When is it ok to let a kid quit?
There are some parenting issues on which my personal stance is clear, well-researched, and firm: I don’t believe in spanking or physical punishment. I don’t do Cry It Out. I don’t force my kids to clean their plates or eat any vegetables they despise (but I do encourage them to try everything).
There are some parenting issues on which my personal stance is clear and well-researched but I lack the actual discipline to follow through: Kids should do chores, earn an allowance, go to bed by 8:30 p.m., have restricted screen time, and not eat in the car. I believe all of these things; I just suck at forcing my kids to follow these rules.
And then there are the parenting issues on which I actually have no idea what I believe.
Prime example: Should children be allowed to quit an activity?
One argument is that once a child has committed to, say, ballet or karate or flute or gymnastics, he or she needs to follow through on that commitment. This will teach kids about responsibility and keeping your word. Also, from a practical viewpoint, it costs money to do all of these things. Children need to learn the value of a dollar, so they need to understand that you can’t just become a Ballet School Dropout after your parents have spent money on the class and the leotard and the shoes, etc. Furthermore, for team sports, it’s important to respect your team members by doing your part and not leaving them shorthanded.
I believe every single one of these things.
But then there’s the argument that children won’t try new things if they fear being forced to stick it out even if they hate it. That they should have the freedom to dabble and experiment until they find their true passions and gifts. That kids need more freedom and independence, not more structured activities. That forcing them to keep going to ballet class when they hate it will just end up making it into a power struggle.
I believe those things, too.
Last year, Ruby did cheerleading, volleyball, basketball, lacrosse, and the school play. With the exception of lacrosse, she’s doing them all again this year – lacrosse was not her scene at all, and even though I spent a lot of money on pads and sticks and mouth guards, the one solid hit she took scared me enough that I was more than happy to tell her she could stop (I did make her finish the season, sort of, but we were definitely not all that diligent about practices, and she even missed a game or two). Over the years, however, Ruby has dropped out of karate, decided piano was a no-go after one lesson, and gave up ballet without so much as a backward glance.
Now that Georgia is in kindergarten, I’m starting to confront these issues with her, too, and although some things are non-negotiable (like taking swim lessons, which is a safety issue), I’m still going back and forth on whether we should make her continue cheerleading, which she initially said she wanted to do and then decided she hated after we’d spent close to $200 on lessons and her uniform.
I worry that if I force her to keep doing it, I’ll traumatize her in some way, and she won’t try any sports ever again and will also end up resenting me, just as a bonus. I worry that if I let her quit, I’ll teach her that it’s OK to be flakey and that commitments don’t matter and that money is meaningless and she’ll end up resenting me anyway because I should have been stricter.
My guideline thus far has been that if the kid wanted to do the activity in the first place, she has to finish the season or the class session, but if I am the one pushing it, I let them stop. This means, technically, that Georgia should be forced to finish cheerleading (her idea) but allowed to stop ballet (my idea). (She loves ballet, so that one actually isn’t an issue at all.)
But even though a part of me says to hold firm, another part of me says that she’s barely five years old and should be allowed some leeway.
And so the lessons continue – the parenting lessons for me, at least. Those are the ones you just can’t quit.
Excerpted from Eve Crawford Peyton’s blog, Joie d’Eve, which appears each Friday on MyNewOrleans.com