Getting Your Kids to Let Go of What No Longer Serves Them

I used to be a gymnast. My mom will tell you I was the youngest girl to make the tryouts for the Yellow Jackets mini-team. I attribute making the cut to the freakish upper body strength I had at a young age.

I loved gymnastics. The variety of events appealed to me, as did the ability to cartwheel and back handspring into a room. I loved competing in the meets and pushing myself to physical levels I didn’t think I could reach. I loved that it was an individual sport in the context of a team.

As I progressed, the frequency and duration of practices increased to four times a week for a few hours a pop.

I stopped loving it. In fact, I dreaded it.

One day, my father drove me to practice, and he knew something was wrong.

“What’s the matter?” he asked as he pulled into the parking lot. The car was idling. So was I.

“It’s not fun anymore,” I said.

Without speaking, he backed the car up and drove us home, mercifully ending my gymnastics career.

My mother was not pleased with this turn of events.

“But, Tom, she is GOOD!” I remember her responding to his explanation of why I walked in the door with him.

“Joni, she doesn’t enjoy it.”

Childhood memories are skewed. I have no recollection of whether I had previously shared my discontent with the increasing intensity level of the sport. I do not remember dinner table conversations about whether I should reevaluate my commitment at the end of the season. I do not recall whether my parents had to drag me to practice upteen times before this particular one. I have no idea how far into the season I was or whether my departure let down the team.

What I vividly remember is my father communicating in one swift action that I was free to let go of what no longer served me, and the relief I felt that I did not have to do something that brought me stress when it should have brought me joy.

(And, not to paint my mom as the villain, I remember her faith in my athletic ability. I was not Olympics-quality, but had she responded with, “All right – she wasn’t very good anyway,” it would have sent an entirely different message.)

I have been mastering the “let go” concept of late, from leaving an organization with which I was employed for 12 years to finally ditching a sweatshirt I’ve owned for 18. I feel the same relief I felt in the Yellow Jackets parking lot almost three decades ago.

But I have not been as intentional in teaching this concept to my children, and we have reached a breaking point in my house.

My kids are lovely people, and one of their more endearing, and sometimes annoying, qualities is their refusal to be overscheduled. If we have more than one activity on the calendar for the weekend – even if the events are fun, social ones – they stage a mutiny.

So when my daughter was sitting at the kitchen counter studying her theater rehearsal schedule, thinking out loud how she was also going to fit in her other activities, I was surprised when I added up those extracurriculars: 5, at least a few of which I do not believe bring her joy.

I have told my gymnastics story to her many times for different purposes, and today is the day we will reenact it. I will play the part of my father. She will play the part of me. We will see what improvisational differences this recasting brings to the scene.

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9 thoughts on “Getting Your Kids to Let Go of What No Longer Serves Them

  1. Nikki says:

    This post made me think about my own childhood activities. “Sticking with something” because you made a “commitment” was part of my family’s creed (consequences for your actions and all that). I am a person that doesn’t really like to do things that I am not good at. I also tend to expect perfection on my first try (ha). As a kid, I never put a huge amount of effort into anything other than school, which many times led me to not like an activity simply because I hadn’t tried very hard to get “better”. Now I’m wondering if that meant that I was never really interested in the activity in the first place? Perhaps, moving forward with my own hypothetical family, we should prioritize really thinking about what we commit to. And, perhaps setting some benchmarks that can help us to determine whether we might not like something because we truly don’t like it/doesn’t serve us or because we really haven’t given it a chance.

  2. Kirstin says:

    I am really trying to keep my posts short, but I love that you raised this issue because I initially planned to go there. I am with you on all of what you said. With gymnastics, it helped that it is an individual sport that contributes to a team…much like Avery’s swimming. I did NOT quit my softball team in high school despite a CONSISTENT LOSING RECORD (seriously – every.single.game) and not having any fun because leaving them without a shortstop would not have been fair. But that season was definitely my last.

    I think the key here is just what you said – first, being intentional in what we commit to, and then considering the whole picture to make sure we are clear on our intentions in continuing. I was continuing gymnastics (I think) because I felt I had to, and it was stressing me out. I suspect Avery engages in all her activities because she is good at them and feels she “should” do them rather than a true desire to do them. But I guess I will find out!

  3. Kirstin says:

    Oh, it’s robbing her of joy already. I think the number of activities is arbitrary because if they were 5 activities she loved and wanted to make work, we’d try to figure that out. I am just surprised the number has crept that high given their aversion to having such full plates (an aversion I think is a good thing). I laid the groundwork last night by posing some questions and said we would talk tonight.

  4. sheissparkling says:

    I know how much your adore your dad from previous writings, I’m sure he’s smiling down on you tonight! Loved this. I was totally that kid who self-imposed all these commitments – my parents would always (and still do) try to get me to let go. LOL!

    • Kirstin says:

      I’m sorry I missed this comment before! Oh, how I would love to run this situation by him and ask him more about his thinking that fateful day (in my memory, it was a Saturday morning). It could be framed as a totally irresponsible parenting move – letting your kid call the shots, allowing her to quit a team sport – but I never thought of it that way until writing this post and now being in the position of the parent. I always looked at his action as empowering.

  5. spurredgirl says:

    This is one of the most valuable lessons that I have learned from you. I have had so many conversations with you in which I am describing my torn state of being, having made a commitment and now regretting it, or vacillating between loyalties to multiple ventures or people…and you have looked at me with a line-straight mouth and said, “No.” No, as in, stand firm; and no, who do you think you are, letting the world dictate what is right and healthy for you; and no, you will not shrink or distort or shortchange yourself to please other people. I found myself quoting this mantra the other day and giving you credit for it.

      • Kirstin says:

        And I wasn’t saying “How lovely” that you compliment me, but “how lovely” that you have found this concept useful. In case that was unclear.

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