By Susan McGlohn, Sterling
Originally published in the March-April 2003 VaHomeschoolers Voice
The ongoing joke around my parents’ house while I was growing up was that I only joined clubs, sports, and other extracurricular activities until I could get the team t-shirt, then I would quit. It was certainly true that I tried a lot of different activities while growing up, from Girl Scouts to cross country running to the marching band, and I had a very impressive t-shirt collection by the time I graduated high school here in Virginia.
As an adult, it hasn’t gotten much better. I dropped out of college in the middle of my sophomore year. I quit smoking. I quit my job when I had children. I pulled my kids out of preschool to homeschool them. I even joined karate a few years ago when my older children did, only to drop out after a few months because it was too hard to attend classes with a very active 2- year-old (still have the cool t-shirt though).
So what about quitting? Isn’t that a bad thing? Won’t it make children lazy, self-centered, and unfocused? I have heard the argument that children must be made to finish what they start, even if they don’t want to. I have heard that it builds character, and teaches them perseverance. Have you ever watched a baby learning to walk? No one had to teach that child perseverance. He falls down a thousand times, hits his head on the coffee table, and tumbles off the foyer landing into the family room over and over, but keeps getting back up and trying again.
We’ve all seen it before. The four-year-old who sits on the side of the pool screaming and crying through the swimming lesson making it hard for the rest of the kids to hear….the eight-year-old who scowls and refuses to participate in practice while the parent, throwing apologetic looks to the coach, wheedles, bribes, and threatens the child in front of everyone to have a good attitude and play. Most of the time these are activities that the parent decided would be fun for the child, not ones the child initiated or expressed any desire to participate in. Then the money and time invested are held up to the child as being more important to the parent than the child’s abilities or interests or feelings.
I have come to realize, through my own errors, that forced participation teaches my children only two things: resentment for the one forcing them, and a strong dislike for the activity they are being forced to complete.
Adults quit things all the time.
We call it prioritizing. We drop one activity in order to focus on another. Quitting some- thing that is unhealthy, or that takes up too much of our time, or that we aren’t very good at, can be a sign of maturity, of recognizing personal limitations, of realizing that we don’t enjoy the activity as much as we thought we would.
One of the biggest benefits of home schooling is that it allows our children to explore the entire world, to pick up activities and look at them, and if they don’t fit just right, put it down again and try an- other. Like a person trying to build a jigsaw puzzle, and trying a variety of pieces until they find the ones that fit, it might take our children some time to find the activities that they enjoy and excel at.
My two oldest children have, in their few years, tried soccer, piano, art lessons, ballet, tennis, karate, various play- groups, swimming lessons, games clubs, volleyball, basketball, co-op classes, and a couple youth groups. They have explored making movies, writing books and scripts, building models, cooking and baking, computer games, woodworking, and running various businesses of their own design. Many of their interests wax and wane almost as often as the moon does, and a few of them are as constant as the stars.
Sometimes it is a matter of timing. That puzzle piece might fit eventually, when we are farther along in the assembly of the jigsaw puzzle. Leaving room for growth and maturity before returning to an activity can be a good thing! Most activities and interests can be put aside for a while and picked back up again sometime in the future.
My daughter insisted she wanted to quit karate about eighteen months ago. We suggested we just “freeze” her membership at the karate school for a while, and if she still wanted nothing to do with it in six months, we would formally close the membership there. Wouldn’t you know, she changed her mind again about four months later, and even got a trophy in the karate tournament that year. She badly sprained her ankle a couple months later, and was out of karate again for four months, and we froze the membership again. When she felt her ankle was strong enough she returned, and has been thoroughly enjoying it, some- times going four times a week when she can. She came in first place in her age and belt division this year at the tournament. If we had insisted that she continue because we had invested X amount of money, or continue until a holiday or other arbitrary mark on the calendar, she would have resented every extra moment spent there, and never returned to it again.
Another example: Sarah begged for piano lessons when she was seven. By the time she was eight and a half, she hated it so much. The writing required in the theory books was too much for her, and she didn’t want to practice every day, so we let her quit.
This past summer my eleven-year-old son wanted to take piano, and we found a piano teacher through SHARENET that actually comes to our house, and is very inexpensive as far as piano lessons go, so I threw it on the table for Sarah as well. I suggested to her that since the teacher was already coming to the house, and we could have two lessons back to back, why not give it just till the end of the summer? I left it totally up to her. Guess what? She has found that she loves it now. I don’t have to tell either of them to practice; in fact, I have to ask them to stop sometimes!
But what about quitting when others depend upon us? Like in team sports or drama productions? How can we teach our children to fulfill obligations in these instances? If my child were truly an integral part of a team, or had a lead part in a play, I would discuss the situation with him, and let him know what was going to happen after he quit. Perhaps together we could work out a solution so that others aren’t let down, but my child’s desire to move on would also be respected. Setting a date, such as after the big game or after the play production, might be acceptable.
But let’s be honest here. Most kids who are good at sports and are key players on a team don’t want to quit; it is the ones who are the bench warmers or who are awkward on the playing field and realize their time could be better spent pursuing other interests who are the ones that usually want to quit. We have all been told, and Disney movies have been made to prove, that no one person is the star on a team. Dropping out shouldn’t cause the team to lose the championship unless they were going to lose anyway. Drama clubs usually have understudies preparing for the major roles in case of illness or accident, and mi- nor roles are usually just added in so that everyone gets a part and aren’t left out.
Deciding to allow our children the right to quit takes a lot of faith in their ability to choose for themselves what their interests are. It means making up our minds not to hold any obligations on our part against them, such as money or time already invested. If we have purchased expensive equipment, can we resell it and recoup some of our loss? Can we get a refund on the remaining classes? If our child quits the team, will the team really be without someone to take their position?
My challenge to you is to stop viewing quitting as a door closing and an opportunity lost. Instead, it is a door opening and time being released to be used to explore new interests and an opportunity for our children to expand their knowledge and skills in other directions.
Originally published in the March-April 2003 VaHomeschoolers Voice.
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