My sister and I had a van FULL of kids, hers, mine and our brothers’, parked in my grandmother’s driveway.
Over the years it had gotten progressively harder for me to say goodbye to my grandmother. Each year I wondered if this would be the last time I’d see her.
This year she was 99, standing in front of her cottage, coming out to watch our precious cargo get settled into the rented van. She stood there — old but not fragile — soft, but also solid as a tree. The most beautiful woman in the world.
I approached her, her arms wide open — mine open to meet her — oh Granny, thank you for everything… this is goodbye until next summer. Tears welling in our eyes. A hug that I never wanted to end.
But then the clammering in the car called to me, reminding me of the long journey ahead from Maine to the ferry in New London Connecticut to finally Long Island.
We released each other, I scrambled into the driver’s seat, feeling relief in the obvious distraction of all these kids needing me. The clear responsibility in front of me served to keep me moving.
Backing out of her short driveway, I rolled down the windows and we all cheered Bye Granny. She raised her arm in a fist and shouted, “COURAGE!”
Pulling away, I was stunned, my breath hard to catch… How did she always know exactly what to say? … Courage!?
That one word said it all in that moment. On one level my sister and I would need obvious courage to face the ten hour drive ahead with the car full of excited and soon-to-be-exhausted kids.
But Granny also knew that I’d need courage to leave her. And that she’d need courage to say goodbye to this car teaming with life, love and respect for her.
That realization pierced my heart and took my breath away.
She might also have meant the courage she mustered everyday being an ancient person in a world that valued the shiny and new. The courage to face the day without all of her many dear friends who’d died over the last 10 years. The courage to face each day with deep curiosity, interest in and love for her family and the broader community whom admired and loved her.
I haven’t spent much of my life considering courage in personal terms. I reserve it as a label for those serving in war, putting out fires, or responding to other of life’s emergencies.
But then there’s my sage Grandmother declaring what is also real: the everyday ways we face life with courage or that life requires courage of us.
I’ll never forget when my first son was born. Holding the warmth and deliciousness of him in my arms only hours after he arrived, I was in awe.
What had I gotten myself into? Looking down at him, I knew that my life would never be the same. And not in the over-used cliche way, but in the most substantial way. The way most parents — if they’re lucky — come to understand their new responsibilities.
My life was no longer about me. I now had the impossible task of keeping another human safe at every turn. How could I bear the pain of him being hurt, physically or otherwise? He was the most precious person and it would be my job to keep him safe. I knew I’d jump in front of a bus, no second thoughts, to protect this new being in my arms.
At the time, I didn’t connect this with courage. But now, jumping in front of a bus sounds like that huge kind of courage reserved for heros.
Of course, we can’t sustain the level of awareness I had that day in the hospital, but it’s still there — just under the surface — fear mixed with courage. And it’s what gets us through everyday of our parenting journey.
What if we claimed this courage, not in a braggadocious way, but rather as a deep knowing that life’s most meaningful choices take courage?
I’m curious if and how this would change my feeling of agency, of possibility for myself as a parent.
Rather than just rolling out of the driveway, pushing down the fragility that is life, we instead back up and hear “courage” for what’s at hand. We listen to a child’s fear and loneliness. We stay present with a friend as they describe their teenage son spinning out of control. We visit with a drug addicted mom in the hospital as she holds her newborn. Or we accompany a friend to her chemo appointment.
I’m grateful, so grateful that my grandmother declared “courage” that day even though the naming of it hurt.
Courage is our action amidst a poignant awareness of the fragility of life.
Maybe you’ve read these stories or perhaps bought a copy of the book yourself. Or maybe, because it’s spring and you can barely manage the onslaught of graduations, science fair projects and final exams, you’ve been in a media blackout. Either way, I have good news: this post will explain what ‘grit’ means and why it matters to you as a parent.
Angela and I in San Francisco, May 2016
Full disclosure: Dr. Duckworth is a friend and former colleague of mine, so I’m not new to the topic of grit, nor am I fully objective about Angela. But here’s the thing about Angela: besides winning aMacArthur ‘genius’ grant and working as psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, she’s also the mom of two middle school girls.
And I know from a recent conversation with Angela that she’s just as humbled by the challenges of parenting as we are, despite a best-selling book and her professional success.
Here’s my attempt to boil down her brilliant book into one page…
What does ‘grit’ mean?
Dr. Duckworth (hereafter to be described as Angela) defines ‘grit’ as a combination of passion, effort, and persistence applied toward a goal over a prolonged period of time.
Why does grit matter?
According to Angela’s extensive research, grit appears to be a strong predictor of life-long success and happiness — perhaps more so than innate talent or IQ. “Our potential is one thing,” she writes. “What we do with it is quite another.”
As a parent, I appreciate this definition because it breaks down the ‘talent myth’ that seems to dominate our popular understanding of why people are able to accomplish their goals. Whether it’s looking at athletes, artists, or even entrepreneurs, stories of victories and accomplishments are usually told as if these winners were born with a particular gift that made their dominance inevitable .
What’s different about grit?
Angela’s explanation of grit provides another narrative for understanding these stories, too. One that examines the persistence that these champions applied towards their goals, their ability to not give up even in the face of failure, and the specific, difficult and prolonged practice they applied to the craft/sport/skill they were trying to improve.
Here in the Bay Area, Steph Curry is the most famous example of an athlete who wasn’t considered to have much potential as a youngster, but who’s risen to the top of the game through his determination, endless practice, and dedication.
So how can we find our passion (or help our kids find theirs)?
Never discount the power of the chart to motivate kids to reach a goal- especially charts they make themselves (note that goal has yet to be met but working on it!)
At least where I live (Palo Alto, California, U.S.A.), passion is the newest element that kids are supposed to add to their dazzling college resumes. It’s not enough to have great grades and do varsity sports, now teens are supposed to also have a “passion,” whether it’s global warming or raising foster dogs.
That’s why I loved the part of Angela’s book where she explains in detail what it means to have a passion and explores exactly how people stumble upon the “thing” that they end up pursuing with so much grit.
Angela has some experience with trying to find a passion because she spent time as a neurology grad student, management consultant, high school teacher, and tech COO before realizing that her true path lay in the study of psychology (she entered the PhD program at Penn when she was pregnant with her first daughter).
Why it’s hard to find a passion
Some people may realize like a bolt of lightening that they want to study sharks or cure childhood obesity, but most of us won’t have the luxury of this sort of epiphany.
We’re more likely to figure out what we love through multiple exposures and prolonged engagement with something that we might ‘sort of’ like or be ‘kind of’ interested in.
In fact, it may take longer than you’d imagine before you realize what it is that you must pursue.
The reason it takes so long is because of how our brains work.
When people are bored, they know right away. Researchers can ask people if they’re bored when doing a task and they will be very clear if the answer is yes.
It’s much harder to ascertain if a person is truly interested in a task.
When researchers ask people, “Are you interested in what you’re doing?” the answer is often, “Not really.” But these same people will manifest behavior that looks a lot like interest — continuing to do the task, not wanting to break away from it, etc.
It takes lots of exposure to something for kids to develop an interest in it…
For parents, this means that we have to keep exposing our kids — over and over again — to activities, ideas, and pursuits that they may not express a ton of interest in.
Sounds hard, right? Likely it’s a process we’re all familiar with at the dinner table. You’re tempted to never make broccoli again after your kids reject it a few times. But you know their tastes keep changing and experts recommend that you bring back foods that were previously rejected or your kids will eat nothing but white rice for the rest of their lives.
So when it comes to interests and passions, it’s most beneficial to our kids if we give them multiple exposures to a variety of different pursuits … that we not have a fixed mindset about what may interest them as they grow and change.
So if kids try lots of things and quit, what then?
This photo links to Angela’s TED Talk
Angela has a rule in her house — never quit on a rainy day. In other words, never quit because of having to play in bad weather or striking out, or experiencing some other adverse situation.
Instead, encourage your kids to get through the season and to not quit until there’s a natural stopping place (could be the last session you paid for, etc.)
What if kids have a passion for something that you find less than inspiring?
From Minecraft to marijuana legalization, kids can get fixated on pursuing interests that feel less than ideal. So what to do?
That’s a tough one and Angela has not addressed it directly. But she does have another rule in her house I thought was a good: everyone has to do one ‘hard thing.’
On CBS news she said, choosing the ‘hard thing’ is not an open-ended question — it’s multiple choice.
While her teen girls might be passionate about Instagram, Angela is clear that they can’t choose that as their ‘hard thing.’ Instead, it has to be a sport or musical instrument.
Sports or musical instruments may not be right for your family, but the idea is to encourage your kids to pick something they have enough interest in to pursue and get them to stick with it long enough to make progress.
Can grit be taught or is it just a trait you’re born with?
There’s a lot of debate about this question. Angela gives some ideas for how to ‘grow grit’ but they are more anecdotal, perhaps because the research here is a bit less clear.
I have two girls and one is definitely more naturally gritty in the way Angela defines it. She sets goals and tends to stick to them, and loves to practice and get better — she’s inspired to improve (flute and soccer are her main areas of focus).
My other daughter has lots of big ideas, but often abandons her plans before they’re fully realized, and isn’t particularly driven to practice. So my tiny data set would lead me to the conclusion that there is some innate element to grit.
While you can’t teach your kids to have innate drive, by setting clear expectations around commitment and practice, you increase the likelihood that they’ll experience the relationship between effort, time and progress.
My daughter worked for a year to over come her fear of running hurtles.
My less gritty daughter’s found a track program that she loves. She’s kept running for several years. She’s motivated to train with her team; and while she doesn’t do much practice on her own, she’s made noticeable improvement. The findings in Grit support the idea that sustained practice is best done with a coach — and that it’s tough to independently figure out where and how to improve.
I have no idea if my girls will pursue these interests for their whole lives, but I’m trying to encourage them to keep going long enough to feel competent, as I do believe competence builds confidence. And you can’t get to competence without putting in the time.
One big thing that ‘gritty’ people have: purpose
And finally, one of the most compelling parts of Angela’s exploration of grit is the connection she makes to purpose.
From her many conversations with gritty people, she discovered that beyond perseverance, persistence, and prolonged practice, they all shared a belief that what they do is important, valuable or makes a difference in the world in some way.
This was true for musicians, athletes, business people, and even one sanitation worker she interviewed. And she has some great tips for trying to find purpose. (Read the book!)
So now you’re wondering…how gritty are you?
You can take the‘grit scale’ and find out how you rank on Angela’s assessment.
I’m in the mid range in terms of grit — I bounce around from interest to interest and have never had a laser focus on one thing. It’s a good personality for a writer! But reading Angela’s book gave me new inspiration to look hard at the things I dabble in and try and commit more deeply so I can continue to grow and learn. Even an old dog can get gritty…or so I’d like to believe!
Are you getting gritty with your kids? Or skeptical that grit is yet another parenting fad? Post a comment and let us know!
Victoria is the founder of Palo Alto Pulse, a website that shines a light on the people and ideas that make Palo Alto such a cool place to live. She is also a senior contributing writer for the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund in San Francisco, where she supports the work of KIPP charter schools and other innovative educational organizations. Victoria lives in Palo Alto with her two teenage daughters, her husband and, the grittiest member of her family, her dog Abby.
It just slipped out. I didn’t mean to say in front of the 25 parents who’d come to learn strategies to solve sibling conflict. There’s something about it that just didn’t sound right. Actually it sounded like the antithesis to everything out there selling like hotcakes in the world of public opinion parenting.
I said it. “Positive Discipline (PD) is lazy parenting.”
While that’s not exactly accurate, it can feel effortless when you’re in the PD Zone compared to the prevailing helicopter/effortful parenting mode.
Here’s what I see with parents I work with and what I’ve experienced firsthand…
You’re working so hard to parent your child in a way that will encourage them to grow into loving, responsible, contributing members of society. Let’s add a cherry or two on top and throw in hard working, honest, happy, conscious of the world around them, yada yada the list goes on.
Looking at it straight on, it’s freaking intimidating.
No wonder you’re stressed about the hitting, lying, excluding, whining, complaining, isolating, arguing and bad attituding that’s happening today.
Who has the luxury to be lazy when vigilance is required to produce the qualities you know are so important for your child’s success?
What’s clear is that while control might feel necessary, and to some degree satisfying, in the moment, control, as a parenting style doesn’t invite the long term character traits you desire.
In short, control creates hollow results. When you do it all for your child (decide it all, manage it all, enforce it all), you inadvertently rob your kids of the opportunity to practice valuable life skills that they can only learn by doing.
With ‘good character’ as the destination, your child must travel through mistake-ville which inevitably leads to growth-town. They need to learn how to solve problems and think critically about the world around them in order to become who you want them to be. And that takes practice.
I stand behind what I said. [tweetthis]Positive Discipline can feel downright relaxing at times – – – lazy even. And that’s a good thing![/tweetthis]
Here are three real life examples, featuring a variety of ages, followed by the how-to tips for effective lazy parenting.
Example #1 from Kelly:
While enrolled in my spring sibling series, Kelly sent me this email after our first session.
These pictures were taken on Father’s Day right after I used “put in same boat” technique & validation. The boys were fighting over the chair (we only had one) and I said, “hmm, one chair and two boys?”... Then Emmett had a solution. Xo
“hmm, one chair and two boys?”… elegant indeed. No refereeing or setting a timer to make sure it was fair, just a simple, observing, genuinely curious question.
Kelly’s story reminds me that when you don’t take sides, fix, solve, control — children have the space to use their own intelligence to figure things out and come up with their own, often elegant solutions.
That said, if your children are accustomed to you fixing, solving, refereeing, it will take training, practice, and time for them to reach for their own intelligence when faced with a problem.
Kelly’s tool of choice in this example was to ask a curiosity question (being genuinely curious about what solution they would come up with!) while treating kids the same (in PD lingo we call this putting them in the same boat… or in this case chair!)
Example #2 from Rochelle:
I have long been critical of parents who swoop in to solve their kids’ social problems, whether they be in school or on the athletic field. But when it comes to homework, I was clearly piloting this ‘chopper.’ Despite the fact that my son was just two years away from going off to college, I was still checking the online homework program for assignments and grades on a daily basis and harping at him about the status and quality of his work.
Both of us were miserable: my son blamed me if he missed an assignment and I felt angry because he wasn’t taking responsibility for his own work. But why should he? How could he, when I was always looking over his shoulder?
This year my husband and I decided we would take a different approach, we’d let our son be the master of his own destiny, free to make his own mistakes.
It was scary; he’s a junior in high school and there’s a lot of pressure on him to do well in school. While we worried that our messy, disorganized son, would lose important papers and forget about tests or quizes, we have been more than pleasantly surprised. He has risen to the occasion.
When he forgot to do an AP assignment, he took responsibility for his inaction, contacted the teacher and asked for an extension. It was the first time I could genuinely say I hoped she would be supportive and honor his request. He’s learning to take responsibility, we’re learning to let go and let him succeed (or fail) on his own, and our relationship is so much stronger for it.
Rochelle’s tool: having faith in her son period and showing faith in him by giving him the opportunity to make mistakes and then learn from his mistakes. Rochelle is taking the long range view, knowing the lessons he will learn outweigh the in-the-moment forgotten assignments, etc.
Example # 3 from Eric:
Eric emailed me this success story while he was enrolled in my series:
Last week on my way home from work, my wife Stephanie sent me a text that our daughter Grace (5) was being a handful, was in a horrible mood, and that Stephanie had had it with her.
When I got home, I walked into the house and went straight to Grace and asked her for a hug. At first she turned her back and crossed her arms, and said no. I then decided to ask her one more time and after a 5 second pause, she turned and gave me a big hug.
Steph said it was like someone flipped a switch on Grace. Grace went from being in the worst mood to acting as if she was having the best day ever.
It’s amazing to see the kind of impact and dynamics that something as simple as asking for a hug can have on a 5 year old. Honestly, before taking your class, I probably would have come home and punished Grace for misbehaving and the entire afternoon would have been ruined for the entire family.
Eric’s tool: Asking for a hug (note this does NOT mean asking your child, “do YOU need a hug?” You spark your child’s sense of significance when you ASK them for a hug signalling that your child makes a difference to you — they’re giving you a hug has an impact.) Pretty easy.
Warning: Don’t try letting go of control once and give up when the results don’t look exactly as you’d hoped. Children need to adjust to your new behavior — they’ll test and maybe test some more until they can trust your change is enduring.
What does lazy parenting require from us?
Flexibility – if you’re not dictating and controlling the outcome, you need to be open to a different outcome.
Patience – when children are figuring it out they’re bound to make mistakes, a mess, etc. Beam out to remember the bigger picture — long term character building and ahhhh lazy parenting!
Humility – finding that place inside that accepts your limits – you might not have the answer, and what a relief that you don’t have to solve every problem.
Faith in your kids — messy faith. Their solution may not look good and the neighbors could see or hear a mess. Your belief in them, regardless of what their solution looks like, will go a long way to build their problem-solving muscles.
What Kelly, Rochelle and Eric demonstrated seemed pretty easy and parenting can be— AT TIMES — when we’ve established a relationship of trust. Lazy, or if it makes you feel better, call it ‘conscious effortless parenting’ is possible, feels awesome, and can be yours!.
I want that for you!
Share your experience of lazy parenting in the comments below. Don’t be shy.
Want to read more about this topic? Here’re some good posts:
Do you often feel CHALLENGED by your child? You’re not alone. If you’re like me, you’ve got a kid who will argue with or defy you at every turn. Can you say, “power struggle”?
Here’s the twist – I’ve grown to cherish this quality in my son, E. – he’s inspired me to teach Positive Discipline and grow in ways I never imagined.
In my last post I wrote about a time when I lost it with him.
Today, I want to introduce a powerful tool that will give you concrete, helpful responses to your child’s misbehavior based on… drum roll please – how YOU feel.
The end result? A child who’ll more likely cooperate, contribute, and act like a leader in the best sense.
Here’s my before-and-after story to illustrate how using this tool, and identifying my feelings, gave me the opportunity to have an AFTER to write home about!
I was cooking dinner one afternoon. My 12-year-old son was playing the piano in the other room. From the kitchen I could hear 8-year-old E.(enter our ‘hero’) join his brother at the piano and begin running his forearm up and down the keys, causing a cacophony.
My jaw clenched. I burst onto the scene and yelled at him, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! LEAVE YOUR BROTHER ALONE! GO UP TO YOUR ROOM RIGHT NOW!”
Not my most inspired parenting moment but one I think many parents can relate to.
Later, I asked myself these questions:
What did my son learn from this interaction? “Mom is crazy, Mom is mean,” etc.
Do we feel harmonious and connected? No. I’m angry. He’s likely feeling indignant, hurt or both.
Now’s my chance to use that tool I mentioned earlier.
Don’t let this chart intimidate you! I use it to give me an idea of how to respond based on HOW I FEEL when E. bangs on the piano. Yes, it sounds counter-intuitive, but observe how it WORKS….
In my noisy example I’m feeling CHALLENGED. Based on the chart (see second row – misguided power), my son believes “I count or belong only when I’m boss, in control, or proving no one can boss me.” This rings true to me… how about for you?
Here’s what happens when I use the suggestion in the final column.
Piano cacophony starts: I say calmly, “E., I could use your help here in the kitchen. What do you think about using this sharp knife to chop these carrots for the soup?”
His eyes light up, and before I know it, we‘re working together, happily making dinner.
Giving E. work and/or responsibility is often right on the money when I start to feel provoked by him. This requires me to pause and have the presence of mind to respond rather than having my knee-jerk reaction.
Don’t try to memorize the chart. It’s simply a tool for guiding new responses based on how YOU feel when your child misbehaves. Hang it on your fridge or bathroom mirror so you can refer to it easily.
Positive Discipline isn’t about doing everything just right for your kids.
It’s more about the power of thinking ahead and the awareness that my child’s misbehavior is an opportunity to teach him what I value most – in this example: patience, creativity, and that the work it takes to create a yummy meal can be fun.
Utilize the chart and one day, when the scene is set for that familiar conflict, you’ll respond (instead of react), and out of the blue, experience the wonder of your child’s generous cooperation.
P.S. Carefully place a sharp knife into your toolkit and… magic!
Do you have an on-going dynamic with your child where you could see using this tool? How?
What’s the difference for you when you respond rather than react to your child or for that matter, anything in your life?
Share your thoughts below! It’s encouraging to know we’re not alone in this parenting journey!
While I still offer parent coaching, I’m transitioning the focus of my work to holding writing circles. The circle offers the space for us to more deeply know and connect to our inner wisdom.