How do you know when to quit? Harder still, how do you know when to let your child quit? These questions circle around my mind lately, as my older son struggles with his online Latin course, finding himself further behind each week. His study skills aren’t the best, but he’s been trying. The teacher is competent and responsive to questions from students via email or in the twice-a-week class. I’m useless, having managed a year of French 25-plus years ago but never having attempted Latin. He’s failing the course, and, with another test approaching, he’s feeling that despite studying, he’s unlikely to do better on this one.
Maybe it’s time to quit. We’ve dropped other curriculum mid year (or sooner), discovering the methodology to be a poor match for a child’s learning style (the leading issue with Latin) or the content to not be worth continuing. I’ve long considered these to be mid-course corrections rather than failures, and I know this mismatch should be no different.
But it is. Not just because the course cost money. And, as I lobbied for the last month, not because he’s already part way through, and, since he needs at least two years of foreign language to apply for many colleges, he might as well muscle through rather than start over, either with a different course or a different language. And not because perseverance in difficult circumstances is a virtue worth cultivating. Money, time spent, and character building aren’t sufficient reasons to stay. Not this time. They may be the reasons he sticks with piano, even when it’s hard and frustrating and why he continues with karate on the days he fights going to the dojo, but this feels different.
It’s more like his first swimming lesson. My older son objected to large bodies of water from 14 months on. He wanted no part of a pool where his feet didn’t meet the ground and was petrified to have that water touch his face. Washing his hair was best done with the windows closed, lest the neighbors think truly terrible things were being done to him. Why his father and I decided swim lessons were the answer for this fearful child, I can’t recall, but we signed him up for group lessons for preschoolers. As soon as he discovered learning to swim required wetting of the face, he panicked and refused to enter the water. Three lessons, with him hysterical and completely dry on the edge, his father and I discussed quitting. We wondered if allowing him to quit would teach him that he could quit anything that wasn’t fun and easy from the start. We wondered if he’d manipulate us later, putting up a stink when something wasn’t to his liking. We worried he’d learn to be a quitter.
But we knew our son, knew he was miserable. And we knew it wasn’t right to push the issue when his fear was so great. So we dropped swimming. He was 10 when he finally learned to swim. Late, by most standard, but he learned (and two years younger than when I learned.) He learned in private lessons when he decided he was ready to take the (literal) plunge. He learned quickly and soon loved trips to the pool.
But he’s 13, my mind screams. He chose to study Latin, even chose the course he’s taking. If he committed to it, shouldn’t he have to follow through? If I let him drop this course, will he forever bail on what is hard and what is less than exciting? What if he quits the next course he starts, or the first job he has, all because he really hates them? What if he quits his marriage, just because it’s hard and sometimes, well, boring? When does the quitting cease?!
And suddenly, it becomes clear. Knowing when a situation is NOT right for you is a desirable life skill. Trying things that may not work out is taking chances. Letting them go when you’re clearly not ready or just plain miserable with really no chance of improving your situation is okay. And, hey, he’s learned what sort of course doesn’t work for him. He’s learned he needs a more traditional, linear approach to a language rather than a more intuitive approach. That’s valuable information he can use in the future. His father and I have taught him perseverance in many domains, sometimes to his annoyance but more often to his eventual appreciation (even if backhanded and minimalistic). And I doubt that dropping Latin at 13 increases his chance of instigating divorce many years down the road. (Did I ever mention that I can worry decades in advance?)
So he’s dropped Latin. He looks several degrees less moody than he did two days ago, too, although since he’s quite 13, that’s not a perceptible difference to the untrained observer. I can feel his relief, however, and I share it. Admittedly, I have pangs of uncertainty that remain, like all discomfort, they’ll pass. They’re centered around my expectations of myself and my perfectionism and have little to do with him, so I’ll own them as I remind myself that there is value in knowing when to quit.