My kids are quitters. Wanna make something out of it?

My children quit activities they don’t like. Just like that. Guitar? Martial arts? Gymnastics? Music? Art? Naked hang-gliding?* They don’t like it, they don’t want to go, they quit. No fuss. We move on to something else. Or nothing.

I don’t say, “But I paid for it, so you have to finish it.” (Although I suggest—“We have six classes left. Can you give it a couple classes more before you really make up your mind?” And sometimes they say yes. And sometimes they say, “No, I know I hate this. I don’t need to go any more to find out.”)

I don’t say, “But you wanted to!” Because, seriously, when a five-year-old asks for—insert activity of choice here—she really doesn’t really understand what it entails, what it means. It sounded like fun, cool. But now she’s doing it. And it blows goats.

I don’t say, above all, “In this family, we finish what we started!” Because—I don’t finish unreadable books. I walk out of bad movies. I don’t finish that $40 entree at the fancy restaurant when it tastes foul.

You’re getting edgy, I can see. You’re going to say… but none of those are important things.

You know what? Neither is art class at four. Ballet at seven. Most if not all of the extra-curricular activities children are put in—at younger and younger ages—are thoroughly, completely unimportant and irrelevant. Or, to be less negative: they are as important and relevant as my enjoyment of a book, a movie, a meal. They are supposed to be pleasure. Fun. If they are—awesome. The child will want to go.

And when they’re not… why do you feel compelled to make them go?

I’m going to up the stakes a bit. Listen to this: I quit jobs that make me miserable. I stop working for clients who don’t respect or deserve my time. I withdraw my time and passion from causes that drain me. I don’t invest in relationships that don’t fill me.

If it’s making me miserable and I can let it go—I do. I quit. I walk. I stop.

And here’s the thing, beloved. I am incredibly successful. Obscenely self-disciplined. Really, despite the chaos I let you enjoy here, extremely organized. I get things done.

Important things.

Define important as you will…

I want my children to learn to value—their time. I want them to pursue their passions, talents, and skills. I don’t want them to confuse time wasters and schedule fillers with.. essentials. Because the older you get, the more you grow into adulthood, the more time wasters and schedule fillers are thrust at you by people who never learned the difference.

So. Take away this from my ramblings today. If your son** tells you he wants to quit violin-soccer-Mad Science-biathalon, ask—“Are you sure?” Ask, sure, “Why?” Listen to the answer. And let him quit without worrying that you’re failing to teach him a lesson.***

You’re teaching him this:

Your mother listens to you.

And this:

Your time is valuable. I honour where you choose to give it, even now.

And then, beloved… think about where you choose to give your time. And whether you are valuing it. Your time, talent, passion is precious. That thing you’re doing that’s sucking you dry, exhausting you, making you ill with anxiety? Is it important? Is it essential? Is the goal to which it leads worth it?

If it is—by all means, suck it up. Persevere. Get to the top, over the finish line.

If it falls in the category of Drama Start for Preschoolers? Quit.

Permission granted.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some things I want to finish…



photo (30)

Photo: Hard at play, hard at work.

*I put that in there to make sure you were reading, not skimming.

**It’s usually my son. 🙂

***Really listen to the answer. There’s always a subtext. Find it.

43 thoughts on “My kids are quitters. Wanna make something out of it?

  1. Okay, I never thought about it like that! Once my son was old enough I did let him pick his activities and if he wanted to give it up I did remind him of his responsibility and commitment to finish what he started, but I never forced it. Now that he is older I’m much more flexible about it and will totally support his decisions. I’m glad you posted this so that know I have a way to verbalized it!

  2. This has been a really hard lesson for me to learn. My parents never let me quite anything, and I was MISERABLE. So I try really hard not to push Isaiah, although I catch myself doing it sometimes. Great post, as always, Jane is the voice I want in my head!

  3. This is great. I would add that I don’t like to waste money, so I hold off on formal “classes” all together until my kids are old enough to really want them. This happens sometime after 7 or 8… my now 8 year old has just started to agree to certain things (like an informal Lego Robotics group), but he says no to any kind of structured class. My 11 yr old likes certain things- pottery, swimming, but he’s very specific and won’t hesitate to say no thank you. And my older kids never did too many classes and they’ve turned out just fine 🙂

    I also think that if homeschoolers want to try school they should be allowed to quit. I’m surprised by how many homeschoolers say, well if they want to go, they have to stay the whole year. Why?!

    • Because you finish what you started, goddammit! Unless you don’t… And ditto on the not spending money on formal classes until they’re older. That’s a lesson that took me a couple of kids to learn, though. To trust that actually a house, a yard, a park, a river, a library–that was not just “enough,” it was plenty.

  4. Just came across your blog through wonderlandbytatu, and I really enjoyed this post. Looking forward to spending a bit of my precious time reading some more. But I warn you – if it takes too much effort I’m outta here.
    I have a similar approach to parenting, although I do push the kids to at least try new things for a while before they bail, as you seem to do.
    Although it’s not precisely related, you might enjoy a post I wrote a while back, entitled “If You Love Them Let Them Fail.”
    Thanks for the read “Jane.”

  5. I really enjoyed this read. I don’t have kids yet, but this definitely made me think about the stance I’ll have with my kids. I do know that I also will not stay in a job if it is not right for me or I hate it. Many people tell me that I should just be thankful, or stick it out. I think life is too short to be miserable, and that is a good lesson to teach our kids.

    • Part of it for me too is that there is so much unavoidable “yuck.” You know? Some of it, you’ve got to deal with, stick it out. There’s enough of that. Why court more? And why force more on your children? Glad to have made you think.

  6. I agree with you, for the most part. But, I’m a firm believer that if you make a commitment to a team, class, project, or whatever, you NEVER quit in the middle of it. Choose wisely and give it 110%. Finish the current season and and move on if it’s not the right fit. Some things they tried have become life long passions, some bad ones snuck up on them and they found the fun, but others sucked (for all of us!). BUT, they’ve learned how to navigate through difficult things, know if, when, and how to walk away, and with zero regret.

    • Well, clearly, I disagree on the NEVER quitting. No caveats. Choose wisely–but when you’ve chosen wrongly, have the courage to admit that to yourself and to others. And quit. That’s how you have the space and energy to give a 110% where it really matters…

  7. Great article though I don’t have this problem. My kids love all the classes they participate in and for the most part like to try new things. I don’t think I would invest money in a new class if i wasn’t at least 50% sure they will like it.

  8. Naked hang-gliding? My parents always made us finish the season, but we didn’t have to sign up again. I think I prefer the quitter’s way.

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  10. Just got sent here by someone who wanted to make a point. I, like no doubt most of your readers, started to twitch at the beginning of this post…my sense of outrageous indignation started wafting around and enveloping me…memories of paying out hand over fist for all sorts of activities that were initiated by “I PROMISE I won’t quit” only to be followed the week after by “I QUIT!” but the more I read the more I ruminated about exactly why it was so important to me to achieve that sense of outrageous indignation in the first place…”I am the damned parent here…I have to pay for this bollocks! I had to go to work to earn the readies to pay for them to quit…” etc. ad infinitum and the thought process (albeit a rudimentary one) was an unfamiliar one. Who has time to think processes through these days? I learned 2 things today from your post

    1. I am prone to outrageous indignation on a regular basis
    2. I need to learn to think things through

    Cheers for teaching me 2 valuable lessons and it isn’t even 5am here in Tasmania Australia. My now adult daughter would probably have loved to have a mother who listened to her back then…sad that I didn’t know “how” to listen to what she was really saying but I can make it up to her a little…methinks it is time to pull back some of that time from my busy schedule and take her out for a cup of coffee and shut up and listen. Cheers for todays life lesson ma’am.

  11. My son has quit more things than I can name. I never have had the heart to “make him persist”. I’ts probably because he is more stubborn, more tenacious, and smarter than I am.

    However, I have two serious reservations about quitting. People like things that they are good at. If you quit everything, before you become good enough to enjoy what you are doing, how will you ever get to the good-at-it-level? There is always a getting-it curve with new skills and activities. Do you remember learning to drive?

    My second reservation involves pushing through the pain. I can’t count how many times have I preferred to sit on the couch rather than to get up and go to some event or class and willed myself to do said event afterwards, having been really glad that I had done it. It’s a matter of getting over my inertia.

    I wish it were as easy for me as picking a side and sticking to it. IMO, everything, and I do mean everything is best balanced in the middle of the continuum. Landing softly, somewhere between, they can quit if they want to and they must finish it out is hard; but it”s always were I find my truth. To me, to quit or not to quit is a question that must be answered in the moment in each individual situation.

    • Excellent points, all. I would disagree, actually, with the premise of “People like things that they are good at”–but I would have to write you an essay on that and you’d have to write me one back… let’s tackle that another time, shall we? I’ll just say this: Persevering and pushing through the pain when it’s your passion, a choice you’ve made as a fully sentient adult–that’s one thing. Being forced to persevere and being forced to push through the pain–to achieve a skill or mastery that might not ever matter, that does not, in the big picture of life, matter now– when you are a dependent, child… especially a young child… I won’t do it.

      But–it’s not a bad place to be in, where you are. Landing softly in the middle, or wherever it is that a situation demands. I like it.

  12. Finally! A voice of reason! My oldest plays baseball. Houseleague baseball. When people ask why he doesn’t play “competitive” I simply explain that if my son is the next Jose Bautista, they will find him. When their music teacher asked me what I wanted my children to get out of their lessons, I said “an appreciation and some fun”. If I live with a Mozart or a Jimi Hendrix, then they will find them. I can’t push or force my children to be any of those things. Besides, I like who they are. Just as they are.

    • I’ve never been called a voice of reason before. Sweeeet. You’ve zeroed in on a point I didn’t go into in the post, but which is a key pillar of everything I believe about learning and passion: when the drive, the passion to DO something is there–you can’t stop it. It doesn’t matter how difficult it is, when you truly WANT to do it, you will–to use the phrase from the comment above–“push through the pain.” Persevere. I know if of myself, I trust it in my children… and yeah. I love them how they are. Just as they are. xoxo Happy Solstice, my new soulmate. ;P

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  14. Wow just wow.. I can not believe this article and how many people support this point of view. I do understand not forcing a child to do something that make him/her unhappy but I also need to take a step I back and ask myself what is the parents role in this and what type of message are we sending to our kids so we don’t have to see them suffer through something. In the article she makes a big deal about how how their time is precious but what about other people’s time and money. I believe it is my responsibility as a parent to teach my child to really think things through before starting a project,and to finish what is started. As a parent it is my responsibility to give her essential tools to prepare her for life. For the times when she has to take a college class she hates, or to follow through with a promise to someone. Children do not learn these things on their own they must be taught through trial and error. Teach a kid to be a quitter that is exactly what your gonna get..

  15. Pingback: I don't let my kids quit...and that makes me?? | Simply Real Moms

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