Sunday, January 29, 2006

When is a quitter a quitter?

The whole concept of perseverance is one that has been on my mind lately. What does the Bible mean when it says, "He who perseveres to the end shall be saved?" How specifically should we live out the command not to be weary in well-doing?

How do we teach our children to persevere?

How do we teach ourselves to persevere?

Is it always wrong to give up on something, to stop doing something, to quit? Is it wrong to admit, "You know, this just wasn't a good idea" or "This is no longer a good use of my time"? Once music lessons have started, are we to force our children to continue on for the rest of their lives, lest we raise them to be quitters?

The flip side of that: aren't we really, in our culture, raising our children to flit from one activity to another, to try this and that, to multi-task without doing any task well, to quit whenever anything gets boring or difficult?

What about endurance? What about keeping on keeping on? You don't hear so much about that these days. Instead, people talk about "burnout", about fresh starts, about following interests, about avoiding boredom.

Maybe perserance is just way too old-fashioned for our world.


  1. I've kind of struggled with this one myself. The kids come home all excited about trying "X" activity because their friends are. It wasn't my child, but my friend has a great story about her daughter at the age of five going to a friend's piano recital and being mesmerized. Parent asks "Would you like to take piano lessons? You would have to practice every day?" Child enthusiastically agrees, then come time for the first piano lesson, the little girl asks "Where's my pretty dress?" At five, the little girl had associated the ruffly dress and shiny shoes with piano lessons, not practice or discipline.

    Nowadays, if the proposed activity is something I approve of, and we have the time and money to try, I encourage them to try it out for awhile before making a longterm commitment -- to see what's really involved so that they can make choices based on a realistic idea of the time and effort involved.

    There are other things my kids do for fun, just fun. Riding horses is one of those things. They just like to get out on horseback and ride like the wind and maybe take a few jumps. They also enjoy the relationship with the animal and even the taking care of the animal. But they don't enjoy competing, and they have recently stopped taking lessons because it is difficult to find instructors who aren't focused on bringing home ribbons and trophies for the school -- that's how the school makes its money.

    It's also the case that a lot of activities that kids get involved in are more about the parent than the kid. We're all familiar with the kid with a modicum of sports ability who is pushed to burnout by the wannabe Dad. Or the little actress who initially enjoys being on stage but who is pushed to the limit by the ambitious mother. So I think it's important that the goals be the child's goals, in conjunction with the parent maybe. And that the triumphs involved also be owned by the child.

    I'd say more, but I am not sure how many words I'm allowed here.

  2. Say more! Say more!

    You raise excellent points. I especially like your idea of encouraging a "try out" before making a commitment. One of the mistakes I've noticed that some parents make is being too quick to commit to new activities. We've encountered, in our martial arts classes, what we now refer to as the "overly excited" parent. This type of parent will be impatient to get their child enrolled in our classes. They don't want to be bothered with intro classes, with interviews, with asking questions, or even with observing a class. "We know this is what we want to do. This is what we've been looking for! We want to sign up now!"

    These students tend not to last very long. I've noticed that those who make commitments lightly and quickly also tend to break those commtiments lightly.

    I prefer to try something out before deciding how involved we will be in something.

  3. OK, you encouraged me...I'm back again. You asked about when/if it's a good idea to say "You know, this just wasn't a good idea" or "this is no longer a good use of my time"....I've been thinking about this whole interests/quitting/perservering thing for I said before, I "let" my kids quit horseback riding lessons after seven years (one) and five years (the other kid) recently. They just weren't getting enough joy out of the activity to continue doing it, the original purpose was fulfilled, and it just seemed like the right decision. It's been a few months and neither has regretted it. They had learned enough that they can go ride a horse someplace else and know what they are doing.

    The older one has been taking piano lessons since he was five. He's not particularly gifted as a musician, but up until Middle School both his teacher and his (not in any way biased) parents were pleased, even astonished at his perseverence in trying to learn something that wasn't coming easily to him. Then, in the first year of Middle School, the child wanted to quit. His explanation was that "up until now, only piano has been hard. Now everything (school, sports practices, etc) is hard." I told him he could finish out the year and he agreed. It became very clear to all of us that his heart wasn't in it, that he was putting in his time practicing without either the desire or expectation that he would continue improving or mastering new material, and I reluctantly thought, yep, he's given it a great shot, spent years at it, and now he really should quit if he doesn't get any joy from it -- why is he wasting his, the teacher's, and my time? I told the teacher that the child was ready to quit at the end of the year and she asked me whether she could try an experiment. I said yes. She took his classical books away from him and said that she thought he was ready to learn a little jazz and boogie. New rythyms fresh material. She deliberately started him about a level below what he could easily master. Now all of a sudden it WASN'T hard, it was easy. And rewarding. The kind of stuff other 11 year olds thought was kind of cool. He learned some basic jazz chords and learned to improv. He spent hours, not minutes at the piano. Two years later, he is still taking piano lessons. And percussion -- he plays in the school jazz band and the youth band at church. He's having fun. And even back to classical piano sometimes. I just thank God for this gifted teacher whose expertise with both kids and music led her to know what to do when I didn't.

    Nowadays, the younger one plays the viola. We rented the instrument for a year. When it came time for the second year, we found we could buy the viola for just over what we would pay for a second year's rental. We discussed it with the kid and told him that if we did go ahead and buy the viola, we expected him to play for another two years to make it worth the money. He agreed. We expect him to fulfill the commitment. So far, no problem. He loves the viola. But if his interests change at the end of the commitment period, I don't think we'd force him to continue as long as he remained involved with musical instruction/performance at some level.

    We expect our kids to be involved in physical activities, but don't much care whether they choose basketball or baseball or hockey or track and field as their "organized activity" for any given season. We do expect that once an activity is chosen, that as a member of a team, they fulfill whatever is required of them as a team member.

    So I guess bottom line is that our value is that kids choose their activities prayerfully and thoughtfully, that they enter into commitments with a fair idea of what is expected of them, and that they honor the commitments that they have made -- without the expectation that any one particular extracurricular activity is forever.

    Along with the idea that you honor your commitments, I do want my kids to know that you don't have to be a professional musician to love to make music, or an extremely talented artist to do art, or the best at any particular activity to see the value of and be ready to participate in a pickup game of basketball or street hockey.