We are a house divided right now. My seventh grade son wants to quit wrestling mid-season and it has caused a major dilemma among us.
The entire situation started off on the wrong foot. He joined wrestling because he wanted to prove to his friends that he was not weak. Red flag number one. In full transparency, I was not thrilled with the idea of him wrestling. Everything about the sport seemed the opposite of my son’s personality, athletic strengths and interests. Yes, I was carrying a little baggage from dating a high school wrestler in the 90’s, but I was keeping that in check. I pleaded with him to think deeply about the sport and to go to as many open mats as possible to get a feel for it. My husband was supportive, and though I was dying on the inside, I was proud of him for having the courage to try something new. So, he joined the team and wrestling season commenced.
That brings us to his first wrestling match. He got body slammed, and though he rallied and held strong without getting pinned, he lost the match. There were four more matches to follow at the tournament that day, and when it came time to wrestle again, he was an emotional wreck. Now he knew what was coming and he was scared. Lucky for him, most of his matches were false alarms because when you are wrestling 80lbs., there apparently aren’t that many kids for you to wrestle. He did wrestle one more time that day and started crying during the match. He pulled himself together and had another respectable performance despite a loss, but I could tell that the novelty of wrestling had been squashed into the mat with his little face. It was going to be an uphill battle from here.
In the days and weeks that followed, my husband and I remained on the same page. We were proud of him for trying something new, and we denied his pleas to quit, reinforcing that he needed to see this through and that he would be so proud of himself in the end. As an aside, the end is March….MARCH. The end is far away.
So my son took things into his own hands by coping the only way he knew how – duck and cover and pretend it’s not happening. He would “accidentally” forget what time practice started or where it was being held. He was skipping practice when the consequence was that you can’t wrestle in the next match. To him, the consequences he received at home or from the coach were far better than having to wrestle. Everyone was miserable. The coach and team were being affected, my son and husband were constantly arguing, I was upset because my husband and I didn’t agree on the approach to take, and my son was in an overall bad mood because he hated it so much. And the other boys in the house had to sit on the sidelines and tiptoe around us. The end is March…MARCH.
This week, my husband arrived home from work to find my son in the same clothes he wore to school. He “forgot” what time practice was and didn’t go. Which means he did not wrestle at the next match. I arrived home to find my son crying outside, afraid to go inside because my husband was upset with him for skipping practice. Another night of everyone being angry and upset ensued and I am tired of it.
I call this a dilemma on purpose because there is no clear solution and we are just going to have to manage it. My husband and I have different perspectives on this right now, both of which have value. The most obvious path (my husband’s) is the stick-it-out-we-never-quit-anything approach. This seems to be a parenting advice mainstay from day one – never let your kid quit. And up until this particular situation, our kids have never quit anything mid-stream. I agree with much of where my husband is coming from on this. The experience of fighting through a situation that is difficult is an important skill to have, and Lord knows our son needs a whole lot of work strengthening his inner grit. He is safe, he is supported and will be better for this.
But I’m a girl that prefers guidelines to rules. There’s always an exception and parenting is anything but black and white. I feel that we are at a point where we need to step back and ask ourselves what other messages we may be sending him through this process. My son has talked to me multiple times about how uncomfortable he is with wrestling. He hates the physicality, having to touch other wrestlers like that, being touched and grabbed and can’t stand the close contact. He is also just plain exhausted from the sheer beating his little body takes every time. After a match, he comes home with scratches and bumps and bruises and a broken spirit. If my son has decided that this has crossed what he is personally comfortable with, who am I to tell him that he has to keep doing it? I certainly don’t know how it feels to be tangled up, grappling with another person (nor do I want to) or how it feels to be slammed on the mat. There is another important lesson in here that he is the only one who knows his personal boundaries and when something had crossed it, he has every right to remove himself from that situation.
The “never quit” approach is not working for me because to me, adult life is really more about knowing WHEN to quit. I attribute much of the success I’ve had in my life to being an amazing quitter. If you think about it, most things in our adult world are about knowing when to move on from something. Jobs, relationships, friends, homes – we just give it different language so we don’t look like a bunch of quitters. Instead, we are moving on, transitioning, distancing ourselves, in need of a new challenge, etc. I haven’t quit anything since I was 18!
I’m struggling to reconcile the two concepts because if we are predominately teaching our son to never quit, in what situations are we teaching him how to use his intuition to know when it’s time to stop something? Our kids also need us to teach them how to use perseverance and quitting in tandem and in order to do that, we need to support them through situations where they are choosing to walk away. That skill is going to serve our children well as they transition into adulthood and have to make never-ending choices about how to guide their lives.
In the time it has taken me to type out my thoughts about this, my son has persevered, made his case, and quit wrestling. The person who took control of the situation was not us, it was my son. While my husband and I were busy disagreeing on the approach, there was a third party in the mix that actually had the ultimate decision making power and he used it. We supported him through it as he wrote the coach a thoughtful and articulate message about why he was quitting, thanked him and made a plan to close the loop on everything. I’m not certain how my husband feels about everything right now, but I do know one thing. My son is happy and he learned how to quit.