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Quitters Do Win Sometimes

Melissa Roja Lawlor
Sept. 13, 2012

One writer's philosophy on the unexpected benefits of quitting as part of the Care.com Interview Series

Lenore Skenazy is a bit notorious in the parenting world; after all, she's had the American media dub her "World's Worst Mom" a few years ago for letting her then-9-year-old ride the subway alone. Since then, she's turned the moniker into her own brand with a reality show on Discovery/TLC International inspired by her blog, Free-Range Kids, which helps parents figure out how to fight the urge to overprotect their kids and avoid "helicopter parenting" (where parents hover over their child's every move to protect them from failure/disaster/cuts and scrapes). We asked Skenazy her views on how to handle one of the trickiest questions of parenting: When is it ok to let your child quit? She shares with us why she thinks quitting is underrated, and how letting your kids quit is not the end of the world, despite what others may tell you.

Tell us about your family and your blog.

I've got two sons who are teens now and a blog they don't read called Free-Range Kids. It's all about why we are so much more scared for our children than our parents were for us. Or, as my "mission statement" says: Fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers, Ivy League rejection letters and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.

What types of activities have your kids participated in? How active are your kids and family?

Our kids have done everything from piano to soccer to chess...and left most of them behind. They do love Boy Scouts. My 14-year-old goes to the park with a ball and looks around for a game. Any game. My 16-year-old lives for debate. This is great...except when we have to convince him of anything.

What is your personal philosophy on quitting?

I think quitting is underrated. While "quitters never win," neither do kids forced to participate in activities they have very little interest in. Give them some space - and time - and they will probably find something they love and don't want to quit.

Have you ever felt that your kids are doing too much? How do you determine how many and which activities your kids are enrolled in?

I have felt they are doing too much and, at other times, too little. Once I started researching child development for my book, also called Free-Range Kids, I came to realize the value of free time and free play. So I let them drop their music lessons (scandal!) and have some free time between school and homework.

Growing up, how did your parents handle quitting an activity/sport/class?

They let me quit both Sunday school AND piano. And as an adult I went on to write a musical (well, the lyrics). And I went to live in Israel for a year. So either I got something out of those lessons before I quit, or I got something out of them BECAUSE I got to quit before I ended up hating everything they stood for. I actually don't know!

Have your children expressed a desire to quit an activity or sport before? What was your response?

Yes - see above. One quit guitar, one quit piano and they both quit the namby-pamby soccer and Little League teams we had enrolled them in as grade schoolers. Today, one still dislikes sports and one now lives for them!

At what point have you or do you feel it's ok to let your kids quit? Explain.

If they really have no interest, I don't understand why it wouldn't be ok for them to quit a non-essential activity. I would've detested my childhood if I had to keep taking the skating lessons I was bad at. Instead, I spent a lot of time reading and writing. Kids find their own level. We have to believe in them and that they're going to be okay.

There are some who believe that not letting your child quit an activity is a learning experience in and of itself. Do you agree or disagree with this? Why?

I hate to make blanket statements about how anybody raises his or her kids. All I can say is that the belief that we can CREATE a certain kind of kid by pushing them or not pushing them is a strange one. One of the chapters in my book is, "Relax! Not Every Little Thing You Do Has That Much Impact on Your Child's Development." It's a false feeling of control to think, "If I Do X, my child will turn out exactly the way I want." OR, "If I DON'T do X, my child is ruined forever."

What tips can you give parents of children who are expressing a desire to quit?

Don't worry that this is the make-or-break decision that will determine who they are, what they like, and what they will become.

What lessons, if any, have your family learned from quitting (or not quitting)?

Not every activity is for every kid, and that's ok. Also: sometimes an activity that seems uninteresting at one point becomes extremely interesting later on (and vice versa). And decisions aren't forever. My son who quit kiddie soccer now plays it with his middle school friends after school. Unless your child is going pro (VERY UNLIKELY!) there is always time to get back in and enjoy.

Lenore Skenazy is a public speaker and founder of the book and blog Free-Range Kids. Her show "World's Worst Mom" airs on Discovery/TLC International. You can also find Lenore on Twitter and Facebook.

For more advice on how to handle discussions about quitting, visit the Care.com Interview Series: When Is It OK for Your Child to Quit? »

Photo used with permission from Lenore Skenazy.

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