It was a succession of moments, realisations and my own mistrust of my knowledge of my sons development, and of myself as an overly pessimistic attention seeking human being, that knocked me down a few years ago. A succession of moments and realisations that then ultimately enabled me to nurture my own resilience and inner core strength. Resilience which I need every day as a person and as a mother, to continue, to get up, despite things being hard. Resilience which enables me to be capable of repeating the same challenging tasks every day.
Resilience is what we all need to continue onwards each day. It enables. It is an inner core of strength which we can use to get us through the really really tough times. As parents we need it ourselves to be there for our gorgeous children. As parents we need to be able to grow it inside our children so they too have an inner core of strength which they can turn to in their own dark nights of the soul. Without resilience we disappear into any number of negative spirals which only serve to feed fear, greed, envy, self pity and victimisation. With resilience we can take the hard times as challenges that can potentially feed our inner knowledge that we can. We are able. We are capable. We can get up each day and smile. We can get up in the morning and have the emotional strength to give to others. We can get up and help other humans and we can look out to our planet to build and create positive solutions.
My journey to having a resilient inner core has been fraught with challenges. To continue my story…
My second son was an easy baby. He slept well (at first). He put on weight, he put on a lot of weight. He really loves food. He was easy going (for a long time). I could even get out of a car with him go into a friends house and lay him in a comfortable place and he would stay asleep! I am sure all parents and anyone who has ever met a baby will recognise how amazing this simple act of moving a sleeping baby, from one environment to another, really is without him being too bothered. He was a star baby, no question about it.
What shocked my world was that despite his easy going nature it became increasingly obvious in his second year that he was not hitting many developmental milestones. In fact although he could recite ‘Each Peach Pear Plum’ the whole way through at bedtime he only actually used three phrases in response to us, they were “Yes”, “No” or “I don’t know.” He didn’t make any effort to walk. He liked to sit and stare into space. He often stopped walking through a room. He just stopped there. I would call to him from a few metres away and he wouldn’t flinch. Even when I said his name he didn’t look over to me.
The collection of straws which broke me piled on without me noticing. It was easy to explain why I was struggling. I’d got pregnant again so had less time to give my second son. He was spoken to in Spanish and English so his language development was probably slow due to learning words in two ways, I reasoned. I over analysed and beat myself up that the warning signs in my beautiful child were signs not of his developmental slowness but of my own hideous pessimism. My sick desire to have a child with something wrong so I could blame someone else for my tiredness, my grief, my inability to cope. And of all of these things it was my inability to cope with him that struck me most deeply.
He did change. It was gradual. The hardest thing was that he didn’t sleep much at night. He crawled over our heads and bounced on us every night until desperate we put him in a cot. He was our only child to sleep/be in a cot at 15 months. We are attachment parents so this was not an easy decision. It did work for a time though. He slept better. Or rather we slept better. Which enabled our resilience.
His developmental delay only became ‘in my face’ obvious to me once his younger brother started speaking (I had better give them both names so this is readable. Our second son is Bear and our youngest is Max, You’ll meet our eldest son later). My husband had said, at very specific moments of not being able to get Bear’s attention, “If that boy wasn’t so intelligent I’d say he is autistic”.
So, Max started using pronouns at the usual time of 18+ months old. Bear still said about himself, “He wants his cheese”. Pretty cute to us all at the time until Max spoke. Using pronouns. Even though he was also bilingual Max spoke in full sentences. Bear did not. Max responded to his name. Bear did not. This difference between them aged 18 months and 3 and a half respectively was now blatant and unavoidably needing attention. The crunch moment, despite all these straws piling on top, came when I asked Bear if he knew the names of his teachers at Play School. I remember the moment vividly. I had no resilience and this was the final straw that broke me.
I was pushing the double buggy and we had just crossed the road and had entered our favourite tree lined pathway to school. I asked the question. Bear didn’t answer. But after a second came Max’s voice saying “Mrs Johns and Mrs Fields”. This still brings tears to my eyes. The younger child that didn’t even go to Play School knew the names of his brothers teachers but his older brother didn’t answer. I now know many reason why Bear might not have answered because I now know so much about his developmental delay Autism. He may have thought it an obvious question. Mama knows the name of my teachers so I don’t need to tell her too. Or he may have had no interest in the question. Or worse case scenario, the tear jerk scenario, is Bear at 3 and a half had no interest in other humans. He, very likely remembering him at that age, really wasn’t capable of knowing who his teachers were at Play School.
It took me a very long time to build my inner core of resilience to be able to help myself and help my sons. I did it out of necessity. I couldn’t break down and cry at any of the worst moments as the autism became more and more life changing to our family. If I did let my guard down and cry Bear usually did something that would make my immediate life doubly worse. Like run a burning hot bath. He was in it not able to recognise himself the temperature. I had to change to manage.
I will speak more in later essays about how I built my resilience to the point where I am now able and capable to manage daily. My 3 boys are also quite resilient to life. It is a journey however and I am fully aware now of the challenges lying ahead. I am taking count and preparing myself. Which enables me to be able to pass on these words of wisdom to you should you need support in your own dark night of the soul to build your own resilience.
Words of Wisdom 1) Do less. Do only the minimum to manage and get through the day.
Words of Wisdom 2) Ask for help. Please tell the people around you that you are finding life difficult. If like me you find this hard write it down. If you are struggling to think of who you could talk to then please go to the professionals. Be prepared to ask loudly. The further from your circle of friends and family the person is, ie. a GP or Health Visitor, the louder and more explicitly you need to say you need support. Or you may find you need to be loudly asking for help from family and friends too.
Words of Wisdom 3) Be kind to yourself. Recognise this is a hard time and you are doing your best. Be kind to others around you too. We need each other, we need family and friends support and kindness is the first way to build resilient relationships.
Words of Wisdom 4) Recognise the good things you have managed to do each day. Daily reminding yourself of your own capabilities builds your inner core of resilience. This is an essential tool, please be kind to yourself and use it and over use it. There is everything to gain by showing yourself that you have done many good things today. Small things are great. Today I got up, got dressed and made my children breakfast and I even got them to school, dressed. Simple recognition of achievement every day helps build strong resilient cores.
Words of Wisdom 5) Be grateful for every tiny aspect of good in your life. Start you day before you open your eyes with gratitude. Sounds cliched but it works. Today I am thankful for the food in my fridge, my 3 healthy, beautiful children, the roof over my head… Even I am grateful I can read this and I am grateful I have woken up to another day.
I would love to hear your own journey to resilience and your thoughts on what prevents you from feeling resilient in your own life. Please comment below.