The other day at school pickup, my tow-headed daughter shuffled down the sidewalk toward me, her big pink backpack dwarfing her small frame. As she drew closer, I knew something was wrong. Even though her face was mostly covered by her mask and her blonde hair, her eyes were glassy and brimming with tears.
“Hey hon, what’s wrong?” I said as I gave her a quick hug.
She promptly burst into loud, unvarnished sobs. “I don’t want to go to kindergarten anymore!” she wailed.
I was a tad embarrassed by her volume, and the other parents at pickup were staring. I went into containment mode. “Honey, let’s get you buckled in the car and I’ll get you a snack and we can talk about it,” I attempted to soothe.
Hot tears raced down her cheeks as she crawled into our van. The crying didn’t abate in the slightest. “I want to QUIT! I want to go back to PRESCHOOL!” she demanded furiously.
“That surprises me! I thought you liked kindergarten. What makes you say that?” I asked.
There was a lot of hiccuping, snuffling, and more tears and she struggled to get the painful truth out. “I… I can’t… draw the letter S!” She looked up at me, blotchy face all despair and vulnerability. “In preschool, we don’t have to write!”
“Mama, I just want to quit!”
This was an important moment. I knew it. I went to school for teaching, and I’m married to a teacher. Most of the work we both do in our life and ministry centers on serving kids and their families. We know what you are “supposed to” do when this situation arises, when a kid is struggling to learn a new skill and they want to give up. How many books had I read about perseverance? The importance of grit, and how to teach it to children?
But you know what? When I looked into my beloved girl’s face, saw her anguish and fear, you know what I wanted to let her do?
I wanted to throw my book-smart theories out the window.
I wanted to let her quit.
There is almost nothing more painful in life than to see your kid suffer. When they bring you a problem, what is your knee jerk response? It’s to help them. To get rid of the problem. Wipe it out. That’s what we did when they were little and skinned their knees, right? We kissed it and we did the work to make it better for them. That instinct doesn’t go away when they get older.
At school, if their teacher or fellow student treats them unfairly? We first react with our heart, not our head. We don’t want to do the hard work of developing good communication skills with both our child and the offender. We want to yell at or gossip about the teacher, or to report the kid to the principal. If our kid didn’t get playing time in their chosen sport? We don’t first think to work on drills with them at home, we want to erase the issue. Stop the pain. Let the kid switch teams, or ream out the coach. Our little girl struggles to write the letter “s”? Let her quit kindergarten! Right?
Think about the most impactful lessons you’ve learned in your life. They probably weren’t the ones that someone handed to you. No one is good at something they try for the first time! If you want to master something, be it communication skills or learning your letters, you have to sit with it. Struggle with it. Do the hard work to get through it. That’s grit, and isn’t that kind of perseverance something we all need to get through life these days? Grit is something I am working on cultivating in myself and definitely a value I want my children to have. As a mother, I often have to tell myself, “you can do hard things,” in tough moments, be it wrangling grouchy littles at church or folding a mountain of laundry or getting up for the 6th time with a fussy baby. The hard work you do as a mother is always worth it, even if you don’t get to see the results immediately.
I had to summon all my work on grit when my daughter repeated her request to go back to preschool that night at bedtime. I took a deep breath, looked into her heartbreaking eyes, and told her the same thing I have to tell myself – “babygirl, you CAN do hard things. I’m not going to let you quit kindergarten, and here’s why…”
We sang the Daniel Tiger song about “if there’s a problem, talk about it and make a plan!” We talked about it. We planned to work on writing the letter “s” after school for a few days. We prayed about it. She was still nervous about it and cried about it for another couple of days. But, lo and behold, the next week as she skipped down the sidewalk to my waiting arms, her eyes were grinning from ear to ear as she ripped off her mask and shouted, “I did it! Mama, I wrote an “s”!”
The joy in her face had no rival and my heart was bursting with pride.
This is such an inconsequential example in the scheme of life, but I hope our struggles with the letter “s” reminds you to let your kids struggle a little, to let them develop their perseverance, and remember – you, too, can do hard things!
Is grit an important value in your family?