Reconsidering What It Means to Be Resilient
Inside the Resilience Room membership community, we talk quite a bit about what it means to be resilient. Not too long ago, there was a discussion between members about how to remain resilient when faced with aggressive and verbally abusive behaviors on the part of their children. In this conversation, one member asked (paraphrasing), “Is resilience growing a thicker skin, not letting things get to me, not taking it personally? Is that what it means to be a more resilient parent?”
It was such a great question, because that’s what so many of us are taught and led to believe, that to be resilient is to “toughen up,” to “power through, and to simply “move on.” But the reality is that resilience is actually not those things at all, and it is imperative that as parents of children with challenging behaviors, we understand what resilience actually is so we can work to cultivate it each day.
Resilience is what allows us to thrive — physically, emotionally and mentally. It allows us to move forward and to parent differently, in the way our child requires. It allows us to move through grief and sadness toward hope, reimagining what our parenting experience might hold. It’s about having more peace and joy, confidence and contentment within ourselves and in our parenting experience.
Resilience becomes sturdier with practice. Every one of us is capable of building it.
You may have heard me say before that this “parenting differently” journey is a marathon, not a sprint. If you think of training for a marathon in the same way, here’s how it might look. You read about training plans, you research different races, maybe you hire a coach or join a running club or sign up for an online training plan. That is a great start. You now have information you didn’t have before, and can begin to understand what it might be like to run a marathon — what it takes to do it. But if you don’t spend the time, day after day, week after week, logging your miles and building that endurance, you won’t get very far on race day. You’ll likely find yourself doing one or more of the following: quitting, getting injured, feeling discouraged, beating yourself up mentally, or concluding that you’re a failure and incapable of doing hard things.
You don’t run a marathon overnight. You prepare for it each day, putting into place the frequently small (but critical) components needed to be successful.
The same is true as we learn to parent our neurodiverse child in this distinctive, brain-based way. This level of transformation, which relies so much on introspection, reflection, shifting of perspective and changing of patterns that have existed in our family and relationships for YEARS — it all takes time. It requires us to know we won’t always get it right, and that’s actually part of the process, too. It’s about trusting that if you stay the course and just keep going, while giving yourself loads of self-compassion and grace in the process, you will see the hard work pay off.
And here’s the hard, but necessary truth about resiliency, that I encourage you to remember when you feel like you don’t have time to think about your own resilience: you can have all the information in the world about the brain-first, neurobehavioral parenting model, how your child’s brain works and how this connects to challenging behavioral symptoms, but if you do not invest in building your own resilience, you won’t get very far. You will burn out. You will get stuck.
So, what exactly is resilience?
Resilience is not a character trait or personal characteristic that you either have or you don’t. Resilience is something that can grow stronger over time with daily practice and attention. It becomes sturdier with practice. Every single one of us is capable of building it.
Resilience is not about “grit” or “surviving the day” or growing thicker skin. Resilience is about prioritizing rest when we need it, slowing down, staying soft and remaining open, whatever that means for you…all of which invites curiosity vs being stuck in a cycle of reacting. Some parents I have worked with have been in this survival-based, “soldiering on” mode for years. The conflict, chaos and battles have been near constant in their home. If that has been your experience, know that it will take some time to be able to move out of that, for your nervous system to heal, and for a different pattern to emerge. Remember: marathon, not a sprint.
Resilience IS about honoring our response to the reality of our current situation. It is about recognizing when we are overwhelmed or anxious, and honoring the appropriateness of that response. It represents our ability to meet the demands of the moment, trusting that we have what we need (both within ourselves and within our “village”) to manage those challenges. This again happens over time. You may not have the resources to manage what you’re dealing with on a daily basis right now, which is one reason why things are so hard. Begin to think about where you can find this support you so desperately need. The Resilience Room is a great option to explore.
If you don’t know where to start in building your resilience, begin with self-compassion and some type of movement. Both have the power to heal our nervous system, leading to us being more resilient people. Talk kindly to yourself. Yes, notice when you feel you could have done things differently, give yourself the praise you deserve for noticing this and then work to make the change when the opportunity inevitably presents itself again. Then, move on. Don’t allow yourself to fall into a shame spiral. Above all else, just begin. Even small steps toward building resilience are steps forward.
Resiliency is about taking a step away, to observe and reflect. Resilience is growing in our awareness of the ways in which our nervous system responds to stress or particular behaviors our child demonstrates. It’s about noticing the patterns of arousal (our triggers), so we can maintain our regulated state when we are faced with those triggers in the future. It is about feeling as though we have choices in the moment on how we respond, instead of falling into a pattern of hasty, unexamined reaction. Reflection without beating yourself up is key.
Every small step forward in building resilience is a step forward, so I would encourage you to keep it simple and just begin. Things like:
Moving your body a little each day (and yes, gentle movement absolutely counts!)
Journaling, or reflecting in some other way
Finding a few minutes each day for meditation or prayer
Visiting with a friend who allows you to feel seen and heard, or simply allows you to “be”
Joining a community of uplifting individuals who can provide you with support
Any of these small steps will begin or continue the process of healing your nervous system, gradually strengthening and building your resilience.
As always, the key is just to begin.
Interested in learning more about how your child’s unique brain works differently and what this means in terms of helping them experience fewer challenging behaviors? You can visit eileendevine.com to learn about the Brain First Parenting program and The Resilience Room membership community.
Eileen Devine works in Portland, OR as a therapist and coach supporting parents of children with special needs. She is also a consultant for families impacted by FASD, PANS/PANDAS and other neurobehavioral conditions through her private practice, working with families nationally and internationally. She lives with her husband and two amazing kids, one of whom happens to live with FASD. For more information, visit eileendevine.com.