The pros and cons of trying to instill grit
There’s been a lot of discussion recently about resilience. We love that word, don’t we? It brings to mind visions of little characters made from bouncy rubber balls whose secret gift—also known as grit—practically gives them magical powers. So that’s what those fairy godmothers are giving out! Who needs beauty and brains if you have grit and resilience?
Why resilience? Maybe it’s in response to helicopter parenting and those virally critiqued millennials. After all, germs are back in a big way, too. Have you heard? All those compulsive antibacterial cleanings we once used religiously are actually bad for you!
Like bento box lunches and going gluten free, it seems as if the new resilience trend is focused on raising children who won’t need “campus safe spaces” or coloring books. Like those trends (before they got out of control), resilience has some merit. In today’s world, where bullying seems to reap rewards like a big, white house, it may be time to give your child a charm that protects her.
Resilience, it turns out, is like polyjuice potion—hard to swallow and yet . . . transformative.
For a Solo Mom, resilience training creates a conundrum. We are already struggling to provide positive images for our children so they can overcome negative stereotypes. By default, we want to protect our kids. We’re all they’ve got.
Since we have been raising them in a unique and unconventional manner, we hope to—just as unconventionally—inspire hope and confidence in them as they face the world.
Instilling resilience in your child
With that in mind, let’s examine some pros and cons of instilling resilience in your child.
Standing tall versus flexibility. Whether it’s an academic, social, or even domestic issue, when you believe your child is right, you want him to fight like hell for his convictions. With your mama bear strength, you want to back him up and help him overcome his obstacles.
On the other hand, sometimes it isn’t about being right, it’s about what your child wants. Distinguishing between those two requires some bending. What your child wants is different from what he needs to move forward. Sometimes, as much as you are dying to charge ahead with a roar, you have to put on your practical hat. Talk to your child about the short- and long-term goals. That can be a difficult, if not horrible, conversation, involving tears, slamming doors, and hurt feelings on both sides, which leaves you craving wine and a hot bath. Here is where a second parent would come in handy. Instead, call a friend, or check in with your ESME Sisters.
Hard knocks versus knocked down. The idea that failure is a key to success is well cited. Kids need to learn from their mistakes. You tell yourself that one day in the future, you will run into these perfect, smug parental units who never seemed to have a problem with their kids’ teachers, and cleverly drop the news that your child is in med school. She learned to overcome mean teachers! She fought her way past the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test)! You’ll show them resilience!
However, although it’s important to help your child learn to cope, it’s also just as crucial to know when to fight back. As a Solo Mom, you build your family dynamic brick by brick and with one warm (physical, verbal, or practical) hug after another. Sometimes your child needs someone to lean on. You can and should be that warm wall of unconditional support. It’s what we Solo Moms do.
Bottom line: Do it your way—and just keep going
All the aforementioned leads to my real point about resilience theory. Maybe it’s not something you need to instill in your child. Maybe it’s in the air he breathes.
You, the Solo Mom, embody resilience in its most practical applied format. Your child may be learning resilience by osmosis. Sure, there are days when it seems like she can’t wait to criticize you or abandon your little family unit. But that’s because she knows you have her back.
Here’s how you, the Solo Mom are setting a brilliant, resilient example.
You’re not doing it the “right” way. You embrace doing it your own way.
You admit you get things wrong. You admit you sometimes lose faith, feel sad, and sag under burdens. And, if you’re like me, your kids have seen you “randomly” freak out about everything from the car dying a block from home to hair balls on the stairs to the stress of a living room that still looks like it was hit by a cyclone.
The essence of Solo Mom resilience is that you just keep going. You don’t bounce back. You don’t go from the lowest depths to phenomenal success like a cartoon character. Instead, you creakily adjust yourself to a standing position and stagger forward.
You solve problems as they occur. You get up every morning and get your kids to school. You enjoy a nice sunset, or sunrise. You put one foot in front of the other. And you bring your kids with you. That’s the magic charm you are giving them.
One day, you’ll get a call from your college-attending child some distance away. You won’t be able to fly to his rescue. Instead, you’ll say, “You can solve this. I know you can.”
You’ll know he called to hear you say that.
You’ll know that he can do it. And so will he.
Margot Kessler, a screen and television writer living in Los Angeles, is the sporadically witty Solo Mom of two lovely daughters.
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