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Moms Talk: Quitting Time

When is enough enough?

That’s it. I give up.

We’ve been trying to move for more than a year now. We were so close on one house that I actually once we passed the inspection, convinced that it was a sure thing. At the 11th hour, the house appraised significantly low, and the sellers would not budge on their price, so that was that. 

We kept looking.  And kept looking. And finally, last week, we found our perfect house. And I mean absolutely perfect. We put together the offer last Saturday night and woke up Sunday with the offer in our inboxes for us to sign.

Instead, we went to breakfast.

And then on a bike ride.

And then cleaned and vacuumed.

Some time in the middle of the day on Sunday, my husband and I looked at each other and realized that neither of us actually wanted to sign. We had a emergency family meeting, and all three of us were thrilled to decide to take the time, energy, and money that we were putting into finding a house, and instead put it into making our little downtown townhouse work for us.

So we quit.

Quitting is a huge relief. Talking about it, however is terrifying. Because, to many parents, quit is a four-letter word. We want our kids to quit whining, or quit procrastinating, but quit soccer? Or piano? 

Heaven forbid.

We want them to finish what they’ve started. If your kid decides two lessons into chess club that they’d rather do horseback riding, too bad. We’ve paid for the three-month session, and we want our money’s worth. I heard in my spinning class this week that in one of our nearby Eastside cities, signing up for soccer is a one-year commitment. 

A whole year?  For a first grader? Madness.

Kids don’t know what they want because they don’t have the experience to know. When I asked my daughter if she wanted to do drama or gymnastics after school, she didn’t know, because she’d never done either of those things. When she made a “decision,” she was guessing, based on what she thought she knows about the two activities, who was doing them, and some random other stuff. She does not make a comparison of her interests to the activity. She makes a guess.

And if she’s wrong? She’ll want to quit.

And we’ll let her.

When I was a kid, my stepfather made me practice piano every single day, one hour a day, unless I had a fever. I was pretty good, and he was determined to cement this skill into me. 

When my mother and he divorced, I never touched a piano again. Ever. (Sorry, Daddy.) Even playing the keyboard for a game of Rockband can make me flinch.

Because of this, I let my daughter quit things. She’s taken a single session of a ton of classes, from aikido to zoo pals. And what she loves, she sticks with. She takes swimming every single week. She takes music classes every time she has an opportunity. 

She loves drama enough to attempt to overcome her horrific stage fright and signed up last session. She loved it and she loved the people she did it with. The final show was a triumph for her, having her lines (mostly) memorized and saying them loud and proud, with not a hint of shaking. 

I am a huge fan of theater. I was delighted to think of her doing drama again. Instead, she decided that she wanted to try gymnastics this time. I sighed deeply, signed her up for gymnastics, and now delightedly watch her shining eyes when she tells us at dinner what trick she learned that week.

She’ll be trying horseback riding camp this summer. This is her fifth attempt at horses. Each previous attempt has been a quick quit, some more expensive than others. Maybe this time will be the charm. Maybe it won’t. Either way, when she comes to me the third day, with that look on her face that will say either “Mom, let me quit,” or “Is it horses again? Hooray,” I will shut my eyes and remind myself of a piano and a house contract.

And then open my eyes again and let her choose. Because I can’t quit being me.

April Eversoul April 20, 2012 at 02:30 PM
What a GREAT piece! FINALLY someone has said the "q" word in positive light! Remember those 4 Mt. Rainier hikers who died scaling a mountain being "positive" about potential bad weather? The guy who survived had QUIT! Why? He did not lean towards the oh-so-current "positive" thinking to keep going in the face of LIMITS. This saved his life. Denial and pushing past limits is dangerous. Yay for this article! Perhaps common sense is back!
Cathy Watkins April 20, 2012 at 05:59 PM
This is my favorite column so far! But then, I say that every week:) This is a difficult topic. Sometimes I quit even before I get started because of fear of not being "good enough." I wish I did less of that. But, I have also quit things that I am actually quite good at, simply because I no longer experienced joy, satisfaction, or a feeling of accomplishment. Having kids try things and supporting their experimentation, AND honoring their preferences? That's good parenting! Thanks for a thoughtful piece.

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