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MomTalk: Do You Let Your Kids Quit?

Quitters never win. But do winners never quit? What do you do as a parent when your kid wants to quit something they've started?

Question: What do you do as a parent when your kid wants to quit something they've started?

Regina Martine
My kids are pretty good about finishing what they start. Sometimes they need a little encouragement to try something new, or they want to make sure they have a friend in the class or on the team, but once they start, they usually finish. My oldest refused to go to half-day summer camp at the Y when she was about four and also begged to quit Kindergarten soccer after three weeks, but those are the only incidents of quitting I can remember.

I don’t sign my kids up for tons of activities. Two of my kids play intramural sports and they seem to understand that once they sign up, they are committed for the season. My two daughters have been dancing since they were three. The dance school they attend gives out trophies for 5, 10, and 15 years of dancing. Both girls have their 5-year trophy and plan to stick with it until they get one for 15 years. No quitters there.

I think the reason my kids don’t beg and plead to quit activities is that I don’t MAKE them participate. They choose every activity they participate in. If a flyer for sports sign-ups comes home in a school folder, I will ask if they want to sign up, and if they don’t, they don’t. If they sign up, they are in for the whole season. I would never force my kids to continue with an activity that they really, truly hated, but since they chose every activity they do, this hasn’t really been a problem.

I would never sign one of my kids up for a class or a sport without asking them first. I feel like that is setting them up to hate it. I might do some pretty heavy duty convincing if I feel that they will really enjoy the activity, but I wouldn’t enroll them until they agree.  I don’t want to create resentment about both the activity itself, and with me, for not giving them a choice. A power struggle with mom is not going to make an activity fun for anyone.

Tasha Schlake Festel
I feel pretty strongly about finishing what you start. I believe that when you make a commitment, you see it through. If you’re not happy, you make changes but you stick with it. Quitting is the easy way out and I’ve tried to impart this onto my kids.

“Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.”

-Vince Lombardi, legendary football coach

I used to let my kids join whatever they wanted, assuming they’d love it, because, really, what’s not to love when you’re a kid doing fun stuff with other kids? Unfortunately, since quitting is not an option, I learned the hard way not to let them enter lightly into any activity or join any team without serious deliberation.

As a kid, you don’t think about long-term. You think about what you want to do right now, not two weeks from now. Dance class? Yes! Soccer? You betcha! Swim lessons? Bring it!

Then at week 2, after the enrollment fees have been paid, the equipment has been purchased, the commitment has been made, and schedules have been shuffled, reality sets in and kids realize that this is going to happen every week for an extended period of time. Oh, cr@p.

We have learned through experience to discuss at length whatever activity, sport, club or class the kids want to join. Believe it or not, I don’t like forcing them to go to “fun” activities that make them cry. Nor do I like fighting about putting your damn tights on for dancing school every week. I also don’t like their whining or the screaming banshee I become when it’s time to just get in the f**king car and go have a god d@mned good time with your stupid little friends. Hmmm… Perhaps this isn’t what enrichment activities are supposed to be.

Yet my no quitting philosophy endures. And the kids know it. I stand firm because we have committed to teachers and teams. I stick with it because we have made a financial investment. I do not waiver because well, we just plain don’t, OK?!?!

But is that right?  

Honestly, I’m not sure this is always the best approach. I wonder if it prevents my kids from sampling new things because they’re afraid of getting stuck doing something they hate on account of their mother having some weird hang-up about quitting. Maybe we should find a happy medium. Maybe instead of Vince Lombardi, I should model W. C. Fields.

“If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no use being a damn fool about it. “

-W.C. Fields, comedian, actor, juggler and writer

Melissa Schools
The first thing that comes to mind when I consider the question of letting kids quit something or to make them follow through is this: All those people who talk about how their parents made them do something like practice piano for an hour a day and take lessons for years until all the fun was drubbed right out of it. The next thing I usually hear is some form of, “I wish I’d stayed with it.”

I’ve come to think that this issue- and perhaps all parenting struggles- boils down to whether the child feels some measure of choice or control in his life. I am not talking about, nor am I advocating, letting a child enjoy unbridled reign over all choices in his life. That would exhaust me and, frankly, drive me over the edge. I feel deficient in my patience supply as it is.

What I’m trying to flesh out is the notion of helping our kids to feel invested in their own lives. I have tried to keep what I like from my own parents’ parenting style, and kid myself into thinking I have completely reformed those things I deem to be their parenting mistakes.

I surely want to raise them with a solid foundation of what is right and wrong, to have good manners and to basically exhibit the virtues taught at their elementary school known as core values: respect, responsibility, compassion, perseverance, honesty, acceptance, self-discipline, cooperation and friendship. What I struggle with at home (read: “beat my head against a brick wall about…”) is what feels like mindless opposition to anything I ask of my kids, my nearly-nine-year-old son being the worst culprit.

Tying this back into the topic of whether to allow kids to quit an activity or not, I believe that if they are given some say in choosing activities, and if parents are able to set general boundaries and guidance for making good choices, quitting or not would be much less of an issue. This is one of those times in my life that I’m glad we don’t have scads of money laying around, because it makes for a built-in deterrent to even consider allowing my kids to quit something on a whim. “What?? What do you mean you don’t want to do ‘X’ anymore? Sorry, buddy, but the session is paid for already. You’re finishing!”

We do not let our kids sign up for every activity that catches their eye. Since they are allowed only one choice in addition to Cub Scouts per season, each son has to have a pretty high interest in the activity he chooses. Not only is over-scheduling kids a national problem these days, but it makes for a mighty grumpy Mama, so limiting outside activities works well for us.

So far, the only activities my kids are participating in are various sports. If one was truly miserable or was really struggling, I’m confident we’d let the child quit eventually…but not before trying every trick we could think of to try to get them to see it as worthwhile and character-building to stick it out.

Don April 18, 2012 at 05:21 PM
There are 2 things this generation is going to be remembered for: cheating and quitting.
Sara Jacobi April 18, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Don, what makes you say that? Parents: agree or disagree?
Don April 18, 2012 at 06:01 PM
I just happen to observe this all the time. People at work don't study anymore, they get answers and cheat on tests. As someone who hires and develops people for a large corporation, it is becoming more and more difficult to find good hard workers. What makes me say it: observations. I also observe the parents and they are the root cause. But hey, it don't matter what I say. I don't have to deal with it.
Tasha Schlake Festel April 18, 2012 at 08:48 PM
I think the issue you describe, Don, isn't so much because parents let their kids quit but rather because parents don't let their kids learn anything, especially failure. Parents do too much for their kids. They do homework for them, they fix their problems, they make sure kids get on the right teams, etc. They never let their kids feel the sting of losing and they don't teach their kids to think or work hard. Obviously this is a generalization, but I think we're raising a lot of soft, dependent and over-confident children. I don't think letting a kid quit something that really doesn't "work" for them - after truly trying to make it work - is the problem. Teaching them to take responsibility and quit gracefully can be a really great lesson.
Don April 18, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Wow, nobody disagrees???? I thought these mommies who think their kids do no wrong would have flamed up the article by now. Well, when your right, its right. No argument can be made, except the denial people.
Melissa Schools April 19, 2012 at 12:40 AM
Don: I'm thrilled to have you comment. Your opinion is welcome, in _my_ opinion. This comment section is WAY too quiet. We could use some pot stirring around here! If my kids are any indication, the generation may be remembered for whining...
Tasha Schlake Festel April 19, 2012 at 04:56 PM
OK, I disagree. *My* children will not be known for quitting and cheating. Does that make you happy? ;) Thanks for reading.
Don April 19, 2012 at 05:16 PM
I believe your are absolutely correct. In that picture above, I see that same look whenever certain age people cannot get their way. I hope all parents raise their kids like you described. Then again, me personnally sometimes I very negative and say things that are hurtfull. Would like to apologize to anyone offended, I was a bit wrong in using some words, but I still feel this way. For a quick story, I was at Dunkins about 10 years ago. What I saw was a mother and a young daughter rush through the door, barge right through people, elderly ones too, and throw a huge hissy fit because someone was a little ahead in line. Just imagine how that daughter grew up, or the sons. I also saw a mother in the Wakefield 4th of July parade when we all chipped in to build a float. The float came in second. I told all the girls, it was a girls org, that hey, you did the best you can and the float is beautiful. They were accepting doing the best you could and looking forward to marching, until the mother in charge held her breath until she turned blue because the judges would not take first from the winners. These are a few things I am sure many could tell stories that are similar. Best of luck with your family Tasha, keep them working hard.
Heidi-Jean F. Rossicone April 19, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Don't worry Don. I'm sure you will get the argument you are looking for when the right people read it. lol. However, cheating and quitting are two very different things. As the question was do we let our kids quit, I say "no". I make my kids finish what they start. If they don't enjoy a sport or activity they don't have to sign up again but they need to finish the season/session. Many times they have started to enjoy things after trying it for entire year or term. This is the goal I am looking for. If they don't, it's not for them. Most of the time I have made them try one more year, especially because they are young and they are always growing and changing. When we get better at something we usually enjoy it more right? If cheating becomes a topic next time my answer will be "my kids aren't allowed to cheat". But, if you dig even deeper, there is a lesson in cheating as well. "When you cheat you cheat yourself". Hopefully it will only take one cheat before they learn that. :)
Regina Martine April 19, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Wait - are WE the mommies whose kids can do no wrong?
Don April 20, 2012 at 11:29 AM
Are you? Only you would know that.
Don April 20, 2012 at 11:35 AM
I thank God everyday for the parents I had. They loved each other, loved us and kept us away from all the trouble that we see permeating society now. Divorce, never. But, how many times do you see parents fighting, violently? The parents drink/eat too much. Swear all the time. Then, there is the cheating, stealing. Kids that grow up in this environment become abusers and hurtful people to the rest of us who are peace lovers. I know you all see this too. How is this problem going to be fixed?
Tasha Schlake Festel April 20, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Gina, anyone who reads this column regularly knows that neither you nor I - nor any of the other Patch Mamas - think our kids can do no wrong. I think we're all pretty honest about our children and ourselves as mothers. It's not always pretty, but I hope it's helpful or, at the very least, entertaining. And just to defend my son in the picture with this article, he was giving me his "mean, tough guy face" before he took the mat to grapple with a professional MMA fighter at his birthday party. He never gives me that face in real life. Honestly. :)
Sara Jacobi April 20, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Haha, that's funny Tasha. Glad to have some context for that face!! :)
Don April 20, 2012 at 04:38 PM
That is a kid that will hurt someone someday. Maybe you should consider taking him out of that class now. That is not the look of any tough guy, that is an evil look. How many of those cartoons did he watch growing up?
Tasha Schlake Festel April 21, 2012 at 11:44 AM
Don, I'll assume you're joking because tone is tough to decipher in print. :) He's actually a super sweet and cuddly little boy. I do not worry about his role in society at all. And if I did, jujitsu at Defensive Edge would be the perfect thing for him. Sensei Rick teaches respect and self control. I've seen kids change dramatically under his guidance. I think you raise a great point, H-J. Cheating is an issue. With the Internet and readily available "content" it's so easy for kids to find whatever they need, especially someone else's work. It is a shame to miss the opportunity to learn for themselves, but the view that they've cheated themselves is a mature one that only comes with context and experience. I think we should turn Don's original point into a topic (in addition to H-J's point on cheating): what will this generation of children be known for? Thanks for the discussions!
Laurie Hunt April 21, 2012 at 12:12 PM
I think the little boy in the photo will be known as a heartbreaker as he is so sweet! I think "What will this generation of children be known for" is a good topic for a future colum!
Heidi-Jean F. Rossicone April 22, 2012 at 03:22 PM
I would have to think long and hard about what this generation will be known for. I think maybe a bit of over-coddling but that is only in addition to a number of wonderful things. I have to admit that Don, for a moment, ruffled my protective Mom feathers so I have to say, the little boy in this photo looks like an adorable little boy trying to look like a tough guy! I'm sure even Don pretended to be a tough cowboy once or twice in his day. lol. The picture is adorable and Defensive Edge is an excellent choice for gaining self confidence and awareness. I only met them once, at an event on the common, and if my daughters are ever interested in martial arts, I would bring them there. Heck, they already have the tough girl face mastered!

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