Walking the Walk
“It would be foolish to want only ‘happiness’ for our children. This would leave them stunted and poorly prepared for life’s inevitable difficulties. What we really want to cultivate is well-being, which includes as generous a portion of optimism as our child’s nature allows and the coping skills, and therefore the resilience, that make adaptive recovery from challenge possible.”
– Madeline Levine, PhD
Our children are among our best teachers, reminding us of the raw humanness that connects us all and giving us reason to think about our own values and actions and choices in a broader context. They will in some ways become our mirrors as they grow and develop – reflecting back an image decidedly reminiscent of the people/village guiding their growth. I realize this more and more every day as I see my little ones’ eyes watching and ears listening to everything around them – a reality I find empowering and terrifying at the same time.
There are actually mirrors everywhere we look as we grow up. I remember my mother telling me over and over in my 20s that I couldn’t wholly love another person until I truly loved myself. She knew from experience that in order to give fully to someone else, I had to reach a place of self-respect and self-love. Of course, she didn’t mean that everything needed to be in perfect order (THANK GOODNESS), but she did mean that my own issues needed to be more of non-issues than issues – a process that took time and work and care.
This message rings true again as I navigate the ever-changing relationships I have with my children. How can they be well if I’m not? How can they grow up to be strong and healthy if they don’t see strength and well-being around them? Tossing aside the parenting books, teachers, babysitters, and activities…when I’m honest with myself, the very best way to help them guide these beautiful little people into optimistic and resilient adulthood is for my husband and me to be the change we want to see in them…to lead by example…to show them that it’s OK to fail and worth it to work hard and essential to live with empathy and compassion and enthusiasm and self-respect. Gulp.
This obviously can’t happen all the time, as the unpredictable reality of daily life and the rhythms of our own bodies and minds will always persist. But as parents and as people, we can sure try our very best to show up in their lives the way we hope they will show up in ours.
In her book, Teach Your Children Well, Bay Area psychotherapist Madeline Levine simply breaks down the seven essential coping skills she’s identified as most critical to raising strong, independent, resilient children…and I love her list:
- Resourcefulness: “I can handle this” instead of “[Mom], [boss], [partner], etc”
- Enthusiasm: “I love this” instead of “Whatever”
- Creativity: “Let’s look at this differently” instead of “What’s the right answer?”
- Work Ethic: “I’m going to keep at it” instead of “I quit”
- Self-Control: “It just doesn’t feel right” instead of “All the kids are doing it”
- Self-Esteem: “I feel good about myself” instead of “I suck”
- Self-Efficacy: “I can make a difference” instead of “Nothing I do matters”
She talks about these skills in the context of what we want to teach our children, but I think it’s an equally powerful reminder of the skills we grown-ups use every day as we walk and work and live alongside other people. These skills are the foundation of the reflection we see in the mirror.