Is Quitting Ever Okay?

“Pain is temporary.  Quitting is forever.” – Lance Armstrong

“If you quit once it becomes a habit.  Never quit!” – Michael Jordan

“Age wrinkles the body; quitting wrinkles the soul.” – Douglas MacArthur

We live in a society that despises the quitter.  To quit something is to admit failure and that’s not something we do.  It’s certainly not something we want to instill in or allow for our children, and yet, paradoxically, we seem to have a society in which quitting is done with abandon.  As soon as something fails to live up to what we believe we are entitled to, we walk away—be it marriage, sports, arts, music, writing, whatever.  The flipside, however, is that we can end up forcing children and people to stay in relationships or activities that are unhealthy too—all in the name of not being a quitter.

Where is the line?  How can you instill the sense of honouring a commitment while also honouring yourself?  As parents, it’s our job to help our kids develop this sense and yet we’re not doing very well at it, so here are some things you should consider when talking to your kids about commitment and quitting.

Set minimum time limits for trying new individual activities or skills.  New things can be fun and exciting for a week or two then become rather miserable when it gets to be “hard”.  Too many of us back away when things seem to challenging, leaving us with no understanding of the immense benefits of working through the difficult periods in learning to come out mastering a new skill.  When your kid asks to take up, for example, the guitar, before saying yes and running to the guitar store, plan how long they’re going to try it out for.  What’s the minimum time before they can realistically have a sense that it’s not for them?  This should go for any individual activity.

When it’s a team, make the commitment to the team and the time frame for it clear.  The reason I specified individual before is because the commitment is to yourself, and although that’s hugely important, when you join a team, you are also making a commitment to others.  Unfortunately, when our kids treat the joining and leaving of a team with as much thought as which shoes to wear, they grow up without the sense that to commit to others is to see it through to the end of whatever term is set.  A child who joins a hockey team should stay through to the end of the season because that is the commitment they made.  They need not return the next year, but if they committed, they see it through.  If you don’t feel your child is ready for this commitment, find a way to introduce them to the sport or activity in a way that makes it more individual and thus you can set a different time limit, but also explain to them why you’re doing this so they can learn to make these kinds of decisions themselves.

Help your child cope when it gets difficult.  Things get hard and our kids need to know they can come to us for support in those moments.  Too often we tell our children to either quit or to “suck it up” when they face hardship when neither of these is helpful for instilling the type of behaviour we want for our kids.  They need support, they need help finding solutions when things seem too hard to continue, and we are the people they trust to give them that kind of support.  If we take that way, what are we doing?  We’re forcing them into situations that they aren’t necessarily prepared for or we tell them it’s okay to walk away as soon as something is hard because we don’t have the means or desire to help them through it.  It may be as simple as letting them cry on your shoulder when they hit a rough patch or you may need to be more involved in finding solutions that make them feel supported while they work through difficult times.

If it’s harming them, let them walk away.  I realize this may seem counter to everything that has been said above, but it’s not.  This is the last resort issue when things really don’t go as planned.  Of note, “harming” does not equal “not being 100% happy”; if you have spoken to them about the commitment ahead of time and they aren’t happy, you remind them of the commitment they made and work with them to get them through it.  However, I would be remiss to ignore the fact that kids get bullied or harmed in certain activities and if this is the case, the other points go out the window.  Your child needs to feel safe, first and foremost, and it’s your job to make sure they feel that way.  When that is compromised and you’ve done what you can to try and fix it to no avail (or it’s too severe right off the bat), then you absolutely need to make sure your child is safe and there is no shame in walking away in those moments.  None.

By Tracy Cassels

September 29, 2014