We want to teach our children resilience, but what about us?

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 Photo: Getty Images

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. It's a mindset many parents are grappling with as they try to cultivate this in their children. It's definitely something I want my kids to have, and it's a fundamental life skill, but lately I've been thinking 'am I resilient?'.

It seems to me that parents have their own special set of challenges to face. We need to have the ability to get through the early months and years, the relentless march of dirty nappies, laundry, broken sleep, sultanas in car seats and tantrums.

But we need a more subtle resilience, too - one that allows us to be the adult in the relationship when our child comes home from school after being bullied, when they have their first broken heart, or yell that they hate us before slamming the door in our face.

It's resilience that stops us holding on to the baby/toddler/child they were and allows them to step into the human being are meant to be.

Our children starting "big" school is a great example of this. We're told to be positive, not to cry, to be strong and happy so our child can move into this new world with confidence.

Before my daughter started school this year I was surprisingly calm. But about a week before she was due to start, she mumbled in my ear "what if I'm too shy to talk to anyone?".

A simple enough question, but mumbled with such quiet uncertainty that it went straight to my heart. Was she feeling worried, scared, alone? Would she be okay at school?

At the same time I knew that the best way I could ensure she would be resilient on her first day was if I was too (just as a note, I did cry on her first day, a brief explosion of tears as I left her room).

Parental resilience can be an everyday practice

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Dr Justin Coulson, author of 9 Ways to a Resilient Child, is the father of six girls. He's been through every developmental stage and handled just about every challenge kids can throw at parents, from 15-year-olds wanting an Instagram account to three-year-olds tipping bottles of shampoo down the drain.

He says that role modelling resiliency is important, but accepts that for parents it can be an ongoing practice.

"There is a level of resiliency that we need to have to just deal with what our kids throw at us, their tantrums, their dramas. Parents have got to be extreme on the resilience scale, to get through. These aren't what you'd call traumatic experiences, but they wear you down."

When I think about what kids throw at their parents, I can't help thinking about my own mum and dad, and what I put them through when I was younger. For starters, when I started a new school at around seven years of age my mum had to physically drag me there screaming. That must have been fun. Or there was the time I decided I was going on student exchange to Ecuador for a year, to live on a farm with no real telephone line, and they didn't hear from me for the first six weeks. Yikes.

We all know that parenting has changed since we were parented. I don't ever remember my parents crying (unless it was a death in the family or something similarly sad), and I wasn't always an easy child. But they seemed a little mystified when I asked them how they handled challenging situations. They just got on with things, it seems. Mum spoke to the counsellor about why I was wigging out at primary school, they accepted there were things they couldn't change, they didn't dwell on negatives, and they relied on each other. Which isn't to say that Mum never cried into a tea cup, or that she didn't suffer - they just kept on going.

Developing resiliency as an adult

Annette Michaux, director of the government-funded Parenting Research Centre, says developing resiliency is pretty straightforward. It's about asking for help when you need it, learning how to cope with the challenges parenthood throws at you by cultivating good self-care, like sleeping (when you can), resting, and implementing routines that help the whole family work better as a whole.

"Parents can develop resilience by being realistic, looking on the bright side, finding the positives and having another go when things don't work out as planned," she says.   

In the end, Dr Justin Coulson says it's all about practice - and I guess that's something my children and I can do together.