i'm out

I'm Teaching My Kids To Be Quitters. Here's Why.

The trick, I’ve learned, is to know when to dig deeper or when to quit digging altogether.

I am teaching my kids to be quitters
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“If at first, you don't succeed, try, try again!” “Winners never quit, and quitters never prosper!” There are many other adages with the same core message; this narrative proclaims one lesson above all others: quitting is to be avoided at all costs. But looking back, it’s clear that I’ve held onto things (friendships, jobs, sushi) way longer than I should have — all in the name of not being a quitter — and it wasn’t healthy. So, I’m teaching my kids that in some cases, the best option is to abandon what you’re doing and move on. Give up. Throw in the towel. Just quit. Contrary to popular belief, sometimes quitting is for winners.

We’re taught from a young age that quitting is bad and shameful. The widely accepted belief is that success is only probable and possible for those who never give up, come hell or high water. Whether with sports, dreams, or even relationships, we’re taught that giving up is synonymous with failure and weakness.

And yes, when you teach your kids that quitting is okay, the challenge is that they are more inclined to, well, quit. Do I want to teach my kids to give up at the first sign of frustration? Absolutely not, and I want to be very clear about that distinction. I certainly don’t want to raise kids that immediately surrender when things become challenging or they encounter a slight bump in the road. Making an impulsive decision to give up when things become arduous, don’t go as hoped, or simply become boring or uninteresting is no good, either.

Instead, I want them to view quitting “well” as an art; one that requires a conscious decision-making process, and an educated reflection of previous progress as well as the impact (both positives and negatives) of stopping versus carrying on. Knowing when to pack up and leave or stick it out is a delicate balance and over time, with life experience, one learns the nuance of this conundrum: Quit something too early and you risk completely missing the magic of all the good that might come, but stay too long and you might encounter the law of diminishing returns. The trick, I’ve learned, is to know when to dig deeper or when to quit digging altogether. I’ve found that intuition — that initial gut-driven impulse — is typically my best compass.

My son started doing taekwondo and was thriving learning the disciplines and techniques. But when it came time to move up to sparring, everything changed. He shared that sparring felt too violent for him and was causing him a great deal of anxiety. I was not enthused about this, because not only did I want him to learn to tolerate and work through the discomfort, I had just bought $300 worth of gear. But after much thoughtful reflection and a detailed conversation with him regarding his motives, we decided to allow him to quit. Forcing my highly sensitive child to continue was causing him emotional distress. Did I make the “correct” choice? I suppose that's up for debate, but it sure felt "right" in this particular instance, with this particular kid.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m a believer that good old-fashioned hard work coupled with grit, tenacity, and persistence is essential to achieve many worthwhile goals. Challenges and obstacles are inevitable. The temptation to give up during a rough patch is a natural part of enduring something difficult so it’s important to remember that many times, there is much to be gained from sticking it out.

But “toughing out” situations simply for the sake of being tough feels counterproductive, and even harmful in some instances. In many cases, it requires an immense amount of courage and self-knowledge to discontinue something. Being courageous and resolute don't always mean hanging on until the bitter end. Sometimes being brave means sticking it out and other times it looks like being honest with yourself about something that's not working and walking away.

For many years, I wanted to be a singer. Unfortunately, I don't have an aptitude for music (or a particularly good voice for that matter). I realize now I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and it was never going to work. It wasn’t until I finally gave up and moved on, that I realized I’m more adept at something else.

I’ve learned that perseverance and quitting aren’t mutually exclusive, because for every no, there is a yes to something else. When you walk away from what isn’t working, you learn from past mistakes and free up energy and time to foster new opportunities. Instead of seeing quitting as the ultimate failure, I try to reframe it as an opportunity to grow and direct efforts on to the next adventure. Sometimes, quitting can be the catalyst to make room for positive change. My son has since moved on to another sport that he is flourishing at, and it took me letting go of my singing dream to discover a new career path, one that I’m better suited for.

Life is one big gamble, which implies that along with the wins, there will be losses. It’s okay to accept that it didn’t work out, cut your losses, move on, and not feel guilty about it. Yes, it sucks to admit that something didn’t go as planned, but what’s worse is holding on to something that is no longer productive in your life. And things change; even if something was a good fit at one point, that doesn’t guarantee that it will always be. There’s no shame in bowing out when you’ve given it your best effort and it’s evident it’s not going to end favorably.

Learning to recognize when something is not serving you and moving on are fundamental life skills. A wise man (Kenny Rogers) once said, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run.” I sincerely hope that I’ve instilled some key attributes in my kids — ones I deem indispensable — quick wit, diligence, and the knowledge that sometimes, the best way to move forward with something is simply not to.

Christina Crawford is a Dallas-based writer, guacamole enthusiast, and mom to three feral little boys. She spends her days putting out fires (actual and metaphorical) and trying to keep goldfish alive. Her words have appeared in Newsweek, HuffPost, Health Magazine, Parents, Scary Mommy, Today Show Parents, and more. You can follow along on Twitter where she writes (questionably) funny anecdotes about her life at @Xtina_Crawford