What Does It Mean to Be a Resilient Parent?
Ways to embrace and build your "resilience muscles."
Posted December 3, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
- When something sad happens, crying in front of your children is acceptable and healthy. You model a healthy expression of authentic emotion.
- Crying in the face of tragedy or pain to demonstrate sadness teaches your children that sharing your painful feelings with others is healthy.
- Crying also shows your children that you can be going through a hard time right now, but you're still okay, and they'll be okay, too.
Initially, I wanted to write a blog about resilient children. Then I started thinking about several factors contributing to children's resilience: safety, healthy relationships, adaptability, strong coping, and self-regulation skills. So many of these factors are influenced by the adults in their lives. For example, children's coping skills are related to adults' coping skills, and self-regulation develops after co-regulation.
Children learn so many skills through the modeling of their parents and caregivers. After some reflection, I realized that resilient children start with resilient parents. Thus, my new blog name was born: "The Resilient Parent: Strengthening Our Children, Strengthening Ourselves."
What does resilience mean? And what does it take to be a resilient parent? People often misunderstand resilience and think being resilient means always acting strong, "powering through," and being overly positive. Some believe it means being upbeat and optimistic all the time.
Resilience has been defined as "the ability to withstand and cope with stress that facilitates thriving despite adversity" (Connor & Davidson, 2003). For me, resilience is the ability to cope with life's challenges, integrate them into your life, and bounce not back but forward in the wake of adversity. In addition, I believe resilience is often accompanied by the ability to identify and express strong emotions and, ideally, to share them with people who make you feel safe.
What resilience does not mean is denying your feelings. Resilience does not mean that we don't feel the full range of our emotions; we don't feel sad, devastated, or grief-stricken; we don't feel angry and even furious sometimes; we don't feel anxiety, worry, or pain. Being resilient means experiencing the full range of your emotions, recognizing and expressing them best for your needs, and coping with them.
As a grief and trauma specialist, parents often ask me, "Is it okay to cry in front of my children?" The answer to me is a resounding yes! It is surprising how many adults, even professionals, believe it is inherently harmful to cry in front of children.
When something sad happens, crying in front of your children is acceptable and healthy. In so doing, you are modeling a healthy expression of authentic emotion appropriate to the event. It is essential that the crying is not uncontrollable, prolonged, or uncontained. And it is important that through your tears, your children's basic needs are met. If that is not the case, that can be scary and feel unsafe to children.
Crying in the face of tragedy or pain in a manner that demonstrates that you're feeling sad, but you are taking care of your children's needs (e.g., feeding them dinner even if it is only cereal and sliced fruit) accomplishes many things, including the following.
- Gives expression to your feelings.
- Models for your children that it is alright to cry when we feel sad and that being strong doesn't mean hiding your feelings.
- Teaches your children that sharing your painful feelings with others is healthy and gives them permission and space to share their feelings with you.
- Shows your children that you can be going through a hard time right now, but you're still okay, and they'll be okay, too.
I believe resilience is not predetermined, and we can actively grow our "resilience muscles" throughout our lives. Therefore, we can go on this journey together to build our resilience in a parallel process, first as resilient parents and ultimately by modeling and concurrently growing resilience in our children.
Connor KM, Davidson JR. Development of a new resilience scale: the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC). Depress Anxiety. 2003;18(2):76-82. doi: 10.1002/da.10113. PMID: 12964174.