Know When to Fold ’Em

A delicate balance.

October 6, 2013

My six-year-old daughter just quit swim team, after only a month. The practice time shifted to an hour later, and it was just too late for her to handle. The first practice at the new time, she got out of the water on the verge of tears, shivering almost uncontrollably. We had paid an annual registration fee and then a monthly fee on top of that, and I had not yet paid for the month. “If you’re too tired,” I told her during the car ride home, “we can stop.”


“But you said that if I started something that I had to see it through to the end,” she said. And in fact, I had. The one rule that I had growing up that I keep with my own kids is that once you sign up (and pay) for something, you see it through until the end of the season. But in this case, the parameters of the activity had changed; I told her that because we paid every month and because the time had changed, that it was ok to step back and stop swimming.


There was an audible sigh of relief. She hugged me that night going to bed, thanking me for allowing her to quit swimming, at least for now. She knows how important swimming is for me, and she really enjoyed it, but it was clearly too much for her at the moment. I want her to understand the meaning of commitment and the value of seeing things through, even when they get hard, but I also want her to know that I am there to listen to her and respect her innate ability to know when things get to be too much.


She came home the next night from ballet declaring that “I was really focused today on my dancing. I worked so hard on my jumps and balancing that my muscles in my legs were shaking!” This is the kind of perseverance that I want her to embrace, a combination of passion and determination that fuels her to push herself, even if it is a challenge. She willingly stretches first thing in the morning, when just a few short months ago she would cry when I helped her with a stretch her ballet teacher recommended that she do to improve her extensions. Breathe, I would tell her, breathe and focus on getting a little better each day. That lesson seems to have finally taken root, and all of her concentration and efforts are now on perfecting her ballet skills.


As a teacher and as a parent, it’s always a delicate balance to know how much is too much and how hard is too hard to push. While I don’t think we have high enough expectations, I also know that setting the bar too high or pushing too hard can have the exact opposite reaction. Ultimately, I want both my kids and my students to feel like they can succeed, but also that they have my support in order to achieve whatever goals they choose to attain. I want to give them the choice, the voice, and the support. That’s a goal that I continue to pursue.


Morehead, Kentucky in the US.


Lee Elaine Skallerup has a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an edupreneur. You can visit her blog at  College Ready Writing and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.


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