I signed my five year old daughter up for tee ball this year. She was a little excited and a little nervous, which was pretty common for this stage in the “trying new things” game.
We made it as far as the warmup of the first practice before it started to go downhill. They played a game of freeze tag and someone tagged her just a little too hard. She burst into tears and curled up against my leg. I hugged her. I pep talked her. I encouraged her not to give up, to jump back in. Reluctantly, she did. But I’m not sure we ever totally recovered the same optimism.
The season wasn’t all bad. We had to repeat our same pep talk about keeping an open mind and finishing what you start a few more times. She dragged her feet a little when it came to practices and games, but she would usually perk up at some point in the process and do pretty well. Still, by the end of the four-week season, she was finished. The last game fell under a sweltering sun and she wanted nothing to do with the dusty field and sweaty helmets. My strong-willed little almost-kindergartener planted herself firmly on the bench and refused to move.
I knelt down in front of her and did my best to reason with her. I explained, again, that we had signed up for tee ball and our team was counting on us. After the season was over, she could decide not to sign up for tee ball again if she didn’t like it, but we didn’t want to leave our team friends in the middle of the season, and definitely not in the middle of a game. She only had this one game left and it would go fast, and then we could celebrate that we had finished what we started.
My calm reasoning had no effect on her crossed arms and set jaw. We even went so far as to walk her out to the tee and try to place the bat in her limp hands. It was painfully comical.
Can I be blunt here? These parenting moments suck. They totally and completely suck. I want to teach my daughter to follow through with her commitments. I want to teach her to persevere when things feel hard. I want to teach her to give things a real chance rather than make up her mind about something in the first five minutes.
But I also want to teach her to listen to her self. I want to teach her that it’s ok to decide that something isn’t for you. I want to teach her that quitting things isn’t always bad. In fact, sometimes quitting is healthy and brave and wise. That it’s ok to walk away, but also that how you walk away matters.
The truth is, I’ve done a lot of quitting in my life. Not so much in the early years. I quit a few things in my younger days, but mostly I stuck with things for the wrong reasons, like pleasing other people. As I got older, though, the pendulum swung too far to the other side. I quit school more times than I can remember. I quit clubs, backed out of leases, walked out on jobs, and left relationships. I did more than my fair share of quitting the “wrong” way.
Life balanced out a little, but quitting things didn’t necessarily get easier. I learned that sometimes there isn’t a “right” way to quit something. There came a point in my life where I chose to quit a marriage, and I can tell you, even if ending a marriage is the right thing to do, there is no “right” way to do it. Even now, I find myself struggling to know when the “right” time to quit or stick with something is.
When I look back on this long and sometimes painful journey, one thing stands out to me: not how hard these lessons were for me to learn, but rather, how much this must have sucked for my parents.
I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface when it comes to teaching my daughter the complex art of quitting. Soon there will come a time when I have done all the guiding I can do, and I will simply have to stand back and let her make her own choices. Inevitably, she will choose wrong. And as her mom, I will work to master the art of supporting her and loving her, even when I don’t agree with her. Dragging her onto the tee ball field feels hard but, in reality, it will probably be the easiest part of parenting her through this journey.
She didn’t love it tee ball, but she did finish out the game. She even eventually held the bat without assistance. 🙂 And when it was over, we celebrated. I told her I was proud of her for finishing what she started and giving it a chance. That I was proud of her for sticking with it even when it was hard. And that I was proud of her for knowing that tee ball wasn’t her thing, and that it was ok to let go of tee ball in order to find what was her thing.
And in my own heart I celebrated the fact that, even though there will be countless “hard parenting moments” in the future, I know deep down that it will never be hard to find at least one reason to be proud of her.