When Should We Quit?

We take our kids out on what is supposed to be a long hike, and they start complaining. We get all the gear to go fishing together and after thirty minutes of no bites, they want to go home. We sign them up for piano lessons and they want to quit because it’s harder than they expected.

Steve Rinella, whose book, Outdoor Kids in an Inside World, we have recommended several times, knows this feeling well. Imagine the time and effort that goes into one of his hunting trips–a float plane into Alaska, backpacking many miles into a remote wilderness, clomping through mud or dust–and suddenly his kids want to go home. It’s a heightened dilemma that all parents face: Do we force them to keep going even though they’re not having fun? Or do we throw in the towel?

“Ultimately,” Rinella writes, “I know that all I can reasonably ask of my kids is that we defeat their impulses to pack up and go up until there is a clear reason to do so.” This is a nice way to think about handling this parenting conundrum.

That it’s hard is not a reason. That they’re running low on supplies is. That it’s cold” or “I’m hot” is not a good reason. That one of them rolled their ankle certainly is. Because things are getting dangerous and scary is different than “ew, bugs!!”

We can’t force our kids to enjoy what we enjoy, but we can prevent them from taking every easy way out. We don’t make our kids tough by being tough on them, by forcing them to struggle and endure pain or misery. But we also don’t do them any favors by accepting the first excuse out of their mouths.

The key here is balance. The key words are “reasonable” and “impulses.” We don’t stick it out forever, but we do have to stick it out a little bit. Because things do get better. Because we do manage to find the fun things. Because it’s not just us who will regret it if we don’t give it time, in the long run it will be our kids too.

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