“Mama, I want to be on the competition team!” my oldest daughter exclaimed as she ran out of her weekly dance class. I couldn’t help but react surprised. Being on a competitive dance team takes a lot of hard work and dedication as I recall from my own childhood experience. You have to really love dance to commit to such a time-consuming activity. She had only just reluctantly come off of a year and a half break from dancing because her younger sisters were starting dance and she didn’t want to be left out. Was she really ready to take on this commitment? I couldn’t help but think back on our path to this point.
From the moment she was aware of what her little body could do, my oldest daughter was dancing to music. And when she could finally get up and move, I knew that my secret wish for a dancer was coming true. She loved it, and it was written all over her expressive little face. As soon as she was potty-trained, I signed her up at the dance school that was like a second home to me while growing up. I watched every minute of every class and couldn’t wait to see my tiny dancer on stage even though I had started to have a sinking feeling she wasn’t quite ready to follow through with it. After barely making it through a dress rehearsal and recital (and crying in the dressing room both nights), I decided to leave it up to her if she wanted to return the next year.
Much to my surprise, she made the decision to continue.
But as the year progressed, she started having more and more frequent meltdowns, not just at dance but at school as well. My tipping point was when she cried for an entire thirty minutes of class one night. I pulled her out and brought her home because she was distracting the teachers and other dancers. The next week, I called her dance teacher to say that we would be quitting. She told me what I had already been struggling with over the past few months. “She needs to learn that you can’t just quit when things get tough.” I agreed with her. That was a lesson that fifteen years of dancing at that same school had taught me. But my child wasn’t like me even if she did love dance. Raising her would require a whole new set of instructions.
So, I followed my gut (the only real instruction manual there is for parenting) and let her quit. Every time I would watch her dance around the living room with that same look of pure joy from her toddler years, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. How could someone who loves dance so much not be able to pull it together to do just that? But with each anxiety-driven meltdown, I was reminded daily that my daughter wasn’t me.
Sometimes, the will to do something isn’t enough for her.
Over the next year and a half, she prepared her little sisters for their shot at dance class without even realizing it. Little sisters want to do what big sisters do, and their big sister loved to dance. So, they danced all day, every day. Leading up to registering them for their first year of dance class, I would casually mention to my oldest the possibility of going back. She would change the subject or say she didn’t know. Then one day, she told me she was ready to go back to dance class and that she would never quit again. She was old enough to know what that meant, so I believed her.
Since the moment I agreed to let her join the team, I have watched my daughter perform at her recital without a single misstep (or tear) and power through a summer of technique classes and a fall of late-night rehearsals with a smile on her face. We are coming up on her first competition, and she tells me almost every day how much she loves dance class. I’m convinced that if I didn’t let her quit, we would have never made it to this point. Her dance teacher has even admitted the same.
This experience made me realize that “never quit” isn’t always the right path.
I have walked away from many pursuits in my life. I have a master’s degree in a field that I never followed through with, numerous boxes of jewelry supplies for a business that I no longer have, and a Google Docs file full of unfinished writing projects that I may or may not complete. Because of hindsight, I knew I had made the right decisions for my life, but I still felt guilty about the wasted time and money. Now, I see that quitting can be part of the journey. Sometimes, quitting leads to new endeavors, and sometimes it leads you back to where you started but with a better set of tools in which to continue on that path. Or maybe, it just teaches you that you never want to quit again. Everyone, including our children, deserves the opportunity to benefit from walking away.