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In search of true grit

Locations: Columns Published
By Judith Ritschard

I’ve become obsessed with the idea of acquiring grit. My driving motivation is raising two boys in a world totally different than the one I knew as a kid. My family had its share of hard knocks. Like so many immigrants who arrive in this new land, we were initially strapped for money and living on a prayer. As for my boys, they have always had more than enough: nice clothing, sporting equipment, and exciting vacations, just to name a few things.

Of course, I feel fortunate that my husband and I are able to provide all of these things for them. After all, isn’t that the progress that every generation strives to achieve? But, sometimes this “privileged” lifestyle has me worried that they won’t develop a strong sense of self, or worse- what if they turn into the stereotypical entitled Millennial? No- por Dios! I can’t have them wearing skinny jeans, sporting a man bun and never learn how the hell to change a tire or cook a meal. I will have failed as a parent if they don’t learn to see the benefit in the struggle and the importance of sticking to their goals.

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If I were to define grit, I’d say it is a combination of resilience and determination, staying on track in the face of feeling rejected or being in an uncomfortable situation. It is the ability to stay motivated and focused on moving forward even though sometimes it’s not obvious that you’re making ground. It seems this concept has taken parent circles by storm and it has snatched the attention of many teachers and psychologists. According to University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth, grit, is defined as a child’s “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” And many psychologists suggest it is a better indicator of future earnings and happiness rather than either IQ or talent.

No wonder this concept has gotten so much press. Isn’t happiness and success really all parents, including myself, want for our kids? So, of course, as a mom I often wrack my brain trying to figure out what is going to give my kids not only the opportunity to struggle, but also the mental toughness to stick with the task. In short, I want my kids to practice being gritty little people now so when they grow up they have a better chance of being well adjusted adults who can deal with life’s curve balls.

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The thought of my parents looking up how to make their kids gritty is laughable. My parents didn’t have to come up with ideas. It just happened to be the circumstances of our life that made us confident, adventurous, and hardy individuals.  Like so many immigrants, they had this burning steady passion to keep moving forward. I watched as they arduously built a comfortable life in Aspen back in the early ’80s. They started their business with one single client and over many years acquired hundreds of clients.

In all those years I never once heard my dad complain when he woke up at 3 a.m. to start plowing the streets in Aspen. In the summers he’d often arrive covered in grass clippings way past dinnertime. My mom meticulously ran the house cleaning side of the business. She worked long days moving from house to house with her crew, only to come home to cook us dinner. Dirty Harry has nothing on my folks. They were and still are hard as nails.

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Us kids were expected to be tough too. At a young age we helped run things around the house like preparing meals, scrubbing toilets, and taking care of my baby sister. From age six and beyond we often went to work with my parents. We’d help with easier tasks like emptying trashcans, or dusting surfaces, and making beds. Most school mornings we packed our own lunches, and got ourselves to and from school and activities.

I recall how I had to be extra tenacious in the classroom. What it took my classmates to comprehend it seemed sometimes it took me twice as long. My “learning disability” came from belonging to immigrant parents that were both trying to learn English, adjust to a new culture and, to be totally honest, too busy surviving to dedicate much time to our academic success. Reading and math didn’t come easily so I had to overextend myself just to get a B. I had to pay extra attention and spend more time at night going over and over certain assignments. I was motivated because I was not going to be labeled dumb nor fall behind because I didn’t put in the work. I could have fallen through the cracks but I had the strength of will to push myself through high school and college with good grades. In my heart, I know my parents were in the shadows ready just in case I really went off track. No matter how humbling school was at times, I appreciate that they didn’t hover over every move I made.

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In my opinion, the act of creating plucky individuals without stripping away all the magic of childhood is a tricky balance. But, I’m prepared to take on that challenge too. I will do my best to impress the “immigrant spirit” on to my children. Of course, it will not be completely how my siblings and I experienced it.  I realize I will have to adjust for their unique, more modern challenges. And as uncomfortable as it may be, when they do fall, I will be standing by ready to help — constantly reminding myself not to protect too much.