In honor of the Perseverance rover landing on Mars last week, we are celebrating the virtue for which this space craft is named! And, let's be honest (and obvious!), too many of us have also persevered through a tough past twelve months. We can all relate, and Primerrily is here to offer solidarity, inspiration, and motivation. . . looking to one of our country's Founding Fathers is a great place to start! Which one, you ask? Hint: today is his birthday!
Often, when we think about President George Washington and other admirable historical figures, we tend to think their stories are only made of one success after another. To the contrary, it’s the setbacks they encountered which gave them the tools they needed to achieve the victories we remember. We’re not sure exactly what advice our Founding Father George was given on his life’s journey, but we’re leaning on his example. Inspired by his personal and professional stories -- including failures, struggles, and successes -- the below phrases are a few which we hope absorb into our kid’s hearts and minds
1. We will get through this. (Last name)s persevere. (Last name)s do hard things.
A few months ago my kids started whining in a new way, "But it's tooooo haaaaard." I'd say, "Please brush your teeth." They'd say, "But it's tooooo haaaaard." I'd say, "Please put your shoes on your feet." They'd say, "But it's tooooo haaaaard." I'd say, "Please take your shoes off." They'd say, "But it's tooooo haaaaard." I used to try to convince them, "It's not hard. Stop whining. Pick up the toothbrush." But then I realized they were resisting for the sport of it. So I called their bluff and turned it into a challenge. I told them, "It's hard? No problem. Riners persevere. Riners do hard things." Then I turned it into a chant (see the "We are a team"). I marched around and sang like a drumbeat, "Riners do hard things. Riners do hard things." It was amazing to see them rise to the occasion and want to demonstrate their strength. A few days later, they asked me to reach something, and without thinking, I said it was hard to reach. My daughter exhorted me, "Mama, Riners do hard things. You can do it!" And I did.
2. Hard work is good work.
This phrase is a continuation of the last one. It’s all about helping your kids understand that most good things come as a result of hard work. Persevering through the hard work is like “magic” turning hard things into good things. My daughter is currently transitioning from writing in all capital letters to lowercase letters. Neighbors, I forgot how tough that is! From straight lines and sharp angles, to strange curves and letters that look all too similar, it is frustrating for little hands.
Interestingly, my bigger hands have been frustrated as well. I gave birth to my third child just a few weeks before the quarantine began. Adjusting to homebound life with three kids ages 4 and under in the middle of a pandemic was difficult. Thankfully I had friends validating the struggle and affirming my ability to persevere: “Yes, going from two to three kids is hard; the newborn stage is hard, and the pandemic is hard, and all that hard adds up to a lot more than just hard times 3... But don’t grow weary in the hardship. Tucked into it, I had a good thing in expanding my family in number, in welcoming a baby girl and seeing young sibling love blossom. The last few months have been hard work, but I remind myself (with the help of friends and family!) that is good work… for instance, of how good it is every time I see my 6-month-old smile.
As I tucked my big little girl into bed one night, she told me she didn’t like lowercase letters. They were too hard. I empathized and said, “Yes, I remember writing those for the first time when I was a little girl. That was really hard work learning how to write lowercase letters. Did you know mama still has a hard time learning how to do new things? I’m learning how to be the best mama I can be to three babies instead of two. Let’s keep doing good hard work together. Who do we know who does hard work?” She replied softly, “Riners.” I responded sweetly, “That’s right honey. And you’re a Riner. You can do hard work. You can learn it. Practice makes . . . ” and with a little smile she said, “better.” It was one of those mom moments that had that ethereal extra glow in it.
3. I know this is tough. When I was little, I remember school was tricky sometimes.
We can help our kids know that we can do hard things and hard things are good, but it’s also equally okay (even beneficial) to give them the space to feel the fact that something truly is tough.
For instance, we have to remember that we likely don’t remember learning subtraction. Dollars to donuts says it was confusing for us at first. Share this (vague) memory/truth! Acknowledge that you see the hardship and that you feel it with them. This isn’t a license to tell them how you had to walk uphill both ways to school, but it is an opportunity to emotionally empathize -- to connect the little kid in you with the little kid in your care.
In the previous vignette, I let my child in on my weakness -- as a kid and as an adult -- while still reminding her that mama was strong in her resilience. Think of an example doing something tricky when you were little, and a digestible way to explain that you’re still learning how to overcome that challenge.
Kids need to know that mom and dad can relate. They cherish knowing that we were little once, too, and that they’re not the first ones to experience the trials and tribulations of childhood. Sometimes in our effort to offer reassurances, we try to show too much certainty and security. Instead, let’s give them room to learn, including all the trial and error (and eventual success!) that comes with it.
4. It won’t be like this forever, remember when...
It’s difficult for little ones with no concept of time to grasp that the challenge set before them will not last (for instance, getting back in the “going to school” routine). They can think “forever” is the 15 minutes they have to wait until the next episode of Paw Patrol. When struggling with transitions, it’s helpful to remind them of something that did come to an end. For example, “Do you remember when you had a tough time writing your name? How we practiced those letters again and again? Phew! it wasn’t fun, but you got it!Now how good do you feel to be able to write your name?!” or “Do you remember when it was tough to put on your own socks and shoes? It felt like it took ‘forever, but now you got the hang of it! You can slip them on in a jiffy!” By giving your kids concrete examples of times that they’ve already surpassed a challenging obstacle, you can give them hope that they conquered past mountains and so they can conquer the mountain standing before them now.
While we wish our kids didn’t have to experience the pandemic, physical distancing practices, and less-than-desirable schooling situations, we’d like to think these difficult days will produce the perseverance they’ll need to tackle bigger challenges that lie ahead. It takes perseverance to develop perseverance, and you are just the person to give them encouragement to do it. Through framing difficult situations as teamwork (#1. We will get through this), goodness (#2. Hard work is good work), relatable (#3. I know this is tough), and temporary (#4. It won’t be like this forever), they’ll have the inspiration to persevere through any challenging chapter in life.