Springing Back

Together, we keep on keeping on.
Wednesday marked the start of the spring trimester—my favorite of Thacher seasons. The days get longer, the wildflowers bloom, and as the culmination of the year comes into focus, we begin to see more clearly the transformations a year of learning, challenge, and growth have brought. 

I’ve heard several colleagues and students remark in the last few days on the particular hope they are feeling this spring. It seems many of us are allowing ourselves to believe in ways big and small that things might just be OK.

Twenty-plus years of boarding school life and 12 months of pandemic have taught me that there will inevitably be more bumps in the road as we make our way to summer and beyond. But as this particular spring unfolds, I’m buoyed by the resilience I see all around—a newfound understanding of just how adaptable, compassionate, and capable of growth we all are. And isn’t that the ultimate assurance that everything will be OK?

Over the past year, we’ve all had the thought: “I’m not sure I can do this anymore.” While the “this” is different for each of us, the common thread is a feeling of overwhelm that leads us to question whether we can keep on keeping on. 

For our kids, that thought and the feelings which accompany it can be especially intense. As adolescents develop independent selves, they naturally seek more control over their lives, looking for evidence that they are in the driver’s seat. For the last 12 months, all signs have indicated that the pandemic is in charge. That loss of control, right at the moment when they are ready to take the wheel, is acute, and magnifies the overwhelm of life in covid. 

However, when we help them see the truth of their own resilience, we offer the key to recapturing a sense of agency that counteracts those feelings of overwhelm. The fact is each of them has loads of evidence that they can do hard things, that they know how to persist, how to seek help, how to take care of themselves and one another, how to adapt, how to bounce back, how to solve problems and figure out a way forward. So much of their life and work at Thacher is engineered to build those experiences and that understanding of their capacity. 

The problem is, those aren’t usually the stories kids (or adults for that matter) tell themselves when things get tough. Instead, they see their limitations, their lack of control, the uncertainty ahead of them. They tell themselves if they were stronger, tougher, better, they wouldn’t be struggling. They look to control the world around them and end up feeling all the more out of control. 

One of the most powerful things we can do for our kids in the tough times is to help them see their demonstrated capacity to manage hard things. I like to think of it as providing a compassionate, evidence-based counter argument to the voice telling them they don’t have enough strength or control or power. It can also help to remind them that the most common human response to hardship is resilience—the ability to bounce back, to survive and thrive (there are studies to back this up); in essence, their default setting is resilient. 

In the months ahead, as we all look to a brighter horizon, I hope we’ll also take the time with our kids to look back and to catalog the many moments, large and small, when we persisted, adapted, showed up, gave more, exercised compassion, expressed gratitude, asked for help, gave help, engaged our optimism, found another way, kept on keeping on. The stories of resilience growing all around us may just be the real gifts of this hopeful spring, gifts that will serve us well come what may.

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