By Tara Chklovski, Technovation Founder and CEO
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Dr. Martin Luther King
As we go back to school, I am hopeful and grateful to work in partnership with schools and teachers to help our children learn. It has not been an easy year. And for those of us who were not able to take any break, the effects are telling – especially on the family fabric. It is wearing thin.
And that’s why I have been so intrigued by this concept of building resilient families and communities. Resilience is not a straightforward term. There are some layers to it. Some images that arise in my mind are my grandparents. My grandfather surviving an attack on his life from his stepmother at the age of 4, and then braving the world as a self-made entrepreneur to become the person I knew as a child – strong, silent, kind, caring. My grandmother who at the age of 60, cut down a tree in her garden, made a few tables and chairs and started a school. She worked until the very last day of her life. But resilience is also understanding one’s rights and fighting for them. My mother really models this. During my undergraduate studies in India, my university (St. Stephens) didn’t have on-campus housing for girls. But it offered housing for the boys. This caused the girls to experience very unsafe travel conditions on a daily basis. My mother fought this, overthrowing the status quo of 116 years, and I was in the first cohort of girls who could live on campus and focus on our studies, instead of wondering how we navigate safely through the dangers of Delhi.
As we become more and more ‘battle fatigued’ with COVID, distance learning, racism, wildfires, excessive heat, poor air quality, resilience is something that we need to learn more about and think more about. It’s not just about getting up each time, recovering and adapting. It is also about rebelling and rebuilding better.
- Identify and build on your family strengths. I am used to saying and doing this with my team, but it was a true revelation when I applied it to my family! As a parent I have been used to building individual relationships with my children, rather than viewing the whole family as one tightly interconnected unit with “family strengths”. For instance, when I asked my daughters what they thought our family’s strengths were, they surprised me by saying – good at problem solving, good at technology, empathetic, and having a sense of humor. We then proceeded to discuss each of these, and also recognize that some days these character traits were goalposts guiding us through family frictions!
- Problem-solve together, and democratically. Use family-level problem-solving and goal-setting to empower the entire family. FOCUS Family Resilience Training is a good place to start. And screentime negotiations remain a rich ground to problem solve! Since school has started, “screentime” has jumped up 7x. We try to have very democratic, open discussions around recognizing how games are designed to be addictive and manipulative, how I don’t want to have a transactional relationship with them where they have to do certain things/chores to earn gametime, and how these activities need to contribute to a stronger family fabric. We agree to try certain strategies for a week, and then debrief, and then try again! I love having these discussions as I get to hear how they think and feel and what they care about.
- Planning for Hope & Joy! It can be playing a board game, or better, it could be learning something new and meaningful together. We are all experiencing so many losses, big and small – loss of afterschool sports, loss of making new friends, clean air–but we need to focus on the future, on hope, and on dreaming. I also realized that planning for and experiencing small joys provided a brief respite from the feeling of loss. And that respite is valuable and restorative. We have started new family routines – walking every sunday morning for icecream to the local icecream store, making home-made cranberry bread once a week, watching an inspiring video or talk together, teaching our dog a new skill, learning how to design a videogame together as a family, learning how to play a musical instrument – as a family! Learning new skills and new ways of thinking have been a powerful way to reduce stress, while giving us a sense of control and empowerment. Dr. Kaethe Weingarten, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School and three time cancer survivor calls this “doing hope”.
- Be Flexible – On the first day of school, the in-person meet and greet was cancelled because the air quality was so bad due to nearby fires. The air quality has been bad for more than 25 days now, but because school is online, the children are still learning. Being flexible definitely drains willpower and mental energy, but the drain is less if we are prepared to adapt. And this is where I draw so much strength from what Dr. Martin Luther King said about being ready for finite disappointment with infinite hope. As a family we try to discuss what could go wrong and how we could be disappointed, while staying hopeful for the future. We rock climb as a family and have really missed not being able to climb at our local gym. We are excited about going back to climb, but are also ready for a feeling of emptiness without our friends and energy of other climbers. But we know that eventually we will all be back together again as a team and community. We just need to persevere, to “struggle well”.
- Talk to your grandparents. Learn new things with them. Build with them. Listen to their stories and their life passages. What we are going through is not new, though it looks different from the past. Many grandparents have lived through tremendous hardship, some of it much worse than today and understanding their life passage will give you strength and courage because you will feel more grounded in who you are, and what you carry in your bones. And if you no longer have your grandparents, then talk to your parents and piece together the history of YOU. Even the ugly parts of the story will give you strength, as you gain a sense of who you are.
- Thick layers of support. This is the time to reach out and make an effort to connect with others and envelope your family in thick layers of support and connections. With online school it has been virtually impossible for children to make new friends, but there are some gaps that can be filled. One way to do that is through programs that provide virtual mentorship. My organization is one such example connecting industry mentors with students. Getting started is a big lift, as it requires some planning, some scheduling, some adjusting. But once you take this step, you are building some thick layers of support for your children and your family that will increase resilience.
- Engage in improving your community, even if it means rebelling against what is not right. As John Lewis said, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something”. This will give you and your family a larger sense of purpose and control that will carry everyone forward. My daughter is building a virtual world to hold a virtual march for blue skies, and dreams.
And this brings us to the most important part of resilience – recognizing our basic human rights, and having the courage to transform the world, the environment, so that we all have the ability to live up to our full potential. And as simple as it sounds, there are so many of us who are resiliently fighting for their basic human rights. As the Executive Director of UN Women said, “If you are breathing, if you have enough food on your table, you can be generous. You can help someone else”. It’s only through generosity that we can all heal, be resilient, and rebuild stronger.