When should kids quit their commitments?
When kids want to quit an activity, parents shouldn't give up their role in guiding their children to the right decision.
When Jamie and Carol’s daughter, Anna, was 5, they enrolled her in a dance class. She hated it. “She cried through the first two sessions. After giving it some thought, we let her quit since we didn’t think dance was something she would need for a life skill,” Carol remembers. Later, when their son, J.P., discovered he didn’t like his traveling basketball team, Carol and Jamie required him to stay with the team anyway. “He did not love the weekend tournaments; he would rather have been at home playing. We made him finish the season since he was part of a team, but we also respected his opinion. Despite his talent in basketball, we did not sign him up the next season.”
When it comes to children and commitments, there is no easy one-size-fits-all approach. When is it appropriate to require a child to stay with an activity because we need to teach loyalty or perseverance? When is it better to allow a child to step out of a commitment—to admit that the activity is not in line with his or her interests and move on?
Look at talents and abilities
For Mike and Maurita, all parenting decisions come from a place of faith. They see an important part of their parenting role as helping their daughters utilize God’s gifts to them. “We try to make our daughters understand that if God blessed them with certain gifts, he intended for those to be used; we look for opportunities for them to develop their gifts through sports, music, and other activities. When Fabi wanted to quit soccer, we explained to her all the reasons she could not quit an activity midseason, not the least of which was that it would be squandering a gift from God.”
Maurita says that because of this Fabi continued and now, three years later, she has truly fallen in love with the game. “She gets confidence and self-worth from it; she is passionate about it; and she cannot find enough opportunities to play. We see her play with all her heart. For me, watching from the sidelines, it’s a form of gratitude and prayer. To see your child using gifts that God has so generously bestowed on her is a profound experience. And Fabi has shown gratitude to us for guiding her to hang in there, and to God for blessing her with a strong, athletic body and the ability to play with intensity and joy.”
Walk through discernment
Shondra and Malik’s daughter, Jasmine, now 14, started gymnastics at age 4. Over the years, she quickly moved up the ranks, placing high in state-wide competitions and thriving academically despite three-hour daily practices. Malik says the intense time commitment caused his wife and he to develop a love/hate relationship with it.
“We felt like we were bowing to the ‘gymnastics god,’” Malik says. “But as she continued on, we saw all the qualities it fostered: self-confidence, grit, knowing how to pick yourself up and refocus when you fail.”
In the last two years of grade school, Jasmine became aware that if she wished to move to the next level, she would need to spend her high school years focusing on gymnastics to the exclusion of everything else. Jasmine found that she had two choices—either commit fully to elite gymnastics, or walk away. Malik explains that initially he felt that it was up to him to figure out what would be best for Jasmine. “I had to be hit over the head with the fact that it was her decision, not mine. Our job as parents was to help her, but not rush what was truly a discernment process. I talked about inviting God into her decision-making process—God, the voice that whispers in her heart.”
Jasmine decided to leave gymnastics before the start of high school to try other activities. “She thought through the options; once she made her decision, she was at peace.”
When a child doesn’t want to go
Perhaps the most difficult commitment for a parent to help a child navigate is going to church or religious education classes. As with all decisions, this one is best handled when a parent is steeped in prayer himself or herself. “I find that when I am genuine regarding my own desire to go to Mass or to pray, my children can sense that,” Elizabeth says. “I’m better able to field their questions because the Holy Spirit is within me as I’m answering.”
When Andrea’s son Jeremiah found that his high school religious education classes leaned harshly judgmental in the name of Jesus, he felt uncomfortable going. “The class he was enrolled in was not in keeping with the Christianity we taught at home: act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with God, and love your neighbor as yourself,” Andrea says.
One evening, the class was studying morality. Some of Jeremiah’s classmates said that all gay people would go to hell; Jeremiah spoke up. “He tried to stand up for a kinder, more just view of the people his classmates were condemning—and he was put down for it publicly in class.” As Jeremiah became more frustrated, eventually Andrea and her husband allowed Jeremiah to withdraw from the class; together they searched for a different church more closely aligned with the examples set by Jesus.
Maureen, mother of five, says her scientifically minded son, Caleb, declared at age 15 he was not convinced God is real. Maureen says shortly thereafter Caleb began resisting the family trek to Mass each Sunday. “After initial alarm, I said to Caleb, ‘It is good to ask questions about your faith. Keep asking and you will find the truth.’ Though we encouraged open dialogue, we ultimately required Caleb to continue attending Mass with our family. We hoped he would gain special graces for attending Mass despite his reticence.” Once Caleb understood that his parents accepted and welcomed his questioning, he was able to accept their requirement to attend Mass as a family. With this, the subject was no longer a point of contention.
This article appeared in the November 2015 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 80, No. 11, page 43–44).
Thursday, November 12, 2015