The Road to Resilience
There’s currently a lot of talk in the mental health field about resilience. Resilience is defined as the ability to adapt to stress or adversity, or to recover from hardship or challenge. Life being what it is, it makes sense that developing these skills of brushing yourself off and moving on after a difficulty or setback would be a huge benefit. But as parents invest more in a protective style of parenting that strives to buffer our young people from pain or hardship, new research is showing that some kids are not developing coping strategies for moving on after hardship. Relatively new practices such as awards for all participants, complimenting and rewarding every effort, and parents stepping in to help or even take over challenging areas for youngsters, seem to also be contributing to a generation of young people who are not incredibly used to dealing with adversity when it comes their way.
So that’s another life skill that I’m going to offer as a positive of the Third Culture Kid experience. Quite simply, in moving to another part of the world, dealing with airline travel, learning new languages, customs and cultures, meeting, making and leaving friends, and more, Third Culture Kids get some pretty good practice in working through challenges and building resilience.
That doesn’t mean I can always see the benefits right away, but I am learning to notice some silver in the lining a bit earlier, or easier, than I used to. Case in point: my daughter’s recent return to The States from her holiday visit. Part of trying to be a modern “perfect parent” when you’re an expat is trying to look into the crystal ball that none of us have, but all wish we did, and find the ideal flights to and from the far away destination that has become “home”. Added considerations are language difficulties, length of layovers, dependability of airports, how easy they are to navigate, etc. etc. etc. And then we operate, still, under some optimistic or delusional idea that everything will go exactly as we have planned, and run smoothly.
About five hours into the day that my daughter has left with her father for an early airport drop-off and I’m feeling the droopy, heavy-hearted feelings that go with the end of our time as a “complete” family, I hear the lyrical music from my ipad that means she has sent me a message. But it’s not the “things are going fine” one I had wished for. After a two hour delay in Vienna, she writes that she is very late arriving at London Heathrow to catch her international flight, and is fearful she may have missed it. She is heading to the needed terminal, and we send encouraging words of how sometimes they will hold planes for missing passengers, etc. No need to worry.
Half an hour later, she is reaching the terminal she needs after “queuing” (when in England, as the saying goes) behind a multitude of late arrivals. My diligent husband has already googled the airlines to see they have two later flights that day, and messages her this information. She no more than leaves the connecting bus and enters the terminal when she hears an announcement from her airline that “All flights to the U.S. are cancelled today”.
My husband and I go into perfect protective parent mode, google-ing weather reports, London airline information, and more, to try to figure out the reasoning for this strange announcement. My husband takes to the phone to inquire if there is possibly another airline my daughter can get on, and is encouraged to learn that not every plane seems to be grounded in London. We are confused by the airlines no flight announcement, but hopeful that something else might work out. Meanwhile, I am obsessing over the decision for her to extend her break this year, as she returned so early last year to avoid jet-lag, that she felt like the lone survivor of a campus apocalypse. But now, she is risking arriving back when classes are already in session, with virtually no recovery time. How could my crystal ball not have foreseen this?
Next my daughter relays a representative came around saying that no further flights would be going out, and gathering people to lead them to find lodging for the night. To quote The Clash, her main question was, “Should I stay or should I go?” She had found a savvy business lady who had decided to stick it out in the labyrinth of a customer service line, as she needed to get to New York that night. As my daughter also really wanted to step foot on U.S. soil in the very near future, she had decided to stick it out in the line, but was not thrilled about the length of it.
In the end, she made a very wise choice, three hours and a few update texts later, my daughter and her new airport accomplice were close enough to the front of the line to hear that the people who stayed behind were getting rerouted on different airlines. Approaching the counter, she texted that she had her assertive argument ready, and then, sent a success text ten minutes later that she didn’t even need to use it.
Another couple hours wait, and she would have a direct evening flight, complete with upgrade to a better seat and service. Her last comments of the day before signing off with a low phone battery were revealing, reflective, and I would proudly say, resilient. “Haha it wasn’t so bad, just upsetting, but the last 30 minutes or so weren’t bad at all, because that’s when my line friend heard them give someone New York flights. And, hey, I even made airport friends. Remember how I was talking about never making airport friends?”
This moment, that can be a common one for our Third Culture Kids, is a moment of resilience training and success for my young adult. Did I love every minute of it? No way! Were there moments of wondering how we ever thought to book such awful connections, why we had to live so far from her college, and how we could do that to our flesh and blood who was just trying to make her way back to her haven of higher education? You betcha.
But the good news is, I could already see how she brushed herself off and got on with handling her hardship, learned some great lessons for later, and made her first airport friends, as a bonus. And even better, my resilient young adult daughter, at the tail end of her tiny trauma, could see those highlights, too.
- Posted in: Uncategorized