Why I Never Let My Kids Quit…Anything

Lisa writes: Quitting. We quit jobs, we quit marriages, we walk out on friendships and sometimes we let people down when the going gets tough. Sometimes it is necessary, even the right thing to do. Our kids quit teams and music lessons, art classes and after school programs. Sometimes it’s necessary, but sometimes they are bored or don’t like the coach or would just rather play video games at home. Deciding when to let your kids quit something, be it Gymboree, Little League or SAT prep, is a question that never goes away.

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My kids have tried it all. I have driven them to sports, found drum teachers, glass blowing lessons, painting and ceramics classes. They have tried their hands at their school newspapers, student government, ESL tutoring and computer programming camp, though why that qualifies as camp, I am sure that I will never know. In the end, they did not commit to most of these activities, but at the same time, I never let them quit a single activity.

Our rule is simple: Try any activity that we have the resources to make possible. Go once, go even twice but if you commit, I told my kids, there will be no quitting. At the risk of overgeneralizing, I think our children have so many choices of ways to enrich their lives that sometimes kids quit an activity as an easy response to frustration or boredom.

I regret many of the things in life that I quit, not because I was enjoying them when I left, but because if I had stuck it out and reached any sort of competency, I might have found that illusive enjoyment.

In reality, this meant that my kids had to stick with a team until the season finished or an art class until the sessions ended. There was no walking out on computer camp because it was dumb or quitting drums because we recognized a dearth of musical talent. Every activity was to be seen through to completion.

Why was I so tough on them? Why draw what might seem like an arbitrary line in the sand?

Constancy, commitment and loyalty are all values I hoped to instill in my sons. Learning to endure something even when it became boring or unpleasant, when the coach or teacher didn’t like my kid, or vice versa, seemed a lesson truly worth teaching. I thought that the first time I let them walk away from something just because at that moment it didn’t suit them was the last time I had any credibility about endurance or resilience because the refrain henceforth would have been, “but you let me quit….”

Over time, my kids learned they were never going to be allowed to quit things so they should be careful about what they committed themselves to, because the word commit was going to be taken literally. The result? Good things and bad. Perhaps they didn’t try things they might have, although we usually made clear up front that you could try something (say by going once or twice) but after they signed up we were done with discussions.

But we had bad days, really frustrating end-of-my-rope days. There were tantrums and miserable practices and screaming scenes where I reminded them that this was something they had said they wanted to do. The upside? They had long, enduring relationships with instructors, coaches and teammates who changed and enriched their lives. One high school son has been on the same soccer team for nine years. It is the stuff that childhood memories are made of.

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I sound so confident now, but on a weekly and sometimes daily basis I was wracked by self-doubt and misgivings and even now am not sure if what I did was right. The one thing that I have observed is this: My college-age sons have true passions, things they study in school and activities they are involved in outside of the classroom.

Passions are not like dreams for most of us, we don’t wake up one morning and find they have miraculously come to us in the night. Parents often talk about helping kids find their passions. But passions do not always reveal themselves unbidden, as often they are a result of hard work and dedication, the joy that comes of doing something well.

My kids’ passions are the result of endless hours spent learning a subject or mastering a skill. In each case, it is something that in childhood they begged and pleaded with me to quit and in late adolescence they have told me how much they enjoy. I made them stick things out because mastery, even at a child’s level takes time and repetition.

Competence breeds confidence but success and accomplishment breed self-esteem and social well-being. One of my college kids, by his choice, still plays on a soccer team.  Yet in a particular parenting low point, I pushed his 12-year-old self out of the car to make him play when the practices had ramped up and become far more difficult. Did I do the right thing? How did you deal with your children wanting to Quit?

    • Love Freakanomics but this isn’t about Sunk Costs or Opportunity Costs (had to reach back into the deep recesses of my mind to remember those terms) when it relates to kids. It’s about learning mastery and not walking out when others are depending on you (teams). Thank you, thank you for the comment but the first example he uses is someone who realized she would make more money as a hooker!

      • I know…I just thought it was a funny comparison to your post. I love love love your post, and totally agree…Plus, I’ve been on a bit of a Freakanomics binge lately while I stack wood for the winter! Can I quit that particular activity???
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  1. In my opinion you taught them the most important lesson. My little ones are a bit too small to start anything, not even mentioning quitting but I remember when I was a kid and did not want to attend my extra-curricular classes after some time. I dont know if I was bored or just discouraged but my parents just made me go there and study…thanks to them I speak 4 foreign languages (what’s now also a way to financially support myself) and I will try to do the same thing when my little ones decide to take up sth. Thanks for sharing!
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    • Four languages. wow, that is truly amazing. I quit so many things as a kid and have many misgivings. Sounds like you have a great experience to back up your parenting.

  2. back in the 80′s when my kids were doing these things, we had the same philosophy … start something and see it through – at least to the end of the season or class.

    The exception to that (and perhaps an eye opener of sorts) was my daughter taking band in middle school – clarinet – after a few months she begged to change classes, that she just couldn’t do it – and, of course, we said stick it out for the semester …. until back to school night and the band instructor suggested to us that it was really ok …. really …. to let her do something else …. I think he was glad when we let her … lol!

    • Pretty funny. So glad to hear your experience was like mine. It wasn’t until my kids were teens that I could see that this policy made sense. When they were small, it was just painful! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Nice, nice article. “passions do not always reveal themselves unbidden, as often they are a result of hard work and dedication, the joy that comes of doing something well.” – so true!
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  4. I do agree that the boring hours turn into the passions in older life. But here is a thought, this could be the time for us too to get a new passion!

  5. I grapple with this issue of “quitting” all the time. I, too, had regrets of activities that I probably should have stuck it out longer as a child, or teenager – but coming from a working class family – extracurricular activities were few and far between. As a parent now, my two daughters have so many opportunities, and it’s really not an issue of cost. I just want to be careful about overloading them – and not pushing them into what I want them to do. That’s an important point. I also agree that our children need to feel a type of pain or suffering (if you will) in order to reach that master level. I also wrote a post a few months ago about quitting – and when is the right time to give up, or transition to another activity. Dreams Begin Here: http://clearlykristal.com/?p=1386. Loved your insight. Great post!
    Clearly Kristal recently posted..Cowboy HandsMy Profile

    • Yours is a great post…hope you got many readers, it was beautiful. It is a tough parenting topic that never goes away, thanks for leaving your link here, I hope others will read it as well.

  6. Great post and tough question. I also had the same attitude as you as to me teaching my children a sense if commitment was also important. My youngest though was a challenge, he wanted to quit everything he didn’t master in 5 minutes. Sometimes I let it go, other times not. Often we came back to things he had let go years down the track and often he would push through and realise it wasn’t so difficult after all. Maturity and self esteem are large drivers in all of this. A really difficult parenting issue.

    • You are so right. This lead to some very difficult battles and I am sure that I should have given in sometimes, but of course at the time you cannot tell when. Some things I made them do may have been a waste, or maybe there were lessons learned, guess I will never know. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

  7. We too had a policy of seeing a class/program/camp/activity through until the end of a particular session. There were never any demands or requirements to begin the activity, but once that commitment was made, it required completion. A particularly painful memory is camp visiting day, when no fewer than four counselors had to restrain my daughter, remove her fingernails from my husband’s neck, in order for us to “make a run for it”. Each summer we reminded her that she absolutely did not have to go back, but once she did, she was to stay there for the duration. She is now the grown kid who asks why we let her quit dance, quit art classes, and quit piano. She regrets the fact that she doesn’t have “a thing”….. which is of course our fault for allowing her to quit!

    • Can’t help but laugh at the thought of you making a run for it. I too made a kid stay at camp who wanted to come home (only 2 weeks remaining) but he never returned! Great story.

  8. I think more parents would do well to teach their children as you have done – these lessons will certainly stand them in good stead later in life. We too had a no quit policy in our family – same as yours – end of season, end of course – fine don’t sign up for next year but no quitting and letting team mates down during a season.
    Life isn’t about quitting when the going get tough, it’s about sticking it out and making it happen until the time is right to move on.
    Have the bes day !
    Me
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    • So nice to hear others had the same rules in place…wish I had known so many of you when I had kids screaming at you, could have used the confidence boost. Thanks for commenting.

  9. i did the same thing, only i used three times as the litmus test. i did make each of them quit a part-time job when it was obvious they were being treated badly. i was more afraid that that would be how they saw work than i was that they would think they could quit anything when the going got rough. that seemed to pay off as well. they commit to things and see them through but they also know that any work should be met with respect not derision. i think you’ll see the benefit of what you did when your sons get that restlessness most kids seem to get as late sophmores and juniors. they’re tired of school and think about quitting. but they won’t because of what you did even when the cost was a stomach as you sat in the car waiting for them. great post.
    sandy recently posted..MARSHMALLOWS, MARMALADE AND MOONSHINE IN THE EMPTY NESTMy Profile

    • I hope you are right. So many decisions like this we can wonder for year if we were right. BTW the photos on your blog of .MARSHMALLOWS, MARMALADE AND MOONSHINE are amazing!! Everyone who love to cook, should visit your site.

    • even if we are wrong sometimes, we can address it if we see it, make a joke, a confession. the older they get the more they realize how much we loved them then and love them now and how every thing we did, even when we were unsure, flowed from that. i wonder why it’s so hard for mom’s to give themselves a break?
      sandy recently posted..MARSHMALLOWS, MARMALADE AND MOONSHINE IN THE EMPTY NESTMy Profile

  10. Great post! You made so many wonderful points about mastery, loyalty, and commitment. On a different note, I have always struggled with learning (and teaching my kids) the right time and the proper way to stop doing those things that don’t have a clearly defined ending and really aren’t a good fit for one’s life anymore.

  11. As a child I was forced to take piano lessons and hated it. My parents wouldn’t let me quit so I deliberately got worse and worse. Eventually the piano teacher threw up her hands and told my parents it was pointless. I was thrilled to be released from what i saw as torture. As an adult, however, I’m kind of sorry I didn’t continue.
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    • I feel that way about so many things and that thought was in my mind as I made them stick thing out…right or wrong, we will see.

  12. We have the same rule in our house. If they start an activity or sign up for something, whether piano lessons or a team, they must stick with it until the end of the season or the semester, etc. My 3 boys are 9, 12, and 15 so it’s really nice to read about your older boys who found passions after hard work and dedication. I too sometimes question whether we are doing the right thing, but if nothing else, they will learn perseverance and resilience.
    Emily recently posted..Birthday OverloadMy Profile

    • It is so heartening to hear from other parents, I cannot tell you. I felt so bad about what I was doing so many times yet I thought there was a larger issue at stake. Thank you so much for jumping in the conversation here, it really helps to hear what others are doing.

  13. Had to smile at your push him out of the car example. Been there. I have a daughter who was a cross country runner. Yes, she had to stick with it. My sons both played varsity football and basketball. There were days. But what i remember most was my oldest being close to his Eagle Scout and wanting to quit. Those last loose ends of the Eagle project definitely involved some pushing out of the car metaphorically speaking. It’s often a fine line, that line of when to quit. Tenacity is so important. in so many things.
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    • Yes, I shoved him out of the car, literally. He was 12 and I could do such things…thanks for commenting. Bet your son is glad that you made him complete his Eagle Scout. What we know and they can’t realize is that this is the moment, some things cannot be done later.

  14. Loved this post. Research has shown that people with passion live longer lives and I believe that. You are right that developing skills and interests requires effort. As a society we are so obsessed with having fun. I too am guilty of asking my kids as soon as they walk in the door, “did you have fun?” Fun doesn’t build character.
    Lisa Tognola recently posted..I’m Keeping Victoria’s SecretMy Profile

    • I love that! Fun doesn’t build character…wish I had such a succinct way to remind myself. Very wise.

  15. Great article. I can agree that I think what you’ve done is a prime example of awesome parenting. No one ever said it would be easy or that you wouldn’t doubt your decisions. My son is only 3 and he already tries to “quit” things. I’m always going to remember this post and adopt your methods.
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  16. I’m quite the opposite, I have allowed my daughter to quit any activity she didn’t find enjoyable. I understand certain kids benefit from learning life lessons, but if they simply don’t care for it, there are so many other ways to find joy in life. :) My daughter played chess in elementary school and was pretty good. After two years she decided to stop playing because she was so upset by the way the other parents treated their kids when they lost. She didn’t want any part of it after she saw a friend get slapped by his father for losing to her. I let her quit with no regrets.
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  17. We have the same policy in our home. And it has served them well. Neither of them will take on things they can’t see through. There are a few things I wish I would have stuck with as a child (piano, ballet…), but I quit because it got hard. I took up golf lessons two years ago, and believe you me, there were times when I wanted to say to heck with this and quit, but I didn’t, and I’m actually getting pretty good at it.

    • Well done, it is that sense of accomplishment that I was trying to teach them and I am so glad to hear that it worked our in your home. Wish I had stuck with so many things as a kid…

  18. Thank you for a wonderful article. It is very timely since I am dealing with those exact issues right now. Both my boys asked for music lessons and now are wanting to quit. There is a sign up at their martial arts school that says something to the effect of, “No adult is happy who was allowed to quit as a child.” While there are probably some exceptions, I bet it is more the rule. Even if one doesn’t become a pro at their extracurricular of choice, it gives one confidence to persevere through boredom and to gain proficiency at their chosen activity.

    • I love that saying and I fear that it is true. Agreed that there are exceptions, but that is the tricky part. Thanks for leaving these wonderful thoughts.

  19. My kids are night and day when it comes to this topic. My daughter, who always struggled with sports, never gave up. She was never recognized for her athletic ability, but has trophies and certificates for her perseverance and team spirit.
    My son is a natural at anything he tries, but is easily bored and will quit in a heartbeat. If he is not engaged and entertained, it’s over. Yes, he is why my hair salon gets a regular visit to cover the grays.
    Life With The Top Down recently posted..On To Plan BMy Profile

  20. This is our approach, too. We ask him to choose his activities carefully and then, once he chooses, we stick with it until the end of the season/session. I think it’s important to follow-through with commitments.
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  21. My weekly battles to get my girls to gymnastics make my hair fall out. However, I know that in the long run if they are to gain proficiency in it they need exposure at an early age. But, I also don’t want to overcommit them. So I limit them to gymnastics during the school year and they can choose a few things to try out during the summer. I agree – once you decide to join something you stick it out for the commitment – even if you decide it’s not right for you upon the first lesson!
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  22. I believe the same exact way you do.

    For one, you never give up on a teammate or partner. You try everything before you finally say “I just don’t think WE can do it.” Then maybe both can stop. I try to teach my kids honor and togetherness. That is what helps everyone get ahead and be happy.

    And two, you just don’t stop because you don’t like it or bored. BS. Finish it out. My daughter signed up for soccer at 6 years old. She stood out there are stared at the sky and the butterflies the whole time. I was so angry!! I even told her to pretend she liked it. She liked being with the other kids but she didn’t like to run. We finished out the season and she never played again. She likes to draw and write now.

    My son was in karate for 4 years. One January he said he wanted to quit. I told him wait until the next belt. I was feeling him out, seeing if it was just a phase. Karate is ongoing, no seasons, there really is no end to it. I made him stay for 6 more months until he almost cried. Then I let him quit. That was when he was 9. He is 14 and wants to go back. Maybe it just was just timing.

    Thank you for such an amazing post. I fell better now about the crying and arguing. And that was just me, lol.

    ~Allie
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  26. I also haven’t let my kids quit things. I don’t have a hard and fast rule about it. I’ve simply just urged them to keep trying when things get tough, reminded them that they are part of a team who is counting on them, and gently pushed them through seasons that they’ve ended up enjoying and said, “I’m doing that again next year.” Sometimes they find something isn’t right for them, but I know my children and I know it takes them awhile to get comfortable. Two practices does not make them comfortable. If something ever becomes an emotional battle, that’s different. And we’ll deal with that.
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  31. hello
    It’s a nice post.Thank you for sharing.

  32. Thank you for this post! I had my daughter during Christmas break between semesters of graduate school, and there were times that the only thing keeping me from quitting was the thought that I would one day have to explain to her why I could quit grad school but she couldn’t quit (fill in the blank). And I wouldn’t have a good answer. We have to be the example for our kids as well.

  33. I have the same policy but the ONE (of 4 activities) my son wants to quit is Karate. There really isn’t any ‘committment’ period. He’s been doing it since he was 3 years old and is now 12. He has gone through several ranks over the years white, jr.yellow, yellow, jr. orange, and now is at orange belt. next would be jr. purple, purple, jr. blue, blue then crossing into adult classes starting with green. Do I let him quit? He’s been doing the same 4 activities for many many years (soccer for 8 years, cub scouts crossing to boy scouts from age 6, swim team for 5 years). also he is in a German language club for 3 years now. None of these he wants to quit. Just Karate which to me is the one with the biggest let down factor, other than boy scouts which I really don’t care: he likes it but I have little involvement, could care less if he makes ‘eagle’. If he quit any of the others it wouldn’t worry me. Everything is 1x per week except soccer which has been 3x per week for several years now. Just hate to see him quit karate and then decide to go back and have to start over in belt system or be upset with not keeping up with his friends in the class. For now I told him he can’t quit so he goes, without really complaining, but he doesn’t seem to give his all or participate as much and he is following behind his friends in that many will likely test for belts this summer and he will not be eligible to even try until next December (almost a year away due to not earning any stripes). His reasons for quitting are ‘it’s not fun’, ‘i’m not being bullied and never get in fights/people just leave me alone/why do I need to fight anyway’. They don’t do competitions in his style (maybe adults do?). As you can see I’m in angst over this one!

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