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My daughter decided last week that she no longer wanted to take ballet lessons. She's been going for nearly six months, and although ballet was never a big passion of mine, it was a Sunday tradition I am sorry to see end. She enjoyed wearing the tutu, and I enjoyed taking her for carrot cake when the lesson was finished.
I signed her up without asking her, because she is my first girl and it seemed like the kind of thing she would enjoy—mostly for the outfit—and that would do her good, as she is a rather clumsy 3-year old, and I thought being more conscious of body movement might help her trip over her own shadow less.
She never complained about going and, in fact, seemed to enjoy it. Just before Christmas, there was a recital in which a friend of mine and I were almost disappointed that my daughter wasn't more of a spectacle. She had learned a dance. She hung on her instructor's every gaze and was definitely one of the best out there. She refused to bow, but fair enough. She rocked it.
Then last week she told me she was done. She wanted out. My knee-jerk reaction? No, you don't quit.
I was raised not to quit. I seem to have always been involved in some sort of club or sports team that required my commitment and dedication. That was one of the life lessons I was supposed to get from group activities: a responsibility to others and to myself to follow through with what I'd signed on for.
Many of us are terrible quitters. We stay in jobs, relationships (romantic or otherwise), book clubs and gyms that no longer benefit us.
But my daughter—again, she's 3—didn't ask to go to ballet. And she certainly didn't realize the lessons would go on for a rather shocking 10 months. When she decided she'd had enough, she'd given it some thought—this was not a tantrum-sparked moment of defiance but a decision about how she wanted to spend her Sunday mornings and what she was interested in learning.
I realized that as important as commitment is, learning to quit is also a valuable life lesson.
Many of us are terrible quitters. We stay in jobs, relationships (romantic or otherwise), book clubs and gyms that no longer benefit us. We fill our calendars with obligations that don't fulfill us.
Yes, sticking around when times are hard has a lot to do with integrity and responsibility—valuable traits I want my children to have. Yes, sometimes you need to do things you don't really want to, because it's the right thing to do. But learning that you can end a commitment is also powerful.
The instructor tried to talk her into staying, but our daughter stayed firm.
We tie ourselves to things, because we feel we have no choice. Big and small. Finishing books because we started them. Eating a lackluster meal because we don't want to be a bother at a restaurant. On the weekend of her 50th birthday, a friend of mine threw away a lipstick she'd just bought that didn't suit her. I heard her say, more or less to herself, "Before I would have thought, 'oh I paid for it, I should keep it,' but not anymore."
So last Sunday my husband took our daughter to the ballet studio, where she politely explained that she had enjoyed it but would not be returning. The instructor tried to talk her into staying, but our daughter stayed firm.
The next time I get the urge to sign her up for something, I'll be sure she is part of the decision and is interested. As she gets older, she will have a better sense of what she is committing to and, therefore, I'll hold her to it.
I hope all of my children will find hobbies and activities and relationships and jobs that they love and are fully committed to. But they won't be able to if they give all of their time to the wrong things, if they are afraid to quit.