“Mommy, I don’t want to do gymnastics anymore.”
My 6-year-old’s comment came out of nowhere on a random Wednesday afternoon. We were in her elementary school bathroom, getting dressed for soccer practice. I couldn’t see her face—she was in a stall—but I’m sure mine fell, equal parts disappointed and shocked.
No, I don’t think my child is the next Aly Raisman. But this a kid who had begged us to let her take gymnastics lessons, who two years in has to be told to stop tumbling in the house probably 15 times a day, who spends most of her recess time at school upside-down, flipping over bars. Just this past summer, she was excited to try out for one of the pre-competitive teams at her gym and landed a spot. Unlike dance classes, which I had to practically bribe her to get through the door, she has always been eager to get in the gym.
That is, until now.
“Why, honey?” I asked carefully peering over the door. “Did something happen?”
“No, Mommy. Nothing happened. I just don’t want to do it anymore. I just want to play soccer,” she said, stuffing her ankles into her hot pink cleats.
“You know, no one says you have to pick. You’re only 6. Soccer isn’t year-round like gymnastics; you can do both if you want to. Gymnastics and soccer both help make you strong.”
“I know. But I… I just love soccer so much.”
It’s true; she does. She loves her soccer practices and games, and she loves watching and playing soccer with her father and brother. It’s one thing they all have in common, a special bond that they share.
She opened the door tothe stall, and handed me her shin guards, which I helped her slip on. “We’ll have to talk about it as a family tonight over dinner, OK?” I said, pulling her hair into a ponytail. She nodded.
On the drive to soccer practice, she was quiet. I wondered if maybe she was feeling burned out. Between the rigors of first grade, Hebrew School on Sundays, gymnastics Mondays, soccer practices Wednesdays and soccer games Saturdays it had been a busy fall. She had never before complained … but here she was, telling me she wanted to quit.
On the one hand, I don’t believe in forcing kids to do things they don’t want to do—especially things that cost us parents a lot of time, energy and money. Her pre-team classes were already twice as much as we’d been spending for the recreational classes, not to mention they forced me to change my work schedule to get her there at 4:30 p.m. on Mondays. Plus, gymnastics is one of those sports that sucks you in deeper the better your child gets. Maybe this was for the best?
But I don’t believe in letting my kids just give up something just because they don’t want to do it anymore without consideration of the consequences. For example, when — after two years of dancing—she asked us if she could quit mid-year to try out gymnastics, we told her she had to finish out the year at dance, first, because we’d already paid for her costumes, shoes and recital. Similarly, she had made a commitment to her team, and the right thing to do is to honor it.
As soon as my husband arrived at practice with our son, I cornered him. “Guess what? Maya wants to quit gymnastics.”
“What? She loves it. Why would she want to quit?”
I shrugged. “She says she just wants to play soccer now.”
While he—an avid soccer player—would love nothing more than to be raising the next Mia Hamm, fortunately, he also sees the strength, endurance, flexibility and confidence she’s gaining from gymnastics. Over dinner, we discussed, in 6-year-old terms, the importance of honoring commitments and having responsibilities. I also put in a plug for the back handsprings that she loves watching the big girls do (and would surely learn if she stuck it out).
We shared our proposal with her: We’d revisit this conversation in December and if by then she’s still feeling the same way about gymnastics, we can go in and talk to her coach about quitting before the new year/season begins.
She seemed OK with the plan, and has only mentioned wanting to quit once since then, and has seemed happy to be there. In fact, after class this week, she ran out beaming, a super-star sticker affixed to her cheek. “Mommy! Guess what?! I did my first pullover all by myself! I didn’t even need Coach Cindy to help, and my casts were so strong, Mommy! You have to see next time!”
I had no clue what she was talking about, but it was clear from her enormous grin that she was incredibly proud of herself. I was proud of her, too, for the pullovers and the casts — whatever they are—and for sticking it out, at least until December.