I Let My Kid Quit Mid-Season and I Would Do It Again

We had a Situation last week.

One of those Situations that arise in parenting from time to time.

One of those Situations that seem Very Simple and Very Straight Forward with a Correct Path all lined out.

WOOHOO, in other words. A Situation with a Solution!

That is AWESOME. It’s the Best Kind of Situation to have! I mean, I’ve been doing this parenting gig a while now, and it’s Not Always that we’re handed the Right Thing to Do simultaneously with the Problem, you know?

So we had a Situation, AND I KNEW WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT, so we moved quickly forward. Doing the Right Thing! Banner held high! Nobly pursuing our parenting goals!

Except I kept getting this squirmy feeling in my gut because every time I reminded myself that the Solution was clear and obvious, my heart said, “Yeah, but…”

It’s OK, though. DO NOT PANIC, friends. I shut those feelings down.

I obeyed the Right Way.

I PERSEVERED.

 

Until I didn’t.

 

Here’s what happened:

My kid is 9, and he’s asked all year to play lacrosse. We, being good and involved parents, managed not to miss the sign-up deadline like we did with soccer and swimming, so he was assigned a team. #ForTheParentingWin!

We bought All the Equipment as inexpensively as possible which still cost a few hundred dollars and made me want to gag. Still, the child was all padded up and was going to run around a field and whack other kids with a stick, so it felt kind of worth it. I come from the Scottish people, after all, inventors of golf and caber tossing and bar brawls, so the idea of a sport that combines chasing a small, white ball around a field while carrying a stick for hitting your opponents makes strange, beautiful sense to me.

We paid the the sign-up fees and the jersey fees, the registration fees and the official “U.S. Lacrosse” fees. We paid the We Forgot to Make Dinner in Time So Now We Have to Drive Through and Get You Crappy Food Before Practice fees, and we attended the practices and the jamborees and the clinics and the games.

Unfortunately, by week two, this child of mine started not wanting to attend practice or games, after all. I assumed he was bored or it was hard and uncomfortable, like learning any sport, so I said the Things You Say to Children Who Want to Give Up but Need to Learn the Importance of Follow-Through.

Buck upI said.

And you made a commitment.

And you know what we Woolseys do? WE FOLLOW THROUGH. Which isn’t necessarily true but feels like an essential fiction to sell my children, like “we clean up after ourselves” and “there are no stupid questions.” Lies, but good ones, you know?

I made him keep playing and ignored the uneasiness I felt.

Because doy. DUH. THIS IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

On Saturday, I made him leave a birthday party early to attend his game. He was not happy with me, of course, but he lived, just as I predicted, and then, in the car on the way home, he said again, “I do not want to play lacrosse anymore, Mom. Please, please, please don’t make me go back.”

I don’t know what was different that time. I’m not really sure I can fully explain. I just felt like maybe I should shush on the Follow-Through Lecture and the Team Sports Are Good for You Diatribe and maybe, I dunno, listen to my kid. So I sat still and I said, “Why? Can you tell me why you don’t want to play the sport you really wanted to play a few weeks ago?”

Which is when he burst into tears, and so did his brother who’s on the same team, and I glanced and them in the rear view mirror, and they looked at each other like Do You Want to Tell Her, or Should I? and I thought, Uh oh. And then my kid told me he’s tired of being called stupid by another kid on the team, and tired of having that kid secretly push him when the coach isn’t looking, and tired of being told he’s the worst player ever, and he sucks and is also ugly and dumb and to shut up and get off the damn field.

Oh, I thought.

Oh.

Oh.

And his brother told me that was, in fact, what had happened. He corroborated the stories. He’d witnessed the small physical attacks and the large emotional and verbal ones. He’d told the kid to stop, a number of times, as had the kid who’d experienced them, and they were both just tired of handling it.

Done.

Finished.

Over struggling with it.

I said all the right things. I swear. Like Thank You for Telling Me. And You Can ALWAYS Tell Me These Things. And I Will Talk to Your Coach.

And when my child begged again not to go back, I said We Will See What We Can Do. And We Don’t Just Let the Bullies Win. And This Isn’t a Reason to Quit Necessarily. And There Are Steps We Must Take. And You Will Learn Essential Life Lessons by Seeing This Through.

But my heart response kept getting louder.

Louder than my head response.

And I started to wonder why I was so invested in my boy continuing to play.

I went over all the conventional Head Reasons:

  1. We have to teach our kids follow-through.
  2. We have to teach our kids never to quit.
  3. Everyone knows team sports are THE KEY to learning cooperation and camaraderie and working together.
  4. WORK ETHIC. Hello!
  5. Get back on the horse, kid! There will always be bullies. Always. We cannot let them dictate our moves.
  6. If our kids don’t learn these lessons now, when the pressures are relatively small and short lived, they will think they can quit anything uncomfortable, for the rest of their lives, and their entire adulthood will be ruined.

Then I told those reasons to take a back seat for a minute so I could listen to the heart, which is, of course, when it all fell apart, because Oh, the Heart, friends. She had Things to Say. Things like:

  1. You tell your kids they can tell you anything, any time, and bring their hurts to you to hold gently and carefully, but do you to plan to honor what they say by listening deep and long and hard without pre-drawn conclusions?
  2. You tell your kids they are brilliant, and they can solve problems. Do you plan to insist on your solutions? Or consider theirs?
  3. Are you going to build trust with your kid and teach him that we are here for each other in this family? Or are you going to sell him the usual cultural lie that Being Independent and Following Through and Never Quitting and are more important than Community and Grace and the Reality that we all Try and Quit and Somehow, Eventually, Miraculously Try Again which is the Magic in this Mess and the Miracle, always.
  4. You tell your kids that Kindness and Goodness, Gentleness and Faithfulness, and Loving Their Neighbors as Themselves are more important than Anything Else, including Achievement and Popularity and Winning and Grades — because if you have Success but have failed to Love, what is the worth in any of your “achievements?” — but you’re kind of worshiping at the Altar of Athletics on this one, Beth, and at the Altar of Bucking Up. Is that where you were hoping to go with this?
  5. And even though team sports are a fantastic way to learn to cooperate and work together, do you really think that a kid who has 4 siblings and who navigates playgrounds and school and church and has no other opportunities to learn them?
  6. He’s nine. Nine, Mama. Nine years old. Give him a break.

I spent some time considering.

I weighed the Head and the Heart.

I contacted the coach – thanking him for his volunteer service because no teacher or coach who gives and gives and gives to our kids deserves to have his ass handed to him — and recognized that Handling Bullying is a real bummer part of the job, but noting he needed to know anyway.

And then I laid it all out for the boys. All of it. What I thought I was supposed to say, and why I was uncomfortable with that simplistic answer. What the Head said, and what the Heart said. And I asked them to collaborate with me. To experiment — because it’s always a grand experiment anyway — in Listening and Loving each other well.

They heard me out.

I heard them out.

They still wanted to quit.

And I decided to respect their choice to no longer subject themselves to that situation.

To respect their senses of self and boundaries, and, well, camaraderie, working together, and follow-through on quitting the heck out of lacrosse.

The Head is somewhat bewildered by this whole decision.

The Heart, though, is glad.

The boys listened to a Brand New Lecture: “Do not get too excited, gentlemen. Sometimes we are going Make a Parenting Call You DO NOT LIKE, you know. This is INEVITABLE. What’s more, is we’re going to Make a Parenting Call You Do Not Like AND sometimes we are going to be Very Wrong AND you will still have to Abide by It. That is going to SUCK. But we will try to Listen First and Love Well, OK? That is our promise to you. Our commitment. Listen. Love. And get it Right. And Fail Utterly. And Try Again. Eventually. Which is Magic and Mess and Grace and Grime and Weird and Wild and aren’t we lucky we get to live it? Aren’t we the luckiest to live this human, divine life together?”

Am I confident I made the right decision? I AM NOT. Complete confidence in parenting — or in life — is for people who are delusional. But I am confident I’ve made the best decision I know how to make in this situation with the information I have right now. With the well-being of my child at heart. With the utmost I can do for his spirit in both the short and long terms. And that, my friends, is all any of us can honestly do. Listen and Love. Succeed and Fail. And Try Again, Always. Eventually. But Always. Which is the Miracle.

With love,

Signature

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
35 comments
  1. Good decisions, all around. The only sad part is that they were put in a position of giving up a sport they wanted to love. If the boys still think lacrosse sounds fun (never played, but if I were a kid today, I’d be all in to all that equipment and hitting with sticks!) is there a high school player that would show them the ropes? I was too young to start soccer leaugue with the kids in my class, and instead had a babysitter/soccer teacher for an hour here or there. I didn’t fall behind what my class was learning skill wise and I had a blast, for the cost of an hour babysitting time here or there.

  2. I’m thinking about the hardest decisions I’ve made when trying to be an adult, and more than one involved saying no or walking away from situations And people that I knew were not good for my mental health and day to day functioning. Glad I had parents who helped me learn to recognize those. And I can’t help but think that when anyone finds the right activity that really sparks their joy and lights their passion, the stick it out and persevere part will come much more easily and actually be worth the fight. Good job to you mama, much love.

  3. […] to Important Things instead of that detour we took yesterday to talk about feelings, and doing the Right Thing, and Making Mistakes, and working, always, on Listening and Lov… . Back to Important Work on the Kitchen Remodel now. Because PRIORITIES, FRIENDS. […]

  4. I’ve had to make some tough decisions for my kid lately. I’ve agonized relentlessly. This post makes me realize that it is possible that kids know what’s best for themselves (sometimes.) They know what’s going to make them feel better or worse or safe or motivated or depressed. You’re right, it’s important to listen. And also, maybe to acknowledge that even if a kid can’t quite articulate why they are struggling something, it does not make them less right. We tend to require “evidence” for kids’ arguments, which maybe inhibits them from sharing in the first place..because they know they don’t have the language to “convince” us so why even bother. Thank you for writing this…I needed it. As always, the comments from folks are insightful as well.

  5. “Complete confidence in parenting — or in life — is for people who are delusional.” This is what I needed to read today after making some decisions about our family. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. I think it was the right decision but I’m also mad that the bully forced your kid to quit something he was excited about.
    But how to help teach a young kid to not let kids like that steal his joy.

  7. Excellent decision. 🙂 And, if lacrosse is as popular there as it is here, there will be multiple seasons, teams and opportunities for the boys to try it again if they so choose. Also, the US Lacrosse membership is good for a year. 😉 I have many a time and team, pushed my kids to continue a sport. I’m still not sure this has always been the best choice.

  8. This is an excerpt from something I wrote ages ago.

    “I wonder why, as a society, we have such a problem with stopping an activity that is causing harm… calling people quitters or even suggesting that the crap they’re going through is normal and acceptable and will make ’em stronger when by quitting, they’re really doing something that’s good for them by walking away from a horrible situation?

    Is it really better to endure all kinds of shit from people than to say “No. Enough.” to it? Why is the ability to put up with all kinds of crap considered an asset?

    Why not celebrate the strength it takes to walk away when something isn’t working? It can be really hard, especially if someone is calling you stupid names like quitter.

    And yes, my mind is quite capable of making the distinction between stopping an activity that’s hard just out of laziness and deciding that no one has the right to be disrespectful to you and walking away from crappy situations.

    Can you imagine how much happier we’d be if all of us could walk away as needed and continue walking until we find what’s best for us?”

    I’d add that teaching children to stay, regardless of the consequences, is teaching them that their choices are limited. That the kid who sits next to them or the teacher who belittles them or the boyfriend/girlfriend who plays head games and treats them with disrespect, the boss who treats them like crap… are all MORE IMPORTANT than they are. That they need to put aside their feelings and just deal with shit is WRONG WRONG WRONG. Wrong.

    It teaches them to doubt their own instincts and makes it easier for the next person to take advantage of them and convince them that they’re the one who’s wrong.

    Being a ‘quitter’ is not a disgrace.

    1. YES! Beautifully written, Ami.

  9. Thank you for this. It helps so much that you can put into words these feeling many of us have experienced. The phrase, worshiping at the altar, is a really good example. It really feels like that and like one is pulled in two directions by head and heart. Thank you for your words.

  10. This made me tear up a little bit. You are a good Mama that I truly admire.

  11. Oh please please please don’t ever take your blog down. My littles are still little and I just know I’ll come back searching your words for wisdom in the years to come. Thank you for this one. I’ll try to keep it tucked in a safe place for the long term, but the problem is it’s in there right alongside my social security number, my age, my kids’ birthdays, work obligations, friends’ birthdays (ha, just kidding. Remembering their names is enough), and sticky snotty kleenexes. All liable to be sucked out without warning during the next breastfeeding session at 3 am. So please. Don’t ever delete these things :). Thank you!

  12. Oh Beth! My heart so needed this today. THANK YOU! Thank you for sharing your internal struggle and how you shared that struggle with your kids.

  13. I think you made a good call.
    I hope the coach follows through and speaks with the parents of the other boy, since it is very likely the boy will do it again to other kids.
    I am sorry your boys didn’t end up having fun, but they know that Mama has their back. So high fives on that.

  14. Yes. YES. Thank you Beth!!! I made the hard decision to pull my middle child out of his school due to bullying that had escalated to him being physically hurt the first time (and oh, my fury at myself and guilt for not pulling him sooner) and the only thing I wish is that I had done it so much sooner.

    <3 and <3 <3 for the boys.

  15. You are the best. Love this.

  16. I understand this so well. Life is never as clear cut as the Head tell us it is. Much love

  17. You made the right decision.

  18. Beautiful, all of it.

  19. You. You are honest and open and just so beautiful. Thank you.

  20. You are my new hero. Real parenting done honestly by real people doing the best they can.

  21. Having made the other decision, and subjecting my kid to continued bullying even though we trusted that the coach would handle the situation and it would get better for our star swimmer….that led to cutting and therapy….I would say you made the right call.

    1. Love to you, Sheri. Thanks for sharing so openly.

  22. Yes, you did do the right thing, and I’m glad you would do it again. Dave just now told me that your boy had told Grandpa on the way home from practice that the other boy had said to him, “I don’t like you and you’re not my friend.” Grandpa tried to make him feel better, by pointing out that those words say nothing about Cai, but a great deal about the other boy, and that’s nothing good. We noticed they weren’t very excited about practices or games. I’m so sorry it didn’t turn out to be the fun they had expected. Love and hugs to all of you.

  23. When our son started college he called us after a very very short time and said he wanted to transfer, that the school was not a good fit for him. For lots of reasons (like financial aid! and following through! and how can you know after only xx number of days/weeks??!) my husband and I agreed he would go see our son and tell him he had to stay at least until the end of the year. High five, mom and dad–on the same page and knew just what to do (just like you did) …but when my husband came home I asked him what our son said when he told him he’d need to stay until the end of the year…my husband cleared his throat and said, “well…actually I didn’t tell him that. He was right.” So our son transferred. It was the right decision– and financial aid turned out fine and we guess he learned perseverance and follow through somewhere else because he earned a PhD and is gainfully employed and happily married…and he still calls us a lot. 🙂

    1. 🙂 I LOVE THIS and so get it. Thanks for sharing. Particularly the gainfully employed and happy part! xoxo

      1. Thanks Beth…the part we love the most is the “he stills calls us a lot” 🙂

  24. Beth, how did the coach respond? Just wondering.

    1. Appropriately. Briefly.

      Honestly, we didn’t give him enough time to respond any more than briefly. He didn’t know this was happening. There are approximately 30 boys at each practice who play in 2 teams for games. There’s a lot going on. Once we found out about the Situation (Saturday afternoon), we emailed immediately. He responded by Monday morning saying a) he’d talk with the whole team and b) he hoped our boys would keep playing (I’d mentioned their reluctance).

      The boys and I had our sit-down on Monday afternoon before Monday evening practice. Part of the convo was going over the coach’s response and whether they wanted to return and let the coach try to handle it for them now that he knows. As you already know from the above, the boys decided against that and we decided to back them. So the coach really had no opportunity to try to fix it, though he knows who the boy is and can keep an eye out for it with other kids now.

      I sent a follow-up to the coach before Monday evening practice, letting him know our decision, thanking him for all his efforts on behalf of all the boys, and offering to talk to the parents of the other kid if the coach or they wanted me to do so. To be clear, while the actions of the kid were bullying and not OK, kids make mistakes and bad choices AND can learn from them. We don’t know what else is going on for this kid that influences this type of behavior.

      I’m not prepared to say the kid is a bad seed or should be removed from the team or anything other than I hope the coach and other grown-ups in ALL our kids’ lives will pay attention and listen and love — EVEN and ESPECIALLY the kids who are doing the bullying. I believe 100% that this kid is as divine and human as the rest of us — beautiful and made in God’s own image and capable of doing great things and causing great harm. Should the parents want to chat (I don’t know whether the coach talked to them about any of this or passed on that offer), I will only listen and love them well, too, because I believe to my bones that’s our JOB on this planet. Listen. Love. And I’d probably tell them the stories of another of my kids who was once suspended for flicking and head-butting other kids. :/

  25. 100% right decision, including the bit where you talked to them, and told them it was complicated, and listened. Well done mama.

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