I want to teach my kids resilience

key life skills to teach kids: resilience


I’ve had mental health on my mind a lot this season. My previous post highlighted some personal stuff from the last year and a half, and I also went through a period of burn-out in the late noughties that was only resolved when I had to take a break with maternity leave. Commuting to London for work did not agree with me! These seasons of life have taught me a lot about my own mental health and the need for a balanced life, one that works for me. We all have different levels of stamina both mental and physical, and the modern behaviour of publicising our best selves on social media has emphasised the struggle with comparison and what makes ‘a good life well lived’ ten-fold. Having children heightened that need for me to listen to what my body tells me, if only because I’m an introvert who gets frazzled after hours of being talked at but also because it has made the weight of responsibility to ‘raise my children well’ more, well, weighty.

And it is. As parents we are well aware of the multitude of skills that our children need to learn to grow into well-rounded adults. Many of these skills they will just pick up by observation of their peers and the adults in their life, whereas others need more careful teaching and modelling. I asked myself what key life skill I want and need to teach my children, and it is obvious to me now that this skill is resilience.

Resilience means that when bad things happen, we have mechanisms in place to help us cope, and important things like sleep and eating well are prioritised. Resilience means learning to ask for help. It means knowing that hard things are not necessarily bad things, and  knowing how to handle disappointment and stress. Resilience means knowing that mistakes are not failures and that learning from them without beating yourself up is important. Resilience means being able to spot the circumstances and situations that affect our mental balance for the good and the bad and to have a plan to manage our well-being so we are not caught short. Resilience means not being tossed around by every wind of life but developing a thick enough skin to not constantly live offended or hurt. It means not hiding away from difficult conversations about what life is really like; showing them that their value does not lie in perfection or in trying to be someone they are not but in knowing who they are; teaching them to be prepared to work to achieve what they want and how to manage their emotions.

Resilience means moving on, learning from the bad, embracing the new, and learning to be adaptable and flexible. It is a huge skill to hone over a lifetime and I have barely scratched the surface, but I would rather my kids already had a good grounding to work from. It’s a daunting task to be honest, and really, it does bear the question ‘what the hell was I thinking wanting to have kids in the first place?!!’ Thankfully, it is hard but also fun and interesting and you learn as much from your kids as they learn from you, and thank goodness for that!


Bring out the scary meds

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that the first reflex of a British parent when their children are ill is to reach for the Calpol or Nurofen.

For non-Brits, I’m talking about liquid paracetamol, generally strawberry-flavoured, that comes with a syringe to administer straight into your infant’s mouth; like kids’ Doliprane in France. And most kids like it a lot, and by that I mean ‘would like it on tap, thank you very much’. Little Girl, upon spotting the bottle of calpol, has been known to try to convince me she is at death’s door and say with a sad voice ‘maman, I’m not very well, I need some calpol.’ Yeah, right.

What has always puzzled me, is the fact that there is no alternative over-the-counter medicine for children. So what do the parents of the refluxy-vomitty child do if he or she is not well on top of the refluxy-vomitty thing? Or in my case, what to do with a child who HATES Calpol? Luciole will go to quite some lengths to not ingest it. Let it dribble out, turn her head away, full body escape attempt, gagging if it as much as touches her lips; with a lot of wailing and general mayhem. It gives me stress-induced palpitations just to think about it. She really does hate the stuff, and there is nothing else to be had.

She’s been ill this past week with a really high fever and has dug her heels in at every attempt to get the meds inside her so I went to the GP and got what I was hoping for: suppositories. I could have hugged her. I barely restrained myself from going ‘yesssss’ and do a fist-pump. She looked quite taken aback at the joy on my face, which is not surprising because I would bet she rarely gets this kind of reaction at the mention of suppositories.

There is this huge stigma around suppositories in this country. Literally everyone goes ‘ewww‘ and ‘only the French‘ when I talk about how suppositories are the best thing ever. And it drive me UP THE WALL. If you said or thought ‘eww’ when you read the dreaded word, know that right now, I am side-eyeing you and patronising the hell out of you because you know what, stop it this instant with the childishness. It is a perfectly acceptable way of administrating medicine and dare I say it, The Best Way when it comes to treating your sick child. It is safe. It is pain-free. It works almost instantly. And yes, it goes into the back passage. Big deal.

Right. Rant over. I think. Maybe.  I just don’t get the phobia at all when it solves so many problems in one smooth sweep (pun intended).

Suppositories: putting the fear of man into every Englishman's heart since forever
Suppositories: putting the fear of man into every Englishman’s heart since forever

I’d never given anyone a suppository before yesterday, and let me tell you, after the histrionics we’ve had around the Calpol in the last couple of days, this was by far the easiest, pain-free. stress-free and also most anti-climatic event ever. There was no mess, she barely noticed it happened when I did it at the end of her nappy change, and she was, as expected, much better within 15 minutes, and so that was that.

The fever didn’t come back after, so I am now in possession of another 19 of these babies and I am going to use every single one of them. Not all at once though, obviously.

Visit to a French Doctor

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Photo by Rob Potvin at motionbug

We’re in the middle of our long-awaited holiday, the first in two years, visiting my parents in France. I’ve been really good at staying away from technology over all; I mean, I check Facebook twice at the beginning and end of the day, and I read a few blogs but nothing more. This is good! Way better than I thought I was going to be anyway. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to blog at all, but I found myself thinking about things I wanted to remember about this trip. If  I don’t write things down, I literally remember nothing so I thought I might as well press publish at the end of it!

Luciole developed small red spots all over her torso and back a couple of days ago so we took her to the doctor’s to get checked up. Let’s just say it wasn’t a mild-blowing experience. I know this doctor very well, at least, as well as one can know the doctor who has looked after them since they were four years old. So he probably knows me way better than I know him. He’s definitely seen more of me than feels comfortable!

On the one hand, he did a good job. He looked at her front and back, listened to her heart, checked her ears and asked us details about what had happened (I had plenty to say but nothing actually happened beside Luciole having a very sensitive ultra blonde-girl skin and being on holiday, which usually means a change in washing powder, different food and heat).

On the other hand… The conversation sort of fizzled out when I asked him what he thought it was and his response to my one request was literally ‘Ne me posez pas trop de questions’ (don’t ask me too many questions) in the dismissive tone of a professional telling you that it’s for him to know and for you to stop talking and annoying him. He then prescribed a cream, telling us absolutely nothing about it aside from when to apply it, and that was that.

There’s nothing that annoys me more than patronizing doctors, but I always suffer from brain-freeze when faced with situations like this one. I go through all the assertive responses I wish I had come up with later on but in the moment, nothing. I don’t like to be rude (or be thought as rude) and I knew I wouldn’t see him again, but I would have appreciated a bit of dialogue, especially when my kids are concerned. I would actually prefer to hear ‘I don’t know’ and/or maybe a couple of suggestions, especially when I can come up with a long list myself. Even more so when I then have to cough up 14 euros for a cream for sensitive skin similar to the one I already had taken with me for the holiday.

My mum saw the doctor after us for a separate ailment and asked him what the problem was. He told her he didn’t know. How reassuring.

For all my raving about how great the French medical system is for the prevention of illness (and as far as systems are concerned, I remain convinced it is good), it has to be said that great service ultimately comes down to individual physicians. I like my doctors open and chatty, so I guess if I ever were to move back to Limoges (never ever ever. Like, ever), I would more likely look for a younger doctor than for an old-fashioned guy who likes to hold on to the old-fashioned idea that physicians don’t need to explain themselves to anyone because science. I may be a pleb but I don’t like to be reminded of it in my face, thanks.

Daring Greatly when your Emotional Capacity is not so great

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This post is part of a series of reflections inspired by the book ‘Daring Greatly‘, which I read back in March. I reviewed the book here and expanded further from a parenting point of view. As I was reading the book, I considered whether there were areas in my life where I shy away from being vulnerable and as a result the post below is more personal than anything I’ve written before.

You know that lovely woman, who always has a smile for everyone, who is gentle and whilst not necessarily a loud popular person is always there with an encouraging word and who seems to really like you and everyone else? I know someone like this and she is an amazing and inspiring woman. But yeah, that’s SO not me. I have never been one of those welcoming people who invite confidences.

For one thing I have to prepare myself to do small talk with people I don’t know. This applies to most social settings like church or toddler groups, or even parties where I don’t know everyone or I am only acquainted to a few people but we’re not really actually friends. When I say I have to come prepared, I mean that I have to intentionally talk to myself as I am getting ready or walking down the road and say: ‘today, you are going to talk to one or two people you don’t know. You are going to make yourself available and maybe even approach them and be friendly and ask who they are and why they’re here or whatever.’ Also, if I don’t do this, prep myself in that way before heading into a social situation, I will most likely just default to sitting quietly saving up my energy, hugging my drink and observing, or finding one person I know really well and only speaking to them, or focusing on my little kids so I don’t have to talk to anyone. The reason I do this is in part because my natural instinct is not to talk unless I know people well. Talking to strangers can be excruciating. My greatest fear is that they will not respond and I won’t know how to extricate myself from the conversation and it will just be awkward. I’ve been snubbed enough times as a teen from my school peer group to know that’s not an experience I care to repeat as an adult. But deep down, I know that’s not all there is to it.

The thing is, at the toddler group and at church, I often see people in need. People in difficulty, who are struggling to keep their face from showing that life is just too much or that they are in physical pain; people for whom life is not easy, and I don’t mean that they got a bit frazzled because the car wouldn’t start in the morning; I mean people whose loved ones have a life-threatening illness, abuse survivors whose latest relationship has turned violent yet again, people whose past won’t allow them to move forward. Compassion doesn’t come easily to me, and I think this whole ’emotional capacity’ thing is a huge part of the problem. Deep down, I want to engage and help out. I want to be able to put a hand on their shoulder, ask ‘how are you doing’ and then just be a listening ear and maybe offer a prayer or encouragement that is not trite or fake. Sometimes I will come out of a church service with my grizzly baby and sit in the café, and I’ll notice a lone figure on one of the sofas, here but not here, in need of comfort I wish came easier for me to provide. And most often, I shy away from engaging, from extending that hand. I tell myself I am too unprepared to engage with people because of xyz and I am too tired, and I miss an opportunity to just be there for someone. But I fear this is just one big excuse.

This whole ‘I can’t do small talk’ thing is only one side of the story. The real reason I don’t engage is because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of being used, like I’ve been used a number of times before when I’ve extended a hand and got my whole arm bitten off, in my friendships and in my personal relationships. I’m afraid that whatever baggage people are carrying will be too much for me, that I will not be able to walk away from that conversation without carrying their burden too. Maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I should be changed by meeting with a person in need. But mostly I am scared that I will be crushed under a burden too heavy for me too bear, under a burden I do not know how not to carry. It’s easy to say the words ‘you don’t have to take any of it on’, but it still happens even if you don’t mean to. And I don’t have the tools, I didn’t then and I don’t now. My emotional capacity is very small indeed. I can do friendships when there is a balance and we lean into each other in turn as life happens but we don’t need hand-holding all the time. That’s my comfort zone.

I know where it comes from, this small capacity, this disengagement and retreat from any person that might need more from me emotionally than I could ever get from them. It’s a series of big and small things that started in infancy. You don’t grow up in a house haunted by mental illness without learning about burdens. The burden of being expected to be ‘responsible’, the heavy, heavy burden and fear that comes with the realisation that your parent is not and never will be who you need them to be and that you’re the only thing you’ve got, the burden of not letting friends in because of what they might see in our house, of being a child who knows too much about adulthood, of unwittingly becoming the receptacle for someone else’s burden because ‘no one else can truly understands the reality of our daily life’.

The thing is, this habit of retreating and avoiding emotional engagement with people who might not be able to return support to me is now a hindrance rather than a protection. When I was growing up, it was the only thing I knew to do to not get hurt. It was a tactic to protect myself from rejection and burn-out and from being used. See a need, run away quick. It is probably a fairly normal response to what was going on in my life. As I am getting older however, I can see that it is my default setting for dealing with any emotional discomfort that comes my way, and it is stopping me from moving forward. It is the antithesis of vulnerability. If I want to grow as a person, I know I will have to take that risk and learn how to handle all the emotional baggage of other people without feeling overwhelmed or abused; I’m going to have to learn the tools to stop me from taking other people’s burdens to the extent that I am unable to cope so that I can give more. I do know it is a risk and I still need to take care of myself. In the last few years, I’ve finally learnt to structure my life to create capacity. I have learnt to be completely comfortable saying no to things; I have acknowledged that my need for a thinking and a resting place in my day-to-day is imperative to my well-being and I have taken steps to create a rhythm where I am not rushing anywhere. And on the whole, I am managing it, even with two kids under three.

Ultimately, there’s no two ways about it, I will have to just jump in and invest into the messy lives of the people around me. I will probably still need to ‘talk myself into it’ as a daily intentional practice. But I get the sense that you need to stretch your emotional capacity like a balloon, with practice, a bit at a time, until you find yourself enlarged from within.

Music for the sick

I’m in this sort of mood today:

I don’t even know what she’s talking about but that’s somehow irrelevant. I blame the stinking cold I’ve been lumbered with all week. Every morning since Tuesday, I wake up and all I want to do is stay in bed for the day, especially if the night has been spent coughing, spluttering and as often as not trying to achieve the simple task of breathing. What to do when both your nostrils close shut within seconds of blowing your nose? Lounging in bed has of course been impossible, not with a seven and a half month-old girl gurgling her happiness that the day is finally starting at 7.30am (I know it’s a decent time, nevermind the four times she’s woken up in the night though).

It has to end some time, the cold and the night waking, in its own time, slow as it may seem, which is the only thing keeping me going. This and listening to whimsical melancholic songs that make me want to go all quiet and climb inside myself (spoken as a true introvert!). Spring is coming, but when you’re ill it’s as if winter has lodged itself firmly in your soul, icy tendrils numbing you into a hibernating state.