion that kids are resilient and able to deal with all this crap us adults are largely incapable of, is truly dumbfounding.
We need to empower parents, to make better decisions, instead of encouraging them to tell themselves that kids are resilient
Absolutely everything in life happens to teach us something and parenting is no exception. We can either embrace the opportunity learn and grow as people, or we can double down on our beliefs. Do things the way our folks did because “it didn’t do me any harm” and essentially repeat toxic behaviour cycles or create new ones. Us owners of small people already know how easy it is to get into bad habits, but how it’s not so easy to break them. Personally, I know this all too well. In the midst of having three kids in four years (with then undiagnosed autism thrown into the mix) things had got pretty desperate for my little family.
A huge turning point for us was hubby and I both reading the book 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child over the Christmas holidays in 2014. We went into 2015 having properly taken stock of our own behaviour and knowing how much it trickles down onto the kids. That’s not to say we never lose our shit; never shout and everything is sunshine and rainbows. I’m not claiming that we are saints, nor do I aspire to be one. Almost five years later, I am still not (and never will be!) the perfect mum or have all the answers. However, I am fully willing to own my part if something crappy is breaking out inside my four walls. Believe me when I say this, it’s the best place any of us can start.
Some game changers that have happened for me in 2019
First and foremost, I’ve finally given up drinking after struggling with the bottle for decades. My decision to get sober in May came after trying (and failing miserably) at moderation on and off since 2006. Not everyone has a story like mine when it comes to the booze, but if you do, I cannot urge you enough to address it. We can convince ourselves that it’s not a problem for us or our kids, but deep down we know this it utter BS.
Getting to grips with how drastic the climate crisis is, and getting behind Extinction Rebellion has also been significant. Popular clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson talks about how life should have a deeper meaning than just running on a hamster wheel. I can’t see a better cause to get behind than one which revolves around saving society from complete climate collapse.
Discovering Brené Brown and understanding shame in a way I have never before. I have three kids whom I home educate and my eldest daughter (Polly, 10) is autistic. I have always tried what I considered to be my best at the time – but I am capable of so much more. 2019 has seen me take back control in a way I had convinced myself wasn’t possible. Unrealistic expectations have a lot to answer for. In our celeb-obsessed era of social media, us parents have to wise up to it and tune out. Someone else’s highlight reel will never help us feel good about ourselves.
Rather than put wine o’clock and working all the hours on a pedestal, it’s high time parents were encouraged to ditch the things that are causing their families harm. “Kids are resilient” is a cop out. As a collective, we need to help each other stop the pointless spending; numbing; blame/shame/anger cycles. We have to start truly getting to grips with who our children are and what they need from us. And then, I have no doubt, will we see mass change for the better in all areas of society.