This post was originally published on November 23, 2016.
Author: Karen Copeland
Over the past several months, I have been working with a great group of people to organize a mental health forum in my community. The forum happened this past Saturday and it was so encouraging to see youth, parents, caregivers, providers, educators and community members in attendance. When we are talking about mental health, we need our community to be together (and if you are a regular follower of my blog, you know how much I believe in this!).
During the forum, I had the great honour to sit on a panel alongside a parent champion, two youth champions, a young adult champion and two provider champions. The topic of the panel was resiliency. I am pleased to share my personal responses here on my blog.
The panel started with us introducing ourselves to the audience, along with why were felt we were an important voice on the panel. My motivation for being on the panel was I wanted to be able to share the different ways people have helped me become resilient as a parent.
What does resiliency mean to you?
I think resiliency is something that is very fluid and ever changing. It is my ability to persevere and persist in challenging moments. For me, my resiliency is very dependent on what is happening at any given time and the level of energy I have. There are days where I feel very capable and confident in my ability to respond in supportive and proactive ways.
Then there are other days, where people see me as and tell me I am resilient but I really cannot see that in myself. These are the days when my brain feels overwhelmed, overloaded and frayed (like the visual!). On those days, being resilient might simply look like we just make it through the day and accept that we can start all over again tomorrow.
How have you been supported to be resilient?
When you are in the “thick of it”, it can be very difficult to look beyond the challenges that you are facing. You almost become consumed by this, because that is the reality of your life at the moment.
I needed to get to a place where I could actually HEAR the “good” things over the noise of the “bad”. This was hard, but I had some key champions who helped me to get there. These champions were educators, clinicians, family members and other parents who have living experience. Some of the things they did to support me were:
- They let me cry for as long as I needed without JUDGING me
- They ASKED me my opinion and thoughts, not just for the sake of asking, but because they really wanted to know
- They believed in me and didn’t minimize or dismiss our experiences
- They saw me not just as a parent, but as a PARTNER in my child’s care
- They saw my son’s character. They didn’t just see his outward behavior, they recognized his kindness, his vulnerability and his interests
- They constantly and always made me feel that I mattered to them, and encouraged me to believe in myself, not just as a mom, but as a PERSON
My resiliency is also influenced by hearing the stories of others who have overcome obstacles; people like Stephen Lytton who was the keynote speaker at the forum, who embraces LIVING. Their courage gives ME courage.
I had to learn how to let people know what I needed in order to be a good caregiver. I also had to learn how to create boundaries and limits on what I could do – to be gentle with myself when I messed up, reflect on it and do better the next time. I have had many people from all walks of life extend their grace and support to me in those moments. By doing so, they bolstered my resiliency.
How have I demonstrated resiliency?
I came across a quote by Mary Ann Radmacher about a year ago that has stuck with me. The quote is “As we light a path for others, we naturally light our own way”.
I regularly share my story and the things I’ve learned on my parenting journey – I write about our successes, but I also acknowledge where I have not done so well. I reach out for help when I need it. I empower myself with knowledge and regularly share this with others. I have learned to be curious, to step away from judgement and assumptions and encourage others to do the same. Full disclosure: I’m not always successful at this though! In those moments I reflect and see it as an opportunity to learn.
Perhaps this is part of the way I demonstrate my resiliency as well, I embrace my vulnerability and use it as a catalyst to move me forward. In the earlier years of our journey, my vulnerability was a prison. It kept me locked in a space of feeling like a failure, unable to see the good let alone see the opportunities. My champions gave me permission and encouraged me to accept my vulnerability. Now I try to do the same for others.
How can provider’s best support resiliency?
I want you to know that if your first interaction with a parent or caregiver is when they are in a place of significant stress or overwhelm, please don’t let this then become the only way you see us. Be curious about who we are beyond those moments when we are overwhelmed, because I promise, we are SO much more than what you see in those snapshots of time.
I remember a school meeting in elementary that started with the Principal asking my husband and I “where do you hope to see your son when he is 22, and what can we do to help him get there?” and our goals were included throughout the entire meeting and embedded in his education. This might seem like such a simple thing, but it was so important in establishing a trusting relationship and partnership. I don’t think this has to be limited to education – this is a question that can be asked in any service system, especially when children are younger.
Give us information and tools in ways that work for us. So, let’s say you want us to connect with another resource in the community for support. As you hand us that business card, tell us about who that person is and what they might be able to offer. Better yet, if we are really overwhelmed or stressed, make the call with us. Otherwise, the card ends up in a drawer or the recycle bin because it becomes ‘one more thing we have to do when we already are having difficulties coping’.
Recognize that we are not just caring for our child who experiences challenges. We may also be caring for our other children, our partner’s, ourselves; we might also be worried about losing our jobs. We might be struggling with school placements. When we come to see you, know that we bring ALL of this with us. Take the time to ask us how WE are doing. It’s not necessarily about providing solutions, but sometimes simply acknowledging that we have a LOT of things going on.
Come alongside of us and let us know it is okay to cry. I remember a clinician calling me, I started crying and she said “take as long as you need. I am here when you are ready.” And she stayed on the phone and she waited and when I was ready, she helped me problem solve what I could do to help my son.
These are just a few of the ways providers have been able to support me to be resilient. It is often the simplest of things that have had the biggest impact, so I challenge everyone to think about how a small shift in language or way of doing things might make a difference in the life of a person they are supporting.