“You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces – my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined.” -Elizabeth Edwards
Life isn’t always easy. It’s not a bed of roses. The journey inevitably includes suffering, for some far more than for others. Most of us have known good people who have not been able to withstand the pain of existence and have succumbed to drugs and alcohol, acts of violence, and even deep despair and suicide.
But, at the same time, there have always been heroes–strong men and women who have overcome hardship and risen to greatness. There are examples of strength and resilience in every walk of life–athletes, artists, politicians, whistle-blowers, game-changers. There are also the unacknowledged heroes among us–people who will never be rich or famous but who were there as role models, facing life with grace and courage.
One important way to teach our kids how to be resilient is by studying and celebrating our heroes. What can they teach us?
At times of loss and trauma, most people feel alone. Just knowing that others have gone through whatever hardship we are currently facing can provide hope and comfort. This is why support groups are so effective. In 2010, researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examined every research paper on the relationship of social relationships and health, involving more than 300,000 men and women. They found that those with poor social connections had on average 50% higher odds of death in the study’s follow-up period (an average of 7.5 years) than people with more social ties.
2. Notice and celebrate the gifts that you are receiving.
A crucial element of being resilient, or bouncing back from trauma and loss in families, is the ability to find a silver lining in times of hardship. The world is hungry for heroes, and often the heroic instinct surfaces in our darkest moments of need. We have seen countless acts of charity, kindness, and courage in the wake of every disaster. With the help of the internet, we can now share these heroic stories and teach our children the importance of both giving and receiving.
3. Practice living and cherishing the present moment.
One of our national heroes, and rightly so, was the late Elizabeth Edwards. She faced the worst of losses that any parent can imagine–the death of a child. Her life and death from cancer was a profile in courage, and millions are still able to benefit from her willingness to share her personal experiences. She is a profile in resilience.
It is no accident that the miraculous story of a previously unsung hero climbed quickly to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and has stayed there for two years. If you have not already done so, and need inspiration, read the book Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, the extraordinary story of Louis Zamperini, the World War II vet who survived both his shipwreck and long imprisonment as a POW in the South Pacific. As more and more families have been affected by sons and daughters fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to find ways both to honor our heroes and also to help families to survive in the face of adversity.
5. Find heroes all around you and thank them.
We know that good parents lead by example. Notice the heroes in every day life (teachers, waitresses, firemen, nurses, kids helping others), in books, in movies, on the news, and share what you appreciate about them with your kids. Praise effort more than outcome and see obstacles or problems as opportunities for growth and perseverance. Parents can also encourage and model pro-social behaviors like volunteering, supporting local causes, and helping friends and neighbors in need. Just think how the world might change if everyone focussed more time celebrating our heroes and practicing acts of kindness and generosity…