When I wrote my memoir, Sand and Steel: A Memoir of Longing and Coming Home, I never could have imagined that the theme of resilience would be something, not just the world would need right now, but teenagers especially.
Kids are by nature, resilient, but it’s easy to project my worries and concerns unto my teenage son who has not hung out with any of his friends since March 2020, when the order of sheltering in place began. I am missing deeply the transition from home to work and home again. And because everything – from mothering to client work feels like one big blur, the need to social distance myself from my immediate family has never been greater. It’s exhausting.
I remember when we were younger, my brother and I would push our mother to her limits, a daughter of a Holocaust survivor, child prodigy, and concert pianist of note. She’d often worry out loud and say things like “I’m going to commit suicide,” and “I can’t take it anymore.” She’d never act on her words (I didn’t always understand what “suicide” meant), but I knew how nervous she got when she couldn’t handle the pressure of parenting and piano practice. Inevitably she got the quiet she needed to practice.
During this pandemic when I had particularly felt overwhelmed more than once, I shouted to my kids, “you need to just scat because you’re driving me crazy. I need to get work done!” Immediately I could feel my mother’s power, her secret weapon of words, but I needed a long-term solution so that emotions wouldn’t get the better of me.
Enter: a resilient mindset of steel
How do we build up mental resistance to doubt and discouragement in tough times? How can we as working mothers stay focused, so we feel confident in own ability to stay productive during these distractions. Here’s what I’ve discovered about my resilient mindset and how I’ve been adapting to these ongoing situations:
How I respond to situations, not within my control will ultimately generate a new habit. Going into default mode and putting the blame on my teenager may be an immediate fix, but it doesn’t help establish a good habit. I am constantly remembering that I am in control of my thoughts, response, and feelings where no-one has control.
Now is a good time to foster resilience in yourself and your kids. Sarah Chana Radcliffe, a parenting expert, says this: “a happy home and a positive parent-child relationship strengthens kids to the point where they can survive and thrive despite severe challenges.” My daughter flew down the stairs one morning, with a concerned look on her face, and said that the teacher hadn’t “let her in” the Zoom classroom while I was trying to get some work done. I stopped everything and checked to make sure she had the right link and password. I emailed the teacher who emailed me back. Although my daughter missed the group Zoom lesson, she ended up getting a private lesson with her teacher.
I now openly admit my frustration without overacting and overexaggerating. Acknowledging your emotions are informative. To try and push them away does not inform you as to your true experience. Sarah Chana Radcliffe agrees.“Just like listening to and validating a child’s emotions helps develop the mental health and emotional flexibility that builds resilience.”
Similarly, we need to act the same way with ourselves. During the Zoom classroom incident with my daughter, I had encountered one distraction after the next leading me to share my feelings on a Zoom Power Hour for Freelancers, to help me gather inner-strength. Distraction has become the norm these days and many mothers like myself are feeling the pressure to prioritize mothering over work realizing that a big part of their day has now been lost. Openly admitting to frustration is helping us stay mentally sane and there’s no shame in sharing.
On that call, everyone heard and felt the frustration in my voice especially another mother who also openly admitted to her struggles staying focused. The invaluable support I received by my fellow writers reminded me of how important it was to show up and support each other especially now in our social distancing age. Our organizer said, “let’s give Dorit some good vibes so she can stay focused and get some work done.” In the second session, the distractions lessened, and I was able to get back into a workflow with a resoluteness of will.
When you find yourself overwhelmed by chaos, think of an image that gets you to push that “resilient button,” another mental strategy to trick your brain. I’m thinking of the material of steel and how impervious it is to outside forces such as water and heat, but also how it loses strength at low temperatures. I’m also thinking of all those trees I pass each day in the park whose roots have spiraled to other trees down to the ravines to supply much-needed nutrients. I may not be able to stay focused with all the distractions.
From these ongoing scenarios, I’m learning a hidden piece of the resilient mindset: beneath the chaos, we all have the ability to go inward and make right decisions. In each situation, we have a choice – what we inevitably end up choosing can make the difference in our work day as we play out our resilience for the long-term.