This is how it starts: In orchestra, her teacher drops her from first chair to second. She thinks its unfair. She doesn’t understand. The second chair part isn’t as fun or interesting to play. She hates the music, and, so, doesn’t want to practice any more. At dinner, D and I talk about how she should be practicing more so she can get back to first chair and the music that she enjoys. At dinner, she tells us that she wants to quit her private lessons. The writing’s on the wall. She’s already signed up for orchestra next year (the sign-ups occurred before the chair-drop), so she’ll have to get through it. But I suspect we’re nearing the end.
Honestly, I never saw Ms. B. playing violin all through high school. I was pleasantly surprised when she signed up for it in middle school. But she seemed to be really enjoying it. Enjoying it enough that she asked for private lessons and this past Christmas, when the lease on her old violin was up, we bought her a new one. (Parenting Axiom No. 407: If you drop an ass-load of cash on an activity, your child will ask to quit within the next 12 months).
I think what bothers me about this loss of interest in violin, however, is that it was all triggered by the drop from first to second. It’s the attitude of “I’m not on top, and that’s frustrating, so I’m no longer interested.” It’s an attitude she’s had about a number of activities we’ve tried and abandoned over the years. It always drives me crazy.
Here are responses that I would find acceptable:
“I was Number One, but now I’m Number Two. That frustrates me, so I’m going to use it to motivate me to work harder and get back to Number One.”
“I was Number One, but now I’m Number Two. I’m not too serious about violin, but it’s not a competition and I enjoy playing. Number Two is still good, and I’m just happy to be here.”
What I’m not okay with is:
“I was Number One, but now I’m Number Two. That makes me unhappy. So I quit.”
It’s virtually guaranteed that no matter what you do in life, there is always going to be someone out there who’s doing it better than you. And the response to that challenge is not to quit, but to push yourself to be as good as YOU can be. In that context, this doesn’t feel like a little lesson about violin, but a bigger lesson about life.
I’m tempted to tell her that if she puts in the work to get back to first chair, and STILL doesn’t like violin, then she can quit and I won’t be upset. But that seems like a plan destined to breed resentment. And we’ve all heard adults complain about their horrible parents making them stay in piano lessons for way too long. It’s a part of childhood. We try things out, and we discard them in a quest to find the things that truly interest us. But when does it become more than just trying things out; when does it become a problem with quitting every time things get hard?
So, what do you say? When is it okay to let your child quit?