There is a new buzzword in the world of education, and its a real eye roller.
The word is “grit” and it means the ability to handle difficulty; to persevere, to deal with opposition. It’s actually a fabulous idea, and one that a whole lot of parents need to learn. But I guess its an eye roller because so many parents of my generation already know this stuff.
Anyway, the idea of giving a child “grit” means that as adults we step back and let the kids struggle a bit. Its the idea that unless the child has worked hard and struggled at least a little, his success won’t feel like anything much.
I was a teacher for a long time. I raised three kids. I grew up in a family of six kids with two busy, working parents. I know about grit.
I know that too many children are rescued by well meaning parents when their social lives run into conflict. I know that too many kids are celebrated when they haven’t actually achieved their goals. I know that stressed out families try to shield their children from any anxiety or struggle, in a misguided belief that those are dangerous emotions.
But I also know that when I was a child, I didn’t feel particularly excited to get good grades in reading or writing. Ho, hum. I could ace that stuff with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back. But I was thrilled to get a C plus in chemistry, because THAT was some serious crap.
Years ago my youngest son, Tim, was learning to play hockey. Early in his skating life, he came across a mean spirited, nasty coach. I remember that I picked my little boy up from practice one night. On the way home, I noticed that my 9 year old was in tears in the back seat. When I pressed him, he told me that his coach had called him a “baby” because his wrist shot was so weak. I was outraged, of course. My very best Mamma Bear self reared up to defend my cub. But he was much smarter than I was. When I expressed my outrage and told my boy that I planned to talk to the idiot coach, he said, “Don’t, Mommy. Just let me think bad words about him in my head. Don’t talk to him.”
So I didn’t.
A few days later, my Tim came home from school, put on his skates and his hockey gloves and headed out to our backyard rink. I didn’t know exactly what he was doing, but I kept peeking out the window at him as the afternoon wore on. Finally, just at dark, he came in the front door. Throwing down his gloves, my sweet little boy looked up at me and said, “There! Now I have a damned wrist shot.”
The coach never teased him again. Grit.
Now I am taking care of my sweet baby Ellie. She is a serene, happy little thing. Up until now, she has rarely cried.
But she has suddenly hit a point in her life when she desperately wants to MOVE! She can scoot on her butt and turn herself around. She can roll over and back again. But she can’t quite get herself propelled forward to reach her toys. She can’t yet pull herself up.
So I sit with her on the floor every day. I watch her reach for the stacking cups, and pick them up. I watch as one rolls away and I watch her struggle to stretch herself out to pull it back. She grimaces, she groans. Sometimes she squeezes her eyes shut, shakes her fists and howls.
I sit beside her. I tell her “Keep going.” I smile and I nod. I say, “Ellie, you can do it!”
Sometimes she fails. But sometimes she manages to lean herself forward so far that she is almost on her knees, and she hooks one determined finger around that errant cup and she pulls it back and picks it up. And then I breathe a huge sigh, and I cheer her on. “You did it, honey! You got it!”
Grit. I hope that I am giving her a sense that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to accomplish. I hope that I am giving her, even at this tender age, the realization that she doesn’t need Nonni to do what she wants; she can do it all by herself.
I hope that I am giving her grit.