Do you regret quitting ______?

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Do you regret quitting music lessons as a child? Do you wish your parents had pushed you to continue studying piano?  Do you regret dropping out of competitive swimming or gymnastics or skating or dance? 

What about your own children? When do you let them quit a sport or artistic pursuit? What if your child is very talented? 

In my unscientific survey, the answers run the gamut from insisting one’s child continue studying to a certain age or level, to leaving the decision completely up to her. Some parents told me they don’t even suggest lessons until their child asks for them. 

For certain activities like singing, acting, and painting, one can much more easily pick it up again an adult.  But for other pursuits, there is a window of possibility both physically and mentally.  The opportunity for training narrows.  At some point, the pre-professional student must decide where he is heading because of the increasing demands of pursuing his art or sport. There is only so much time.

If you have devoted years to supporting your child’s passion or talent and he suddenly decides to quit, your heart may twist in a knot.  Maybe you see yourself in him. Maybe he is (was) living your own unfulfilled dreams.  You might believe that he is foolishly passing up opportunities for accomplishments and accolades. You worry that he will regret his decision.

My son walked at 9 months and was catching a ball by his first birthday. His pediatrician noted “motor skills genius” on Sam’s chart. At age 9, just before he was to earn his first black belt in karate, Sam insisted on quitting. It wasn’t that he didn’t like karate anymore (he practiced at home all the time), he didn’t want to go to the classes. His father and I wondered if the additional requirement for the black belt (writing an essay and leading the class) was the culprit. Or, maybe it was the intimidating and stern sensei. (Heck, this man scared me.)  Sam could not articulate the real reason, if there was one, but he put up quite a big fight and refused to continue training at the dojo.

The sensei told us we were making a terrible mistake. Sam showed exceptional talent.  The rewards for his personal development down the line were too great to pass up. Parents shouldn’t make such an important decision on the whims of a fickle nine-year-old, he said.

We let Sam quit.

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Still, our son never stopped moving. In addition to studying piano and chess, Sam excelled in swimming and tennis. He played varsity basketball and fenced competitively.  Recently, he’s taken up martial arts again.  Sam, now 23, holds no regrets about our/his decision, though admits to wondering if it was the “right” one.

With my youngest daughter, Audrey, the decision to end her pre-professional ballet study at 16 was hard on both of us, but mostly me. Dance was (and still is) my passion.  It meant a lot that my daughter and I shared this.  Despite the sacrifices involved, I committed to supporting her training (which mostly involved driving and waiting.) I loved watching Audrey grow as a dancer. I miss those days.

Recently, I wrote about the experience for Grown and Flown, a wonderful website and blog on parenting young adults. After this publication, I’ve received a lot of comments from others parents in similar situations—soccer, horseback-riding, violin—who related to my angst.

Interestingly, another mom wrote to me describing the opposite situation. She and her husband were never fully on board with their daughter’s desire to pursue dance professionally. After graduating with a BFA in dance, their daughter is now trying to get her big break in NYC. The reader wrote:  “So.. I was never a dance mom. More a mom that allowed my child to steer her ship….hoping that I did the right thing and that her dream becomes a reality.” 

Her honest words put a new spin on this parenting dilemma.   

You can read my essay, The Last Ballet Lesson”, here.   I welcome your thoughts.

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  My ballerina.

23 responses

  1. We are all passengers on a bullet-train – one that accelerates over time making do-overs difficult and pretty much guaranteeing the road not taken will be idealized. Your son sounds like a fine young man. Black Belt or no belt, sounds like you did a smashing job of parenting.

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  2. Evelyn, thank you for drawing my attention to you post. It is amazing how both of us thought about this same topic within a week or so of each other. It was nice to read your post, which also looked at the topic from a mother’s point of view. I never had children, and never will. I’ll never know how I would have handled this issue. I think that if I had had a child I would have pushed them more than my parents did me, but who knows.

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  3. Great questions. Beautifully stated. All children come into this world uniquely wired. Which leaves us parents with the challenge of figuring out what are our children’s inherent interests and what motivates them. In my case, pushing my child towards a direction I saw his potential, seldom worked. I felt so frustrated, but it was clear over time this child was driven by his own sensibilities and his internal motivators were very strong. I recognized early on to have a positive influence on my sons, I would have to became a much better observer in order to offer suggestions he would respond to and support his development.

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  4. I just read your essay on Grown and Flown. It brought tears to my eyes–not because I once quit but because I never got a chance to start. Every since I was a little girl I dreamed of being a ballerina. My parents never took me seriously and did not think ballet lessons were worthwhile. They also had very little money or were extremely frugal. I’m 40 now so it’s too late. I have 2 boys who play baseball so I’m not going to enjoy the ballet relationship you had with your daughter. One thing I do, though, is indulge my boys interests. I pay for lessons and find experiences that will nurture their talents and interests.

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    • Stacey, I’m sorry you never got to enjoy dance lessons, but don’t think it’s too late to discover your inner dancer. Have you tried attending an adult beginner ballet? Ten years ago I started teaching adult ballet classes at a local gym. One of the students was in her fifties and like you had always wanted ballet lessons. She made a lot of progress and continued to take lessons at the Boston Ballet Open Adult class. While she may never be doing triple pirouettes, she enjoys the challenge and the experience immensely. Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Yes, I regret quitting piano lessons at age 11. I was simply too lazy to practice and my parents didn’t resist. Now as an adult I am too busy and maybe too old to take lessons–even though I am a music lover. With my own kids, I insist they stick with an instrument of their choice for an agreed upon time-. My hope is that with developing competency, practicing will become more enjoyable, not something I must enforce. I’m no Tiger Mom but I do try to get my kids the best teachers and keep things fun. I support their practicing and also reward them for effort and progress. This worked for my son who occasionally enters music competitions. So far, so good.Your kids sound great. Lovely photos!

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  6. I had to recognize the actions of a 8 year old that needed to quit school. I actually had to call the teacher and say that the only way I can get him on the bus is if I put him over my shoulder and put him in the seat, and I am not willing to do that. After he came out of school he was able to say to me, school wasn’t so bad, but 5 days was too much for him, maybe 2-3 days would have worked. To this day, ( age 24) he is a night owl, cave dweller and needs lots of alone time. His companions in life are online with gaming strategies and leadership opportunities abound. I could only imagine. He is not an input output learner, and chose to apprentice work rather than attend college. He actually taught me more about life than any of my other kids because it was all new to me, and authentic to him. My journey has showed me that I never know what is “right” for someone else and TRUST is the name of the game.

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    • Thank you, Susan, for your honest and thoughtful comment. Your ability to trust your child and YOUR instincts is admirable. Sharing your experience can inspire and guide other parents who are struggling with “out-of-the-box” kids who don’t conform to society’s educational norms. It breaks my heart to hear stories of kids who are forced to continue attending school when they are suffering from terrible anxiety or bullying–as if there is no alternate path to try. I, too, learned a great deal from my son and continue to do so. Yes, it is a journey. Be well.

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  7. I think my life has been given to me by above, but my parents insisted on our staying in things until we had another interest. I loved being in band, orchestra and symphonic band but I didn’t​ fly with my inner voice, it just never was true that I had a musical “ear” or voice, for that matter! Writing, reading, and art are my passions. I may not make my children’s books get published but I have hundreds of children’s name pictures carefully color or black and white copies in my portfolio.
    I am happy with my pastimes. My musical six years was what kept me interested in music to listen to. . . Very good blog post subject! ✨

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  8. I regret quitting drill team the final semester of my senior year in high school, and I regret having to quit (for financial reasons) certain second majors in college. I think life would have been different for me if I had extra opportunities to learn new skills, accomplish new goals, and meet new friends. I don’t, however, regret quitting certain jobs, since I almost always found a better one later. I also have the opposite problem sometimes – regret for not quitting sooner, and instead letting years drag on in a professional arena that seemed to be headed nowhere but disaster. Life includes risk and regret. I think it is what we do with that regret that matters (–easier said than done though).

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    • Well said! It sounds like the things you don’t regret quitting had a more lasting impact. Sometimes quitting means closing a door, but when it comes to learning–like your college majors–you still have the chance to change that.
      Your concluding thought, MN, is key: it’s so easy to get stuck in regret. “Oh, it’s too late for me to change now…” Here’s to a New Year of small changes.

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  9. My daughter is 17 and for 5 years has been training towards auditioning at dance college for musical theatre degree. She has just announced it’s not what she wants to do anymore and honestly we didn’t see it coming and are all a bit shocked and I am not coping very well with her decision and feeling guilty about it. Any advice would be great.

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    • Oh, Nora, I feel for you! It’s so hard when we devote years to supporting a child’s talent, only to have her suddenly switches course. It’s likely, though, that your daughter has been thinking about this for a long time. Perhaps she was afraid of disappointing you. I recommend taking a time out for yourself. Let yourself experience all the emotions. Try journaling to get those thoughts out of your head. It’s helpful if you can identify not only what you are feeling but why. When you’re feeling calmer, have an honest conversation with your daughter. It’s okay to say how you feel but first, let her talk about what she is experiencing. What has caused doubts, the change of heart? Does she need a break? Does she doubt her ability? Are there questions she needs to be answered about the college program? If so, maybe she can meet with a faculty member. Has she visited colleges? If not, that’s key, too. Next, have you found out what your daughter does want to study or pursue? It can feel scary to have no plan but that is okay, too. Find out what you can do to support your daughter during this transition. You may worry that your daughter will regret her decision. Guess what? Yes, she may! But, at least she won’t blame you for pushing her into something she wasn’t sure about at the time. Here’s another thought: is it the career path or the dancing/music that you feel sad about your daughter giving up? It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing. Too often, I think, when accomplished athletes, musicians, or dancers decide to quite the pre-professional route, they forget that there can be a middle road. Many universities have robust dance and musical theatre opportunities for non-majors. Hopefully, your daughter can still have dance in her life, even if it isn’t the main focus anymore. She is young and can afford to take risks, make changes, and try new things. Finally, never think that those 5 years were “wasted”. Dance and music education offers tremendous rewards that spill over into other areas of life. You’ve given your daughter a gift, helped her learn and grow as an artist, and now she must decide on the next step.

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      • Awwwh thank you for your reply. Yes she has done summer schools at several colleges, has friends who have gone to dance college and my brother also is a musical theatre performer in the west end so she knows inside out what would be expected of her. She just says that dancing currently feels like she’s moving through treacle and there is no joy in it for her. Must be so hard for her too. She also has recently discovered a social life and has a boyfriend (who we really like!) and feels she is missing that down time. We have cut the dancing right back to 2 times a week and she has stoped her associate and competitive classes. She is the lead in a musical currently and is loving that (Cambell in Bring it on!) but still is sure she doesn’t want to go into it professionally.
        Currently looking at history degrees at university (we are in the U.K.) and many do have dance and musical theatre societies which I’m sure she will either do (or not!). It’s just that raw, bereft feeling that I feel so floored by. It’s her life and her decision but I can’t help feeling so sad.
        You are right about the skills and qualities that the dancing and singing will have given her. And she has been very brave to step off a route she was so steadfastly on and seemed so set on and happy about it.

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  10. I was one who was taught piano at an early age and did well in competitions within my age group. I used a broken arm as an excuse to quit. I love music, but had a music teacher who used a stick to punish whenever I made a mistake in playing or theory. I feared her and hated lessons. She would never get away with that kind of treatment in today’s world but it was common then. Obviously I wish I’d persevered in spite of the unpleasant learning experience. My parents were wise enough to realize there was a problem and respect my right to choose even though they didn’t know the real reason I wanted to quit and I did not tell in spite of their questions.

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    • How sad you were subject to this kind of teaching. You’re right–it was more common years ago, in dance as well. My ballet teacher wasn’t abusive but she was extremely crtical, stern, and used to yell at us. It never made me want to quit, but when she did give a rare compliment, it felt sweet as sugar. Have you seen the movie, Whiplash? I hope you still play for pleasure.

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