“You must earn the right to quit.”
And with those words floating wisely across the room finding only a lonely stare in my daughter’s young eyes, I returned to the corner of the room and the lotus position from which I came.
Another parenting stroke of genius gently leading my daughter from a place of despair and desolation to perspective as the ocean deep and endless sky sprawl. One day she’ll look back with forever adoration thanking God for gracing her life with such magnificence.
That’s what it looked like seconds after I spoke a Confucian smoke screen hung with ornate words that impressed only me. It was one of those lines spoken valued so good that repetition was a must for certainty that the hearer surely missed the glory.
She just sat there unaffected by my words, despite repetition and rephrasing, overwhelmed with emotion and armed with countless reasons to quit. I miss the mark in my parenting relationship with my daughters. It happens quite often.
I say the wrong things and do the wrong things every day, but I am convinced that perfection in parenting is a misdirected illusion cutting the legs out from under many parents sinking in mistakes.
My oldest is growing into her own faster than I can count days. Before I know it and much sooner than I care to even entertain at the moment, the day will come when she hugs my neck in a hurry on her way out the door to cut her own path in life.
Already behind us are those days when I carried her and ruled righteously in her life with a firm and unquestioned ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Life was simple. That was then.
Now and in the days ahead, she is beginning to (and will continue to) push boundaries, question my judgement and reasoning and stretch out the legs strengthening beneath her. This is an important formative process that must happen, but also must be shaped by the parent.
“Train up a child in the way (s)he should go; even when (s)he is old (s)he will not depart from it.” - Proverbs 22:6
And hear me clearly when I say that this, her stretching, pushing, objecting, protesting, is all good.
Our conversation was more than simply my words being spoken to her, or at her. A milestone now sets behind us marking her maturing.
You see, training your child to go at life the right way happens in the smallest of opportunities. This particular opportunity came in the form of a conversation about giving up because of rejection and difficulty.
Elizabeth has been a dancer for over 5 years now. She’s learned the basics in several different forms of dancing as she’s been a part of two different dance schools. Dancing is simply a regular part of her identity as a young girl. As the new session began, Elizabeth chose to enroll in an advanced ballet class, one that would surely push her ability beyond anything that she’s aspired to accomplish as of yet. After the first class, I could tell she was frustrated and sinking into a bad attitude. Then her new teacher suggested she move to a more basic ballet class where she could master base techniques.
Suddenly in her own mind, Elizabeth couldn’t dance. She wouldn’t.
Vanished were the years of dance behind her. The recitals, the classes and all accomplished, gone lost in her perceived rejection and difficulty.
In the grand scheme of circumstance and reality, her difficulty seems minute and insignificant. That was my initial evaluation of it, but I undervalued a great struggle for her; a tension between do and don’t, try and quit, win and lose, significance and perseverance.
She made a handwritten list detailing no less than ten reasons why she would quit dance. With that list written in the little handwriting that I helped teach, she had my attention.
She was shrinking, giving up without giving greater effort in heavier circumstance.
“If you quit now, what will you be?”
...silence, but her eyes said everything.
With a hushed voice she nearly whispered, “A quitter.”
As a parent, I never want my kids to feel forced to do anything that they do not want to do. If she really wants to quit dancing and move onto other activities, she’s free to do so, but she has to earn the right to make a mature decision, to quit.
For the sake of her future standing in wait for her, I made her commit to a mature decision. She would have to commit to three more weeks of her new ballet class, trying hard, giving full effort and having a positive attitude. Then once she completed three weeks, we would revisit the discussion.
As kids grow, so must parenting techniques and relationship. The mistake I observe in parenting is to try to parent the same way as kids grow older and face more mature situations.
We prayed simple words and committed to simple action. Packed into the cryptic statement that I began our conversation with bathed in her tears, was truth far simpler and greater than I originally intended. She understood that she couldn’t just quit because a habit would be given room to grow and that life required perseverance through difficulty.
I’m convinced that a good portion of any parenting success with me is due to a sort of subconsciously driven dumb luck pulling wisdom and experience from my past into their present.
After I picked her up from her new class, she smiled almost slyly like she learned a new secret, and told me that she loves her new ballet class.
Gone were the worries that convinced her she should quit.