When Quitting Is Okay: Lessons and life with teenagers

It wasn’t a sudden decision.

I could feel piano coming to a close as her many high school activities crowded into her day, clamoring for more attention. The piano was repeatedly set to the side with promises to get right back to it. But there are only so many hours. And for her to give one of these hours to piano each day has gradually become impossible. So when she told me of her decision, what could I do but agree with her? And just like that, another chapter closes. While I don’t like introducing “quit” into our family vocabulary, there is something right about this decision. It makes me wonder if there comes a time when quitting is okay.

To be clear, this isn’t how I planned. Way back BT (before teens), I decided each of my children would stick with their music lessons until high school graduation. In fact, I repeatedly made this plan clear to my children. But like the GPS map in my car that re-routes after an unexpected turn, life with teenagers is full of such unexpected turns. And though I may not do it as smoothly as the GPS, I find myself needing to re-route my plans in favor new plans authored by my children. They all can’t be piano virtuosos. Isn’t it fair to consider that their plans now might be better than any plan I might have created when they were very young?

What I’m discovering is that there is more than one way to get there. Where is “there” you say? It’s a good question–perhaps one of the most important questions a mom should ask before writing out the checks and driving to and from recitals, performances and competitions. Where are the lessons, the practices, these extra curriculars taking us anyway?

I suppose the “there” I hope for is a place where my children become kind, hard working human beings who have confidence to reach out and contribute to the world. That’s it. Piano lessons might contribute to this path. So might soccer or art lessons or the school play. But, come to think of it, so might math homework or setting the table. When I cling to any one path because of pride (I want girls who are really good at piano!) or a family rule, (This is just how everyone does it in our family!) I am losing sight of the true destination and ignoring the child unfolding before me.

With or without piano lessons, my teen is still on the pathway to becoming the woman I hope she’ll be–just in her own way. She may not be the one who accompanies the choirs in church, but she can sit and edit a film she made for hours. She can hold many monologues in her head at once and deliver them in school plays. She also reads picture books to her six year old sister. Did years of piano lessons play a part in developing any of those admirable skills and qualities? Maybe they did. Maybe summer book club and hours playing under the tree in the backyard helped too. Maybe it was her weekly job helping her great-grandma to clean her house. Who’s to say that taking away any of her growing up experiences wouldn’t unravel much of who she is becoming?

From my life with teenagers I’m learning that sometimes I worry so much about what my children are not, that I forget to rejoice in what they are. They are not mini-versions of me or cut-outs of some children I imagine. They are individuals with strong wills and their own plans. My firm ideas of how they should spend their time need to give way to their interests and open up chances for them to explore. Whether I like it or not, my voice has faded to one in a chorus of many. Instead of the driver I used to be, I am have been moved to the sidelines. But I cheer very loudly from where I am–encouraging them to stay true to becoming the good, confident human beings we hope for.

It might not be going according to the first route I mapped out on my parenting GPS, but there are lots of good routes–and even back roads I didn’t know about.

Questions you might consider:

  • What is the “there” you are trying to get to?
  • Are the “extras” in your children’s lives moving towards this destination?
  • Are your children involved in what is natural and exciting to them or in what is natural and exciting to you?
  • When is it okay to quit? Have your children learned enough from this to move on? Is there something else more important that needs to take its place?
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