Parents: Step Away from the Rubik’s Cube (and Put Down the Broom)


“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.” –Jacob Riis

A favorite of their coach Greg Popovich, this quote is on a framed placard in the locker room of the reigning NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs.

With an attitude like that, it isn’t that surprising that not only is Popovich’s team the current world champions, but Pop himself is only one of five head coaches to win five or more NBA titles, is the longest tenured active coach in the NBA and has the most consecutive winning seasons (playoffs included) of any NBA coach ever. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, he is a graduate of the Air Force Academy. And, he has accomplished all of these basketball accolades with relatively obscure players and under the radar superstars.


Like the stonecutter, Pop hammers away. While the Spurs’ game of fundamentals, defense, precise execution of the game plan and a total dedication to working as a team isn’t the flashy play of some of the better known teams in the NBA, the Spurs might suggest you kiss their rings.

Toiling away at a task, trade or talent is difficult under most any circumstance but is becoming even more so in our instant-gratification-is-not-quick-enough world. In an era where our questions can be answered with a click of a mouse, our dinner made with the push of a button and practically every material need of ours delivered within 48 hours courtesy of Amazon Prime, it is difficult to develop the kind of focus and drive that kept that stonecutter swinging his ax. Or Pop’s teams playing relentless defense.

There is tremendous value in the work of the stonecutter. And I worry that this value is something our children don’t understand.

Now before I become a full fledged member of the “You kids, get off my front lawn” club, I acknowledge that I love Google, microwaves and am on a first name basis with the UPS guy because of my addiction to Amazon Prime.  But, in a world where things come so easily, I cannot underscore enough how important it is for our kids (and us too) to do hard things.

Recently, my 17-year-old daughter and her best friend each bought themselves Rubik’s cubes. So, for a half an hour or so each evening, they work on lining up the colored squares; thus far to no avail. I cannot tell you how many times I have resisted grabbing the toy and showing them how to solve it (I was quite the Rubik’s cube player back in the day). But I have resisted, in part because it would horrify my daughter, but also because I know it is good for her to struggle. And it thrills me that neither has tried to go on the Internet to learn to solve the puzzle, choosing to crack the code by themselves.

Like the stonecutter who busted through the rock, I suspect sooner or later the squares will fall in place and the puzzle will be solved. But until then, the Rubik’s cube is a great analogy for the effort that needs to be put in until a result is achieved.

Our kids can find these character building lessons in school, sports, and the arts or even in playing with a Rubik’s cube. The key is: we need to let them. We need to beware of robbing them of the joy of taking that 101st swing of the hammer by allowing them give up, doing it for them, lobbying a coach or teacher to make it easier or simply buying them a stick of dynamite.

I get it: I am a parent too, and I have to resist grabbing the hammer to finish the job. Or the Rubik’s cube…

There is a name for the parenting impulse that sweeps each obstacle out of the path of the child: curling parents.   Step away from your broom, and let your kid swing the hammer.

I will too.