Thursday, January 5, 2012

Are You Turning Your Kids Into Quitters?

How many of you read Mamapedia? 

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a junkie for mommy blogs. Not as much now as when my kids were younger. Moms with school-age kids seem to spend less time sitting at a keyboard than those with little ones that actually nap during the day. I blame all the driving around we do after the fact. Which actually brings me to my point.

Earlier this week, there was an article on Mamapedia about a woman who was concerned about her son. He’d started swim team early in the summer with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and verve. Six months of competition later, he was in tears before his swim meet. He didn’t want to do it. He didn’t want to be there. He wanted to quit.

Mom was concerned that giving him the thumbs-up to drop out of swimming would encourage him to give up too soon. That it would detract from him doing something great. Or maybe he was just showing that swimming wasn’t his true love, and she should let him step out of the pool and get back to the baseball that he loved. Sounds reasonable, right? We all want to do what’s best for our kids.

Did I mention he was only five?

With the constant push from society to nudge our kids into activities and keep them there, along with research that shows the younger a child is when they start, the more successful they’re going to be, it’s no wonder that parents are worrying about these things at a young age. What kind of habits are we teaching our kids if we let them throw in the towel when the going gets tough? Stay the course, young man! You’ll thank me when you’re older!

I’m not going to say that pushing your kids to succeed isn’t good for them. Drive. Discipline. Etc, etc. Chinese parents have been doing it for years. So if you’re the type of parent who believes their kids should stick with it, forever and ever, no matter what…stop reading here. No really. What I’m about to say is going to piss you off beyond all possible belief.

Nothing Says, “Do It Or Else!” Like Kids in Ballet

I was one of those kids who couldn’t stand sitting around the house. Soccer. Softball. Band. Cheerleading. Scouts. Youth Group. I was into everything. So I have to admit to nudging my kids out the door as often as possible.

Nothing, however, has given me as fine a respect for allowing kids to make their own choices as having a daughter that does ballet.

Princess C’s working on her fifth year of dance. We did two years of ballet before moving north, then another two years of it once we got here. (She’s taking a break from it to do hip hop and jazz this year instead, but insists she’s going back next year.)

Ladies and gentlemen, ballet moms are scary. I’m not talking about the kind that show up, drop off their kids and hike down to the coffee shop until they’re done. I get those. I’m talking about the ones that shove their crying four year old into the room week after week when she obviously doesn’t want to be there. That make it impossible for their girls to make friends, because parents carry the competition for parts out of the studio. Mudslinging. Insults. Subtle sabotage. Politics have NOTHING on the wide, wonderful world of dance.

In short, I’m saying these moms want it more than their kids do.

Hey, I’ve Been There

Confession time. When my oldest started Tae Kwon Do at the age of 6, we were thrilled. He loved it. He had a good time. He wasn’t bad at it. 10 months later, however, he stopped wanting to go. Classes started with tears and revolt and bribes and threats to get him out the door. He genuinely didn’t want to be there.

When I stepped back to look at why I was pushing a 7 year old so hard to do something he obviously didn’t want to do, I realized it was because it was something I wanted for him. I wanted him to find his niche, something he could stick with. I wanted it more than he did. When I finally made that connection, we went ahead and pulled him out. And while I could have done without the fee that came with pulling him out before the year was up, it’s not a decision I regret.


At some point, kids are going to try a wide range of activities. Some they’ll stick with. Some they won’t. (I know one season of softball was MORE than enough for me.) Letting them stop isn’t teaching them to quit. It’s teaching them to save their time for doing the things they love rather than spending all their time on the things they hate.

My recommendation to moms who are worried about their kids starting and stopping activities with abandon? Don’t worry about it. If their sport has a season, encourage them to ride it out. That teaches them the value of being a team player and finishing their commitment. If it’s something that goes year-round, like swim or tae kwon do, choose a stopping point. Maybe it’s a meet. Maybe it’s a belt test. Just something that provides a definitive end.

Maybe they’ll change their minds. Maybe they won’t. But this way you’re empowering them to make their own decisions. To take chances. To try new things. To stretch their wings.

Really, isn’t that what being a parent is all about?


Anonymous said...

I can so appreciate this already and my kids aren't even in activities! Time is a valuable commodity and kids need to potentially try several things before they find the things they are willing to give up precious free time to do. I agree with sticking with their commitment if it makes sense... and we definitely don't want to give them the idea that they can quitting frequently is okay. There is so much pressure on kids to do everything though. And some activities take A LOT of time. I *loved* softball, and maybe it was the same then as it is now... but practice or a game every night when you're 6-12???? Give me a break! Not to mention it does a number on their year-round commitments like Scouts... :-/

Great post!


Anonymous said...

Cheerleading/football too with that every day thing, plus games/competitions on weekends. WAY too much for youth leagues!

And my grammar above stunk, but that's why I'm being somewhat 'anonymous' hahaha!


Anonymous said...

My best friend tried to tell me to take my daughter out of gymnastics and put her back into soccer. Her logic was that she was better at soccer. My friend also pointed out soccer is a $35 a season fee where gymnastics is $50 each month. I really had a hard time trying to convince my friend that my daughter should stay with something she liked above what she was better at. But in the end, my little girl gets to go do something she loves twice a week and is proud of her accomplishments, no matter how small.