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Ep. 110: Big Picture 7 – Age of the Resilient Family

May 14, 2020 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 110
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 110: Big Picture 7 – Age of the Resilient Family
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Full PreFrontal
Ep. 110: Big Picture 7 – Age of the Resilient Family
May 14, 2020 Season 1 Episode 110
Sucheta Kamath

Vincent van Gogh once wrote, “If I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it – keep going, keep going come what may.” Of course, this kind of striving and searching van Gogh is referring to is likely to guarantee one thing and that one thing is – encountering unsurmountable challenges. Sometimes we don’t even go looking, but still face unsurmountable challenges like right now, during this pandemic. Everyone can benefit from successful ways to cope with and rise above challenges. Group of peoples together can handle challenging and extraordinary times.

On this episode, our host Sucheta Kamath, talks about one such particular group – families! She answers questions such as, how do families ride the wave of crisis, challenges and come to the other side with integrity and resilience? Tune in today to discover the characteristics of a resilient family unit which survives and emerges safe, sane, and even skilled.

Show Notes Transcript

Vincent van Gogh once wrote, “If I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it – keep going, keep going come what may.” Of course, this kind of striving and searching van Gogh is referring to is likely to guarantee one thing and that one thing is – encountering unsurmountable challenges. Sometimes we don’t even go looking, but still face unsurmountable challenges like right now, during this pandemic. Everyone can benefit from successful ways to cope with and rise above challenges. Group of peoples together can handle challenging and extraordinary times.

On this episode, our host Sucheta Kamath, talks about one such particular group – families! She answers questions such as, how do families ride the wave of crisis, challenges and come to the other side with integrity and resilience? Tune in today to discover the characteristics of a resilient family unit which survives and emerges safe, sane, and even skilled.

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Producer: Welcome to the special edition of Full PreFrontal, the Big Picture Series, coupled with our extensive library of conversations with leaders in the fields of neuroscience and cognitive, educational, and social psychology. In this special series, Sucheta plans to dive deeper into the science of executive function, including managing one’s self and one’s cognitive resources in order to achieve goals. Throughout the Big Picture Series, we will explore the difference between knowing and doing. She will share real-life examples and the day-to-day tips for practicing intentional strategies to help you, your family, your team members, or your students build competencies in executive function to lead to stronger more resilient relationships, sustainable communities, and fulfilling lives together.

And now, here is our host, Sucheta Kamath.

Sucheta Kamath: Welcome to the podcast, Todd. How are you this morning?

Producer: I’m doing just great. As we record this, we are, what, day 35 of the quarantine, but I’m really looking forward to this special edition Big Picture because wow, what a timely subject, talking about resilient families.

Sucheta: Oh, yes, don’t know about you but I feel we are all in each of the spaces, and so close proximity is, as they say, love grows fonder, I guess, only to a distance, so this is just opposite. I hate to admit it, I guess, but let’s hope our listeners and viewers and now that we are going to give this video thing a try as well to talk about this topic of resilience, bouncing back, coping, adjusting, tweaking. So, to start with, I was thinking about this concept of striving. Striving is such a human response to life that we have been gifted. That reminds me, I had a chance to go to Amsterdam and they had just launched van Gogh Museum, and they had the diaries and particularly, a whole load of pages and pages, and letters that van Gogh wrote to his brother, and in one particular letter, he writes, “If I see searching, then woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it. Keep going, keep going, come what may,” and I think this just beautifully sums up this human experience of striving, but of course, this kind of striving where you are searching like van Gogh talks about is likely to guarantee one thing, that one thing is encountering unsurmountable challenge, and if you do nothing, yes, you can be assured to be safe and sound, but if you want to continue with the striving, then you are going to encounter challenges. So, the question now is what kind of challenge is healthy, what kind of challenge actually propels us towards change and health benefits and helps us become better people versus what kind of challenge can be paralyzing?

So, we want today going beyond coping, so ordinary everyday obstacles and roadblocks don’t send us in a busy but ongoing adversities and even major calamities do. As you know, what we’re facing right now is this COVID-19 lockdown/shutdown, and not just staying at home but eventually, I don’t think collective human psyche has experienced this kind of uncertainty at the global level, even if let’s say, we had the 2008 financial meltdown, it was very America-specific, or when we had a tsunami, it was very Japan-specific. We kind of new people there or we have to use our imagination, what that might be like, but we didn’t globally share the same fear that I don’t even know who is going to live through this, do I have immunity? Am I a carrier? What’s going to happen told people at my parents? So, these severe and unsurmountable challenges call upon a very special set of skills, skills that go beyond simply coping and that’s what we’re going to talk about, Todd.

Producer: Well, this idea of resiliency, I mean, it’s something that we’ve talked about frequently on the show and boy, it is timely because this is the perfect time to strengthen our resiliency and build these set of skills. Hearing you go through your opening comments there, a number of headlines that I’ve been seeing have come to mind, the Idaho farm that’s giving away millions of potatoes because the virus has obviously lessened demand.

Sucheta: Whether people need it or not, they have potatoes to give.

Producer: Well, yeah, yeah, no, I get it. Then, there’s the county in Louisiana, Parish, that’s the highest death rate per capita in the country. I mean, there’s that Catholic diocese that’s reopening for mass despite these shelter in place orders from the government. Protests beginning to pop up all over the country not far from here, in Michigan where people are protesting these stay-at-home instructions. I’ve seen discussions of teenagers that may never be the same and that’s intriguing and scary at the same time, then you have some good stories too. Those tornadoes that hit the south, the woman who saw that piano in the rubble of a destroyed church and she started to play it to make people feel better.

Sucheta: I read that.

Producer: So, conflicting emotions, I agree with you, I love the idea that this is something that we are all going through and it feels different. I don’t know how to say it but it almost feels comforting to me to know that everyone is going through this, but my final thoughts as we keep this thing off is yeah, there’s some terrible things happening, some unimaginable amount of loss of life from this, but I also feel like this is a chance, there’s opportunity here.

Sucheta: Yes, and simply as your listing these headlines, my mind began to wander and my thoughts were scattered in 1 million little directions. As humans, we are naturally curious and have this rubbernecking tendency. We want to know what’s happening in other people’s lives, how they are doing it, and then the media thought that comes to mind is how is my life similar or different than what I’m hearing? So, if I hear a farmer in Idaho, I’m not a farmer, and I do eat potatoes but I have never lived in Idaho, my mind is thinking, man, how is that farmer going to support, how is he going to transport, who is going to bring these potatoes into different states? As we are thinking about this tornado, I’m in the south and yes, we had a tornado warning last weekend for three consecutive days and that’s something that doesn’t happen. So, what’s so unique about this is we are interested in lives of others, we compare situations. One become curious, one become surprised, one can even become depressed, worried, and overwhelmed, but at the end of this interesting thing, you can turn the news off and you can stop yourself from the barrage of bad news mixed with good news here and there but ultimately, having to hear news of setback can be overwhelming, but what’s so unique about this COVID-19 situation is the news never ends. We still don’t know what the outcome is, we still don’t know where we stand in terms of our prior life. Is this going to stay the same? Are we going to stay even in the same income bracket? Are you going to have a job? Would your children be able to – how are they going to transition into summer when they actually feel like – it feels like it’s summer already, so it’s all exhaustion and I’m also a grown adult, so we are feeling overwhelmed, scattered, unproductive, so I’m just interested in how our kids are going to handle all this.

Producer: Yeah, well, my wife, when thinking about this whole thing in this pandemic, she’s not afraid of catching it, she’s not even really afraid of dying from it but she is afraid of what the world going to be like when we go back out into it? So, that is the fear for her, is how big a change are we going to see it as we are never going to go back to the way things were before, but this COVID-19 has changed everything. I mean, we’re not going out, we are not being social which is a desperate human need, we are cooped up in places that we are not really used to doing that, we are spending inordinate amount of time with family that we are not used to doing and that has repercussions. This is tough on a lot of people.

Sucheta: Yeah, and these are extraordinary times. So, my question is, how does a group of people together handle challenging and extraordinary times and what will help us to come to the other side safe, sane, and even skilled? And that’s why I want to try this idea of not just individual resilience but a family unit’s resilience and developing skills during these extraordinary times and provide people with some ideas as to how to think about the health of the family unit, interdependence of all members with each other, the strains of pre-existing holes that may have existed before but may get exaggerated or worsened because of the pandemic, and is there a better way to cope? So, that’s what we’re going to get into.

Producer: Good. Well, I hope you can help me cope because I haven’t been able to see my mother in almost a month and a half now, and for those listening who don’t know my mother, late stage Alzheimer’s and it sees in a community where she’s on obvious lockdown which is the right thing for them to do, but it’s just surreal for me, Sucheta, not to be able to see her. Now, we Facetime with her a couple of times a week, but it’s just a different kind of an experience and she’s doing well and we feel good about it but it’s been a real difficult adjustment for us to figure out how to be a part of her life.

Sucheta: You know, there’s a story I recently heard on NPR that this family was unable to see their mother lives in a nursing home and also has Alzheimer’s, so the two sisters went to the yard and peeked through the window and said hello to the mom just so that they felt some sort of connection in the same space, and as you said, I just cannot imagine what you must be going through not having seen her in particularly knowing that she needs assistance and the struggles she has with memories, so I’m praying for all of us and particularly getting to see your mom sooner.

Producer: Yeah, good, thank you, we need it.

Sucheta: Let’s start with the idea of a family resilience, defining resilience, and there’s a famous researcher whose work I’m going to quote today, her name is Froma Walsh and she defines that it’s the ability to withstand and rebound from destructive challenges strengthened and more resourceful, so it’s not just bouncing back. That’s what we’re going to talk about. There was a great presentation I recently attended with Jonathan Hyde and he was also talking about – so take an example of a glass, for a cup of water, use a glass and then if the glass slips from your fingers, it shatters. Resilience is not shattering but a glass does shatter, so sometimes, people think about resilience as a Styrofoam cup, so if the Styrofoam cup falls to the ground, it doesn’t crap. Now, one interesting thing about his definition though is in the previous situation or example of a glass cup, it shatters so it’s all messed up. You never recover, and Styrofoam implies that you recover exactly the same, so resilience is neither and particularly a family’s resilience is something even more or bigger than that. A Styrofoam cup doesn’t undergo change. It doesn’t become pink after being dropped to the floor. It stays exactly the same, and that’s not what happens to us because we are dynamic beings and we changed because of our interactions with life.

The other thing to think about, the concept of resilience is it’s an American math, so to speak, a lot of researchers talk about this, that just bounce back and just bouncing back is something that is within a person as a character, almost a gift and some people are designed to bounce back and some people don’t, but the story is a lot larger. That’s why I thought we would talk a little bit more about the family as a unit because we are human beings who need people and we are social creatures. We really cannot talk about resilience and always, I’ve been to a lot of talks and I’ve heard a lot of people talk about this, that we want our children to be resilient we can talk about children without talking about their parents, without talking about the family dynamics, without talking about the community in which they operate because it’s a resilient unit. I don’t know if you have seen this painting, Todd, there is a very famous American painter, his name is Andrew Wyeth and I had a chance to see his painting called Christina’s World which is a beautiful landscape and in the distance, there is a gray colored house or maybe two, but it’s almost a Prairie and in the forefront of the picture, there is a young woman, maybe a teenager sitting on the ground, and you certainly can see she cannot walk and she’s trying to drag herself towards the house. It’s a beautiful and moving piece because you can see the effort in that girl, so when I think about resilience, it’s that effort of this girl, and the back story, by the way is that this painting is actually described as something, MOMA website says that Wyeth’s neighbor, Anna Christine Olson inspired the composition which is one of four paintings by Wyeth in which she appears. As a young girl, Olson developed a degenerative muscle condition, probably polio that left her unable to walk. She refused to use a wheelchair, preferring to crawl as protected in this picture using her arms to drag her lower body along. The challenge to me, Wyeth explained is to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless, and what’s so nice about this, the critics say that this is more describing the psychological landscape of Christina as a young woman with polio cannot walk but doesn’t want the support of a wheelchair and she wants to support herself, so resilience is often described as this process of an individual’s effort to withstand and rise above adversities, but we want to talk more about behind the scenes of that, beyond the individual.

Producer: well, when I was hearing you describe this painting, I’m certainly familiar with Andrew Wyeth but I had not seen this specific painting, but hearing you talk about what it represents, I almost went back to my Stoic philosophy where it’s not what actually happens to you, it’s how you respond to what happens to you, and in my kind of on the right path when I think of resilience see being the ability to do that?

Sucheta: You nailed it! I think it’s what you do with what you got, the simple colloquialism, “life gives you lemons and you make lemonade, that’s a good way to think about resilience. It’s interesting though is I was mentioning, there are cultural connotations. Every culture has some kind of reference to resilience. I’ll give you Confucius’s quote. It says, “the green read which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in the storm.” So that’s often used as a visual image of a mighty oak cracking under pressure it’s the bending and swaying and still standing coming to form at the end is how resilience works. Another interesting concept that I thought worth mentioning was in Korean culture, there’s a concept of han which is suffering but not without hope, so there is a wonderful idea that suffering is inevitable and suffering is the human condition, and suffering, just like happiness, is in permanent. That means there is the other side of suffering, and keeping yourself aware of that is resilience, honestly.

Producer: That’s where I was going earlier. I said I feel like there’s an opportunity as we go through this pandemic. I feel like there’s two groups of people. There are those that are just all doom and gloom and the world’s never going to be the same, and then there are those that say there’s an opportunity here to learn and grow. It’s that kind of what you mean by that?

Sucheta: Yeah, yeah. So now, let’s talk about the family, so just like a person, family also has its own personality. You have a funny family, a family that’s an adventure family, a family of jokesters, a family that’s very serious, and so each family also as a unit has this capacity to withstand and rebound from destructive life challenges by designing strategies that they become more resourceful, so Robert Frost says, “Home, place where when you go there, they have to let you in, and this is such an interesting thing because you don’t belong to a family of the family doesn’t like you belong, and that can be anti-resiliency, of course, and John Powell also has a quote which says, “Our lives are shaped by those who love us and by those who refused to love us, and if you know anything about human psychology, we actually find it disturbing or we obsess about those who reject us. Actually, Freud has said that you marry your most difficult parent, apparently. I’m not sure if I know that to be true or if that’s even Freud’s quote, but I find that concept very interesting because of the family unit does not have its own style of resolving and coping, and discussing and managing, that it can create challenge.

But one thing I want to just mentioned, Todd, that American families don’t get enough credit for being resilient because often, the news is consumed by this child that was neglected or kept in a cage, or you find a baby left on the steps, but those are sensational news pieces that always show failures on a human being’s part but it does not celebrate families and their capacity to bounce back, so we want to do that as well.

Producer: Well, yeah, I mean, that’s the downside of listening to the news, is it’s all negative. There’s a lot of amazing things happening, not just with businesses innovating to create product, I’m talking about families doing some interesting things behind those four walls as they are, well, frankly, as they are being resilient going through this.

Sucheta: Yeah, and before COVID, I used to use the term resilience and the adversity I used to describe was just simply somebody, a child being diagnosed with a disability and having a lifelong chronic condition to deal with, but research shows that there are kind of four or more factors that need to persist in a person’s life to then put your resiliency to test. For example, poverty, some mother’s education apparently seems to be a very critical element. The family members having drug or I’ll call problems and some type of chronic condition and the house, so if four or more conditions exist, then there is incredible stress that family can endure, but let me list some of the stressors that families can experience over a lifespan. A traumatic event, if you remember the movie The Ordinary People, remember that?

Producer: Yup.

Sucheta: In that, I guess the older brother Buck dies in a boating accident but the younger brother, Timothy Hutton’s character blames himself and then goes through his own angst and attempt to commit suicide, goes to the psychiatric hospital, returns, but the mom is extremely angry and cold which is Mary Tyler Moore, I think, but that is a beautiful movie that captures the traumatic events and its impact on the family dynamics and coping. Disruptive transitions, I work with a family that God placed in Japan, and then the father left and the children had to follow but there were three children starting school, or by the time they landed there, it was mid-year and making friends and finding your footing, all that can be a huge challenge. The next is persistent multi-stress condition. So, COVID-19 is a perfect example of persistent multi-stress conditions, like my mom lives with us, so just being old age, we want to be careful, but she’s developing some crisis that we had to take her to the ER, I had one son who returned from Tanzania and had to go into quarantine because he developed some symptoms. We weren’t sure if they were COVID symptoms or not, and then having to shut down businesses. My husband and I trying to, so all the stresses came from multiple directions and one of the things I noticed for me was my first thing to go is communication with friends and family. I go on a silent mode and people are worried about me but I had no strength to keep telling them that everything is okay, and the silence just often can be misinterpreted as I’m not interested or cold, but that’s just something that I find is my typical pattern, I guess, and then at risk youth, vulnerable families where there is living in poverty or living in very uncertain conditions and stressful life context, so there are so many things that can interfere or post problems. Families become resilient over time though. This is a very, very important thing that you can only, after two years post-event, can discuss, oh, boy, thank God we’re here to talk about it. I remember you, after your dad passing away, having to shut down your operations in Florida and situating or deciding whether to bring your mom here, that was a major change. You had to decide it on a dime, and here you are lived and talked about it and feel kind of you are back to even [inaudible] emotional, even [inaudible] sometimes. Challenges that a family faces and the family’s approach to challenging situations determines how it will turn out for both of them, the individual members and the family as a unit. While adversities are disruptive, the how of the family management is really the key, and are they focused on developing coping strategies or are they just so drowning in the stress of it all that they are not thinking, they are just reacting? And that can be a huge problem.

Producer: Well, as I have long thought about resiliency, to me, it’s always been framed from an individual context, right? I was reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin, you pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of an idea. It’s always been about resilient individuals, not resilient families. This is a new way for me to be thinking about that, so this has been an intriguing, eye-opening way to kind of understand this concept. If it’s a resilient family, is it just made up a bunch of resilient people?

Sucheta: That so interesting. I also, I’m a big fan of Benjamin Franklin and I have quoted his work in many, many podcasts. I find that this is a very much American psychology which has kind of seeped into individual nerve, I guess, or it’s in our veins to think that you put the effort, you stand tall, you bring yourself back, you bring your functioning back, so the burden or the onus is perceived to be on the individual, but it’s far from the truth. The last few decades of research and family resilience, the researchers are recommending us to think about the group interdependence, that means we need people and we must depend on people, and we do depend on people, whether those people are accountable or not, or whether we are allowed to count on them or not, we are depending, and those, in fact to find the right kind of people do a better job and those who don’t have some outlet or another concept which I love the charismatic adult. Children who had a charismatic adult doing hardship tended to do better. So, the relational aspect of resilience, actually finding mutual support and interdependence between the couples, for example, or copartners, coparents, siblings even if particularly, it’s a large family of the older sibling apparently becomes the surrogate mother or father, and then a caregiving team, like we know I worked with nursing homes and with brain injury rehab where the caregiving team becomes a large family unit supporting the families as well as the individual who’s going through the trauma, and the kinship network, and one pseudo-kinship network that we have now in our lives is the social media, so we have to be really careful about perceiving that to be true or not true social support network.

Producer: Well, I can vouch for the caregivers almost becoming part of the family, those that are currently caring for my mother who I’m spending a lot of time with on FaceTime, they almost feel like family, so I kind of get that. When it comes to crisis, is there a typical pattern as to how families respond to crises and should we be looking for some sort of a theme when we think about family resilience?

Sucheta: Such a good question. Family resiliency networks and states that family resiliency is the family’s ability to cultivate strengths to positively meet the challenges of life. What I love there is cultivating strength and cultivating strength is actually skill-based development of family unit’s personality or determining your collective characteristics that can help. So again, quoting Dr. Froma Walsh and her work, she has identified nine processes that seem to somehow have incredible indicators of family capacity to cope effectively and they can be categorized into three large buckets. One is beliefs, second is organization, and third is communication, so for example, talking about beliefs, this means what the family’s ethos? What is the cultural norm? So, for me, for example, I always raised my children, my husband and I, we call ourselves Indian family. We have multi-generational living as a part of the norm, we believe in like [inaudible] I grew up [inaudible], Todd, which is called one sesame seed must be shared among seven. This idea that the resources are not to be hogged by one person, everybody gets equal, but however small it is must be shared, so it’s so cute, I’ll give you another quick example. This is not example of resilience but just something, characteristics of my family, I guess. So, during COVID, as people were stacking toilet paper and water bottles for water, we never did that. We just said no, if we run out of toilet paper, we will go for Indian alternatives, as we call them, but typically, I love to cook so I don’t have a lot of things stored in my freezer, so I kind of was a little worried that may be this is real and we should store some food, so I sent my husband to get some pizza, cauliflower pizza, and so he goes to the store and he finds there are four cauliflower pizzas left in the freezer section, so he calls me and says, “How many do you need?” I said, “I don’t know but why don’t you get all four of them?” He says, “Do you really need them?” I said, “No, maybe get two of them.” He says, “Do you really need them?” I said, “Fine, just get one.” So, he came back with one, so my husband was so sweet. He says, “What if some other family was also vegan, vegetarian and they can’t eat regular pizza? I want to leave some.” That’s a really sweet way of thinking, so in crisis, to think in a speedway requires some belief system that helps you come on track.

Producer: Well, hearing about what your husband did with those pizzas, now that you are getting into the solutions of how families can be resilient, you are going to teach us how we can actually thrive, and I’ve heard you talk about the idea of that you have to thrive with grace, that’s how I would define your husband’s action.

Sucheta: That’s great and just to finish up from Walsh’s nine tracks that she mentions, belief system is like three buckets, I was mentioning, belief system is one, organization is second and communication, so yeah, it’s in one of the ways to come around to the other side is through having a strong belief system or positive outlook, or spirituality, having belief that everybody’s equal and we must look out for the welfare of the others, that’s the kind of belief system that can help crises to come to the other side with grace.

Just a second point about that was organization, so since family is a unit, a structure, that if it creates mutual supporting actions and connectedness, that seems to have an incredible impact, and how to stay connected is what we will get into pretty quickly, and those families that have stability yet [inaudible] tend to do better, and it’s so interesting to me, those families that have networks, not just have a connectedness to some families, but community resources or networks such as their church organizations, or networks that they regularly participate in, they seem to do better, and last the communication which is if communication is open, that means willingness to talk about your emotions clear, that means not laden with these judgmental or have the, brutal kind of punitive conversations, then that seems to have a positive impact as well on a family’s capacity to cope and bounce back.

And one more, the characters think about the communication style is that really having a good way to temper emotions and when presenting opinions, are they expressed freely so every member has equal opportunity to say what’s on their mind? And they don’t run into any risk of being judged [inaudible] poor stupid, or how dare you say that? So, there is some kind of free democratic communication, if I may say so, and finally, family members said to have incredible empathy and resourcefulness within psychological resourcefulness. So, to answer your question about grace, the dictionary defines grace as simple elegance or refinement of movement, and a more religious reference, for example in Christianity, defines grace as the free and unlimited favor of God is manifested in the salvation of sinners and the [inaudible] of blessings, so what I love, that unmerited favor, so whether you believe in God or not, there’s no reason why I was able to come across for remaining pizzas when every aisle was wiped clean, right? So, that’s grace, that means I don’t know why this favor is waiting for me but I was able to. So, kind of having that recognition that grace is bestowed upon you can lead to that perspective building and developing, and sharpening sense of purpose, and sense of having a strong belief system that governs the family, that can be really, really helpful.

The other thing to think about, correct jurisdiction of families that do survive, apparently, well for efficiency were not the factors that seem to matter in defining or predicting who will be a resilient family unit. In fact, it was determined by three important elements. One was unity, a sense of togetherness, ways that the families were tied together, that seemed to matter, and second thing was creativity and openness with which people looked at their life’s problems and say, aha, this is a problem I can solve! That helped. And then, that deep sense of hope, those who carried the incredible sense of icy hope for myself, I can offer hope, and hope doesn’t mean removing the problem. Hope actually just means being able to manage the problem with some sort of assurance that it’s going to be okay, and that seemed to really matter, so the grace in these situations is to have that perspective that it’s going to all work out. It may not be the same, but it’s going to work out.

Producer: Yeah, and it’s been interesting to see friends of mine who when this all started, they were all full of hope and figure, and all right, we will ride the storm together but been asked this thing has dragged on, you’re starting to see some of the tensions built up, but then there’s others that you see the pricing nation. I mean, so I’m beginning to now look back at those observations through a different lens. This person is resilient, that person isn’t, or the family.

Sucheta: Yeah, and so that’s what brings me to the concept of scale, so as we come to the end, think about the goal of us as a family work each family unit’s job or aspirations should be how can we develop skills? And so, skills of resiliency, according to Ben Silman, he says that children and adults will learn the values and skills of resiliency, cope with stress, manage relationships, and contribute to others’ lives more consistently than those without such strengths, so this is such a jampacked sentence there. I feel what it’s saying is that it’s not just having the quick wit to put the mask on yourself but also look around and find those who need a mask but can’t reach it, using the airplane analogy here, and so some of the themes that are emerging or how can families mutually support themselves, how can they be consistent in spite of all this chaos, how can they care and express or develop communication of caring and empathy, how can the activate spirituality or a larger purpose and meaning, and finally, how can they build or activate, or kind of come into focus or bring into focus a sense of community consciousness? And those things that seem to really, really help.

So, the first thing, as I was mentioning, [inaudible] our attitude and we can say am I an optimistic person? Am I a pessimistic person? Now, being a pessimist or realist is not so much of a bad thing. It is just that can influence your communication. A realist, in fact can assist the accuracy of the situation far better than an optimist, but what we want to see is a balance, so again, to quote Walsh, she says master the art of the possible. That means understand the things you can’t change, and then work on things that can change, that was them quote that we often hear, and then in fact, in terms of skill building, we need practice and the practice is to re-create a stinking framework, so I hate to give people an assignment but one of the things that we need to think about is simple modification in daily life people can make is just kind of hand back a little bit and instead of reacting, reflect a little bit more. Maybe you don’t have all the skills that once but at least one skill that you can develop is to say give me a minute, let me get back to you or I’m in the middle of this, do you mind if I answered that in a minute? Even saying that, was talking to some families that I support and help and one mother said to me, I said, “Why are you not working on your own stuff and let children do their own stuff?” She said, “I just can’t do anything. I just can’t do it when they are around.” So, it’s really hard if they are around and you can’t to function, then you are creating an unreasonable expectation for your family that every person should have some individual time and maybe this is not the time where you will be gifted that, so kind of adjusting your attitude is really, really helpful.

Producer: Well, what came to my mind hearing you just now is the classic case of you can only do something with the things you can actually control. If you try to influence the entire global pandemic and all of its repercussions, you’re going to go mad, so what else can folks do to get through?

Sucheta: Well, here’s another thing, I don’t if you have done this with your wife but I have actually tried, when my son got home, both my sons got home, the five of us sat down, we didn’t do it informal ways, but we wanted to kind of understand what the purpose is, what’s going to be the purpose of the next two months, like what do we want to accomplish? Does this is such a different moment in my life because both my children have left the nest and they have returned, and every time they have returned, they always had a return ticket, so they were so guaranteed that I’m not going to be in the clause of my parent and we were also expecting to go back to this empty-nesters lifestyle, but now, one of my son’s job is on hold until the city of New York opens another sons project in Tanzania is on hold because he can’t continue to support online, so while that’s the case which has brought this situation of not knowing, so A, not knowing, establish some sense of common purpose and neutralize goals. A few things that we have done is we want to have dinners, and we set up days that we want to have dinners together. Does everybody is at home, we decided, are we going to eat together lunch or are we not going to eat? I think eating together is quite a bit of commitment, and I like to say that because even though I love my family, I cannot spend that much time if I have back-to-back meetings, right? One of the things, you remember the Carrie Underwood, America’s got talent or American Idol winner, there was a song, Jesus Take the Wheel, you remember that song? I have heard people say that to keep my sanity, I talked to God, that helps me through my rough days, to kind of having your own mechanisms and kind of exploring those mechanisms for yourself before imposing those mechanisms, and I will suggest the parents to really hang back and not become these advisors to their children, constantly telling them what to do to cope better. Coping better doesn’t improve by telling people to cope better. It’s a very important lesson and that brings me to this idea of expanded boundaries. That means it really planting yourself in the new environment in a way such that you create some sense of boundaries, some sense of what are you going to carry from previous habits, previous lifestyle, and what are you going to perform as a new set of habits, but creating that structure really can help.

Producer: It also sounds to me though that we still have to improve our ability to communicate with each other. I mean, that’s always been important, but particularly now when you’re in a stressful situation, yeah?

Sucheta: Touché. I think the last thing I will offer people as this idea of effective communication, and you know I am a speech and language pathologist, optimization expert if I may say so myself, one of the things that I have found incredibly difficult for people is to engage in assertive communication, so there are four types of communication. You have passive communication, not responding, just becoming silent. Second is aggressive communication, attacking, “No, I didn’t say that,” “No, I didn’t do it,” “Oh, I thought you were going to do it.” Just confrontational, in your face, oppositional, just challenging. Third communication is passive aggressive. Huffing and puffing. My brothers and I very fondly remember this. My mother, when we were teenagers would go from one room to another murmuring to herself, “I don’t know what I have done to deserve these kids.” I remember this so distinctly, and my brothers and I used to look at each other and like, “What is going on?” She would never say directly what we were doing wrong but the angst she felt, because we were not cooperating or not following instructions, so that’s passive aggressive communication, it’s not really expressing, and your aggression is kind of smothered with language of love. Could you please take the dog out? You know, your mommy needs your help. That’s very manipulative, and in the last assertive is to say I am in a meeting, I hope it’s okay with you that you feed the dog, but if you can’t, I’m sure I can take care of it at 2 o’clock. Now, what you doing these are clearly describing your situation, you are clearly defining your expectation and you are clearly setting and end solution if the corporation is not there, and so this is something that really can help families to be effective in heightening their communication. A few things that we can do which is now rampant, Consume meals, like cooking together for sharing family stories, kind of taking your children for a walk and telling stories are finding out about neighbors and telling relationship with neighbors, just kind of expressing an external eyes in your thinking is really, really helpful ways of communicating, and lastly, celebrating choice together. It’s not an issue or problem solving but it is having fun as you are solving problems, and celebrating her own capacities to think and bounce back, and having a really lighthearted attitude towards mistakes, so in closing, I will say, one of the most amazing ways families can maintain their sense of oneness and the amount of pressure is unsurmountable is to shift your perspective about the half glass full attitude, a way to review adversity in a positive light, rather than getting run down by obstacles, find ways to be transformed and instill a sense of hope and optimism that this will change, just like happiness as I mentioned, bad situations also don’t stay forever, and that’s my message for everybody, and I’m wishing everybody the best to find means and resources within and tapping into the word and that is there for us, creating and expanding social capital so we can be a resilient family together.

Producer: On behalf of all of us, I’m grateful to your help and guidance as we all try to become more resilient family, so thank you for all of that information.

All right, that’s all the time we have for today. If you know of someone who might benefit from listening to today’s conversation, we would be most grateful if you would kindly forward it directly to them. Perhaps some of your friends who are in some tricky family situations at this time.

All right, so on behalf of our host, Sucheta Kamath and all of us at the EXQ, thanks for listening and we look forward to seeing you again right here next week on Full PreFrontal.