On Quitting: Empowering our Daughters to Make Tough Decisions

She looks up at me and says, “Mom, I just don’t want to do it anymore.”

My sixth-grader wants to quit orchestra. And you know what? I’m going to support her.

After bribing her to continue in orchestra last year (her second year), I’ve decided it’s time for her to feel confident making decisions for herself. I want her to know that she has a mother that supports her when she decides something is not for her.

I lost my mother 15 years ago and in that time what I’ve missed most, besides the feel of her love, is having her say to me, “Are you sure that’s the right decision for you? If so, then I support it. Be confident in your ability to make decisions for yourself.” Well, she wouldn’t exactly say that, but that’s what I would feel from her. And it was great. I want to do the same for my own daughter. In my ever so humble opinion, this is what we all should aspire to as parents.

Unfortunately, my daughter had to fight hard for my acceptance of this and I had to fight even harder with her orchestra teacher for his acceptance. I finally reached the point at which I just said ‘no’ to more meetings and phone calls about how we could keep her in. Ya, she’s good, I get it. She gets it too. But it’s just not part of her journey right now. Maybe it will be again, but not now. 

The thing is, the more we insist that she deny the parts of herself that are telling her something is not right for her, the more we train her to deny the signals her own body and brain give her. The result of this is that we’re training her to give other people what they want ahead of giving herself what she needs. Something I’ve struggled with for a very, very long time.

The reason I struggled with it is because as a child, I was trained to give all to others and be happy with what was leftover for myself. Not only as a result of adverse experiences, but because it was modeled for me. My mother gave and gave and gave until she ended up at an early death. I gave and gave and gave because that’s what I saw her doing. That’s what I thought it meant to be a good mother, a good wife, a good woman. Until 15 years ago when my entire life was shattered. This woman literally “gave” herself to death—even forgoing advanced medical treatment because she didn’t want to be a bother to anyone.

So 15 years ago, upon the death of my mother, I was forced to reconsider everything I thought about what it meant to be a good woman. Does a good woman really give of herself so much that she digs her own grave? Believe it or not, I was still unsure.

For more than a decade I tried to keep her alive by channeling her through my interactions with my husband, step-children, and children. I thought it was the right thing to do. But my body thought differently. Over those years, my neck got tighter and tighter, my shoulders got closer to my ears, my back warped itself into an untenable shape, and the pain became unbearable.

Then the pandemic hit, my children became more needy not only emotionally because of the shared trauma we were all going through, but also intellectually because I was supposed to play a greater part in their now-at-home schooling, and physically because who the heck was gonna do the work of making sure they were fed?

My body said no, just no, uh-uh, no way.

And I finally listened.

At that point I realized my mother had given me another gift. Although she modeled the all-giving sacred mother that was expected of her by society, her job (an elementary school teacher), and her marriage, she gave me a different message. Her message to me was, “You don’t have to do this.” 

In our interactions as I became an adult, she encouraged me to take a different path. My own path. Which I did. With her support. It was almost like she was trying to construct a bridge between the generations. From hers to the one that would come after mine. Like I was that bridge. And I felt strong as that bridge. Until she died. Until the bridge supports collapsed.

I had to rebuild that bridge. It was difficult and it took time because I was broken. I was also caring for those around me. But I realized I didn’t have to rebuild from scratch. I had the structural support within me. And, instead of channeling her selflessness, I am now channeling her strength. I’m doing my best to stand strong on the shaky foundation I have given myself. I’m doing my best to be that bridge that reaches from my mother to my daughter.

So I’m strengthening myself by caring for myself. I’m strengthening myself by saying no to things that may weigh a little heavy on my aching neck and shoulders. I’m making time for myself to gently exercise, eat well, let my family know when I’m having a bad pain day, and indulge in a glass of wine when I need to. I’m letting go of the stuff that really doesn’t matter so much in the long run.

Like having a daughter in orchestra when she really doesn’t want to be there.

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