By Kara Baskin
Several months ago, I was frazzled and running late in the middle of the workday. I zoomed to school to pick up my son from his after-care program. While he and his friends were being regular kids, jumping all over each other, I was approached by another mom.
“Those boys sure do play rough. They could hurt someone,” she said, then added, “I hear stories about your little one!”
Um, what? I couldn’t tell if she was making awkward conversation or judging my parenting skills.
“He loves a good time!” I stammered, and walked off to pick up my son. As I was buckling him into the car, I felt my throat tighten and my eyes well up. Am I a bad parent? Do I not give him enough attention? Why do I have to send him to an afterschool program, anyway? Am I around enough?
I zipped home, replaying the incident in my mind. I wanted to circle back to that playground and tell her what a good kid my son is, how wonderful he is with his baby brother, how he always says “please” and “thank you” and never, ever gets into trouble in class. I wanted to tell her that I let him learn from his mistakes and use my own as teachable moments, that we discuss our feelings over dinner and always focus on progress over perfection.
Then I wondered, “Why am I letting this comment get to me? What message is my reaction sending to my son?” With this moment of perspective, my composure returned. Like all parents, I want my children to be resilient—so I do my best not get knocked over by snarky parents (there are plenty) or crazy days (there are plenty of those, too)
Resilient parenting means being resilient yourself when it comes to all things raising kids and instilling in your children the life skills that it takes to thrive throughout their entire lives. Here’s how:
1. Model the behavior you want to see in your kids. Children are constantly looking to their parents for cues on how to move through the world. You’re already a role model; the challenge is to set a positive example. Communicate your values not just through explanation, but through engagement—a strategy that Eileen Kennedy-Moore, psychologist and author of “Smart Parenting for Smart Kids” calls “modeling plus.” Integrity is a necessary component of resilient parenting. She explains, “Good modeling doesn’t guarantee that children will do what we want them to do, but telling children ‘do what I say, not as I do’ definitely won’t work. Kids are quick to notice hypocrisy.” So, if you want your children to value a healthy lifestyle, you have to make time to eat well and exercise yourself. When you face conflict with composure, your kids are getting a lesson in emotion control. And when you inevitably make mistakes, you can use the opportunity to be an example of accountability and grit by apologizing, righting the wrong, and moving forward.
2. Make time for the good stuff. This is tough when you’re ping-ponging from carpool to errands to work to the playground. But take time, even if it’s just five minutes, to pause and actually enjoy being a parent. Play a quick game of soccer on the front lawn. Put down the phone and read your kid a book. Stop in the doorway of their bedroom and watch as they fall asleep. Basically, remember why you’re doing it in the first place. Those precious moments will buoy you through the tough times, and you’ll be less likely to let snarky comments rock your core.
3. Confront your Iceberg Beliefs. Iceberg Beliefs are deeply ingrained (and often inaccurate) ways of seeing the world. The key is to question the accuracy of these beliefs so that you can navigate around them. In bed that night, I stopped to consider why that woman’s comment needled me so much. Then I realized: I pride myself on achievement. I want to do everything perfectly. Good people, I believe, shouldn’t get criticized. Instead of taking that other parent’s dig for what it was—a passing, annoying comment—I interpreted it as an evaluation of my worth. Of course good people get criticized, I realized. By confronting my belief that good people shouldn’t be critiqued, I realized how silly I was acting. Absolutely everyone gets slammed sometimes, even me, and it has nothing to do with my value as a parent or a person.
4. Connect to the big picture. There are days like that one when I’m running 10 minutes behind, my kids need a bath, my house is a mess, and I feel like I’m trapped on a treadmill of organizing toys, doing aftercare pick-up, churning through work, and other boring time-sucks. It’s easy to think: Why bother? To counter it, make a deliberate effort to connect each dull task to something gratifying. For example, I reply quickly to emails and send my kids to aftercare because I work hard, and I want to make money to provide for them. I organize their toys so they’ll have a happy, harmonious place to play. Instead of getting hung up on the little stuff, I remember that the little stuff adds up to big parenting rewards.
Most of all, by practicing resilience, I’m also setting an example for my kids—so they won’t let silly playground spats get the better of them, either.
Kara Baskin is a Boston-based journalist (and mom of two!) who writes about food, health, wellbeing, and lifestyle for The Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Women's Health, and AARP's Life Reimagined. She's also the author of "Size Matters: The Hard Facts About Male Sexuality That Every Woman Should Know" (Random House). Find her on Twitter @kcbaskin