Even by the lax standards of 1970s parenting, my upbringing was a lenient one. My mother’s philosophy about raising children was more hands off than helicoptering.
There was no bedtime. Whenever and wherever we got tired, we fell asleep.
We all had TVs in our rooms, which is why I learned more about French kissing from The Love Boat than any 6-year-old should know.
And when it came to quitting, there were no inspirational speeches. My older brother didn’t like camp, so he spent his summers playing Dungeons & Dragons and Space Invaders.
If I didn’t like an after-school program I signed up for, my mother’s advice was, “If you don’t love it, just quit.”
That’s what I did.
I quit gymnastics, pottery and musical theater.
I quit Hebrew school, ice skating classes and my high school track team.
I didn’t know what was right for me, but I was discovering what was wrong.
I followed my mother’s advice well into adulthood. I quit 12 jobs I didn’t like. (Eventually I found the right one.)
Yet, recently, when my own 8-year old daughter announced she wanted to quit ballet after five years, the words “you’re not a quitter” came out of my mouth.
I didn’t learn that from my mother.
“Well, why can’t I quit?” she asked.
I thought about it. What bothered me was all the money we’d invested and the time she’d spent pursuing the wrong goal.
But maybe it was wrong because it was my goal. (Not for her to become a ballerina, but for her to be really good at something and follow through.)
And maybe modern parenting has convinced me that my child needs to be a winner, and winners never quit.
But does my child really need to be a winner? I’m not sure.
Vince Lombardi, who is widely considered the best NFL coach of all time and is well-known for the saying, “Winners never quit and quitters never win,” was also well-known for verbally abusing his wife and children.
Are the two connected? Perhaps.
My kids may not always be winners, but they’ll grow up with their egos more or less intact.
As a close friend recently said, “Why do we put so much pressure on our children? Look at all of us.”
She’s right: Look at me. I’m a good middle-class parent, but not a Nobel Prize winner, CEO, or Olympian.
Speaking of those … sure, Albert Einstein didn’t give up. Neither did Steve Jobs or Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time.
But Michael Phelps’ mother signed him up for swimming classes when he was 7 to help him get rid of his excessive energy, she has said. That’s why he wound up with 22 medals. He was doing what was right for him.
What if she had signed him up for art classes or violin? Chances are he would have wanted to quit.
I realized that if my daughter didn’t quit ballet now, she’d lose even more time, time that should be spent discovering what she loves.
Maybe my mother was right: Do whatever makes you happy.
And maybe the best advice she ever gave me was, “If you don’t love it, quit.”
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