Most parents are plagued with thoughts on how to recognise when it is not only okay for their children to quit, but it is also the right decision. What’s important is to understand the risks and rewards
I was invited to an impromptu get-together to celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary of a dear friend. After a sumptuous meal and a delightful dessert, we sat talking in a relaxed ambience. Somehow, the conversation turned to the host’s 20-year-old son who had quit playing hockey professionally.
Everyone gathered there had a comment to make, an opinion to share. One friend said, rather aggressively, that the boy should have never been allowed to quit; so much time, effort and money would go down the drain. Another said that the parents should have never accepted their son’s withdrawal. They were of the opinion that it would send the wrong signal to the young man — one needs to cultivate an attitude of not giving up to overcome the hardships of life.
Our hosts sat quietly listening to the barrage of unsolicited advice — an array of emotions writ large on their faces. They said they were stunned when their son informed them of his decision. They were witness to the gruelling workouts their young son had to go through — they were aware of how he had avoided socialising with friends in lieu of practice sessions. He had denied himself so much and yet he had made up his mind to quit. They wanted to have a dialogue with him, but the wilful expression on his face told them not to insist and they said in unison, “All right. If this is what you want.”
The topic of quitting has been on my mind for some time. What is it regarding quitting that evokes so many varied responses?
The stigma related to quitting is unfortunate. We are taught early on the value of persistence and the benefits of sticking to something until its completion. We are constantly reminded, ‘Winners never quit, and quitters never win’, or ‘Never give up, follow your dream’. People who change their minds or course of action are often called irresponsible, unstable and indecisive.
Why do we hesitate to allow our children to quit? Is it because we fear that our child will change direction every time he or she has a bad day? Or that he or she may not be able to survive the hardships of life? Or do we fear that he or she may emerge from adolescence as a one-dimensional adult? Or is it because our child’s quitting has a lot to do with us parents? We are embarrassed by the thoughts of explaining to people. We are so worried when we think of people’s opinions that we forget what is best for our child. When our child wants to quit, we remind him “Remember you made a commitment! You cannot quit if you are committed to something.” The poor child sticks to it, hating every moment, and not enjoying it. He keeps plodding along, dreading each day, only because he is not a quitter.
The right decision
But, how does a parent know the difference between quitting because their child is lazy, scared or unmotivated and quitting because he is putting himself and his emotional well-being first? How do we know when enough is enough?
Most parents’ minds are plagued with thoughts on how to recognise when it is not only okay to quit, but it is actually the right decision. The key here, I think, is to understand risks and rewards. Children tend to look narrowly at the short-term. Therefore, it is our responsibility as parents and adults to guide them toward the broader and the longer-term, standing victories and accomplishments.
For many, quitting creates a feeling of failure and incompetence. But I believe that it gives you an opportunity to re-evaluate your position, thoughts or feelings. Therefore, it should be seen as a good attribute not a weakness. It takes courage to quit.
It is my firm belief that childhood should deal with exploration and experimentation, letting our children try their wings while we are still around to catch them if they fall. Giving our children the option to abandon activities that do not work for them gives them the chance to try the things that might work. Sometimes, walking away from one choice, programme or project is actually a move towards something better.
We need to have faith in our children. We need to remind ourselves from time to time that the decisions our children make are not set in stone.
(The writer is a remedial educator)
Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org