Resilience is about coping with a new reality that’s beyond our control. It’s about finding strategies that help navigate the way ahead with a focus on the small things that are in your control. Often changing perspective may be the only positive course of action but it has the power to open the door to the possibilities of new beginnings and directions.
Whenever there are big changes like moving house, welcoming the first baby into the family, facing the traumas of misfortunes such as divorce, accidents, retrenchment, our resilience will determine how well we cope. As parents we need to help our child develop a resilience to navigate the minefield of social engagement with other children, in the playground, class or on the internet, especially in the face of bullying.
Traumas, I’ve had a few but one stands out by far.
It was Friday morning piano lessons before school. Seven year old Heidi was in with Mrs Smith and five year old Gemma, who had just finished her lesson, was waiting back in the car with me and loudly reading Dr Seuss, “Are you my Mother?” We were a threesome, a team. We had been a single-parent household for 4 years, and had developed our own style of resilience following their father’s departure to the arms of another woman. We had moved to a pretty coastal town on the south coast of NSW, a perfect place to raise two very young children and earn a bit of money teaching part-time at the local high school.
Off we went to school. I watched them dance through the school gate, blond pony tails swinging until they were out of site. I wouldn’t see them again until Sunday; their father would be driving the three hours from Sydney and doing the school pick up to take them to his place.
Weekends without them were lonely but it was December and I kept busy with preparations for my new full-time teaching job starting in January at a school on the northern outskirts of Sydney. On this particular weekend, their grandparents had arranged to drive them back home on the Sunday afternoon and spend a few days with us.
When the phone rang at noon on Sunday, it was my distressed, sobbing mother. Both girls had been in a serious road accident and were in hospital. They had been playing in a park at Doll’s Point with their father and had been hit by a car while crossing the road to an ice-cream van. They were taken by ambulance to Kogarah hospital, unconscious. The unimaginable was happening. It wasn’t a nightmare, it was a horrible reality. I had to get to my precious children. I had barely enough wits left to devise a plan.
I phoned my friend Tricia to tell her about the accident and that I would be leaving very soon. She immediately said “I’ll come too”. We didn’t know how long we’d be gone, but she was confident her own family would be cared for – she had a good husband and good parents.
The long car trip was emotionally excruciating, and it wasn’t over once we arrived at the hospital. The girls weren’t there. They had been transferred to the Prince of Wales Children’s hospital in Randwick because Gemma was gravely injured and needed specialist care. Heidi had multiple injuries, a broken leg among them.
They had been separated. Heidi was in a ward with other children and Gemma was in the intensive care unit in a deeply unconscious state. There were no predictions on when or if she would wake up. My beautiful little girl had the tell-tale bruising of a serious head injury.
A few days later the nurses moved Gemma to be with her sister, in the hope that familiar voices could help her wake up. On the sixth day, while their father was visiting, she did. When I entered the room I heard their father say, “Who’s that?” and Gemma’s sweet voice say “Mummy”. Our hearts were brimming with joy.
By the end of the second week in hospital, having two broken little girls was my new reality. It was nearly Christmas and anyone who could go home was being discharged. Their injuries were serious but I planned to do everything I could to restore their well-being and enjoyment of life.
I am forever grateful to the key people who helped me cope and encouraged me forward.
My friend Tricia and her family gave me immediate practical support. Bunked down on mattresses on the floor at her father-in-law’s home nearby the hospital, Tricia sheltered me through my terrifying fears and unbearable sadness that first night. Her caring presence helped me survive an overwhelming sense of grief. She walked through the darkness with me. I bonded with her for life.
My beloved parents lifted me up with their love and confidence in my inner strength. Their tireless help driving their injured granddaughters to and from school helped me tremendously in the early days of my new teaching appointment.
Many people sent us best wishes, many visited us in hospital. A boyfriend who I loved passionately but had recently split with in a very complicated way travelled from England. Our reunion was bittersweet. He wanted to return to Australia and get back together again. I couldn’t promise how I would feel in the four months it would take to leave his current life. I had just come through my darkest hour, and I was somehow changed. My priorities were different. Romance was not one of them right now. But I was very grateful to him for his visit. It was comforting to know that the girls and I had clearly been important to him.
Of course there is a lot more to this story than I am relating here, but my purpose is to inspire you to build your own style of resilience, to join clubs or develop new routines that lead to friendships with people you could reach out to in times of trauma. When the unexpected happens, seek the practical support from others to help you cope and adapt. Don’t try to go it alone.
Below are some helpful links for building resilience