The Grit and The Quit

We sat around the table on the back deck talking after dinner. The heat of the day was fading, and we sensed an openness in the kids that only comes around occasionally. The pandemic has changed parenting. We’ve had to develop new routines, new rules, new boundaries, and that has meant more conflict.

So we asked them how they were feeling about it.

What they said is that their friends get to do whatever they want, that they play XBox all day or watch videos, and that they don’t have as many responsibilities or limitations. I doubt this is actually true, but I opted not to say so. Instead, I said, “Well, it’s hard to know how to be a good parent in times like these. What I’m most afraid of is sending you out into the world one day without the grit to keep going even when things get hard, or the framework to make good decisions for yourselves.”

In retrospect, while it was a good talk, I can imagine the boys had a hard time connecting my anxieties about their futures with time limits on video games and anime watching. In my mind, I’m forcing them to find other things to do with their time, ways that are maybe more enriching, but also teaching them to manage their leisure time more consciously.

Reread that last sentence. It’s borderline insane.

Two teenage boys. Formative days. The high keen of hormonal changes and social pressure.

Two parents. A keen sense that we’re running out of time with them, and a background panic that once we let them drift away from us emotionally, they won’t come back until they’re grown.

I felt a little vulnerable. My own parents seldom conceded their fears to me. Then again, I spent my teen years pursuing the oblivion of all available, mind-altering substances. Maybe a little vulnerability and some extra communication keeps my kids from following my path. Maybe ’70s parents didn’t have the heightened sense of anxiety that we feel today.

Again, borderline insane.

Here are the mistakes I’ve made with my kids. I’ve tried to drag them along on adventures they weren’t up for. I’ve tried to bully them into perseverance, rather than encouraging them. I’ve competed with them rather than letting them taste their own success. I’ve expected them to love what I love. I can say them out loud and make them all again this afternoon.

But it’s progress we hope for, not perfection.

This is the tip of the iceberg I wrote about in How to Get Your Kid to Love Mountain Biking. Really I don’t need my kids to love mountain biking. What I’m trying to do with mountain biking and hiking and running and all the things we do together, is to help them develop enough grit that they can do hard and rewarding things without quitting. Also, occasionally I’d love them to absolutely shred a trail and feel the high-octane buzz of accomplishment that comes along with it.

Right now, the young one quits as soon as any activity gets hard. My short temper hasn’t helped with that. My impatience is not only an obstacle to my own progress. It’s an obstacle to his too. And as I sit here and judge his lack of grit out on the trail, I realize that I lack parental grit. When it gets hard, I immediately want to give up. I’m only rigging the game by choosing where he needs to demonstrate his own perseverance, while simultaneously letting myself off the hook for my own lack thereof.

Shit.

This is also why I push myself out on the trail. I’m trying to grow some patience and resilience. I’m 48, and I’m not there yet.

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