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.
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.