Bounce, Baby, Bounce

Teaching kids resiliency—and learning it for yourself

After last week’s big storms, my friend Sally was driving with her kids when her 10-year-old noticed some trees whose trunks were underwater. “Are the trees supposed to be that way?” he asked.

Sally said, “No, but isn’t it amazing that the trees will survive even underwater? They also survive in times of drought.”

Realizing this was a teachable moment (Sally is a parent I really admire), she continued, “We should be that way, like those trees. When we feel underwater and times are hard, we should know that we will survive.”

Yes, we should. A lesser version of this has been my mantra to my kids since my divorce, and now it’s been reinforced with a visual they can understand—thanks, Sally!

Often people say to me, “It’s so sad for your kids that you’re divorced; it really puts them at a disadvantage.”

What I want to say to them is, “SCREW YOU!” Then I want to punch them in the face.

But what I usually say is something like this: “None of us goes through life unscathed. My kids are learning to be resilient early, and that’s a great gift.” I smile and walk away, and settle for punching them in my mind.

Like those trees exhibited, resiliency is one of the most important skills any human can master. Did I want to get a divorce so that my kids would learn to bounce back? Of course not, but it happened, and we have to deal. So we deal. I even have a spin for it that sounds really evolved (and it’s all true, by the way). It goes something like this: “Kids, if Dad and I didn’t get divorced, you wouldn’t have his girlfriend, who does awesome French braids. And you wouldn’t have my fiancée, who gives you money if you answer quiz questions about Jewish holidays correctly. So now instead of having just two parents, you have four awesome people who love you to help raise you.”

All of the above is really how I feel—even the part about the French braids (hers are better than mine, it’s true). And I also learned resiliency from my divorce. I try, above all, to be the soft place for my kids to land when life goes awry. But when my 5th grader said, “This year, my teacher’s mean—she won’t let me sit with my friends.”

This was my response: “Suck it up. Your teacher is there to teach you; she is the boss; you sit where she says. You listen and you learn in school, done deal.”

Yeah, I know, not so soft. But I’m not messing around. This was another lesson in resiliency: Not everyone is going to like you, and you aren’t going to like everyone, but you’d better get over it and find a way to work with them.

Life often teaches us resiliency the hard way. I recently interviewed Laura Sobiech on my show. She lost her 18-year-old son Zach (whose song “Clouds” has made him a posthumous legend on the local music scene) a year ago to cancer. She is an amazing woman who has lessons about moving forward to teach all of us. I hope you and I are spared the tragic and awful lesson life had for Laura. But when life does throw me a curve, I think of Sally’s trees. In flood or in drought they will survive, and so will we.