“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, either way, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Sometimes it’s a bit of a battle to get Lucas to focus during violin practice. Like any other seven-year-old, he’d rather play video games, watch TV, or run outside, or… well, pretty much anything other than practice the violin. He groans in agony, crumples to the floor, and tilts his eyes heavenward in supplication. WHY, God? WHYYYYYYY?!?!…

But hey – he begged to play violin. I am a violinist myself; I have a master’s degree. When I would finish my own practicing, Lucas would pick up my violin and try to play. He would watch me longingly. And when he first said he wanted to learn (after I did several back-flips across the family room—this’ll probably cure his ADHD, right?), I told him it would be a commitment, and that once the violin was purchased, he was in it for the long haul. No negotiation, no quitting.

But sometimes when Lucas is having a crazy day and is having trouble focusing on his violin assignment, he’ll tell me he “can’t.” So I’ll sit with him and coach him and yell at him until he accomplishes something. Sometimes there are tears (His? Mine? Both?), but I’ll be damned if I am just going to set a timer for fifteen minutes and let him noodle around doing a deformed version of Irish step-dancing while his violin dangles silently from his hands. I won’t accept it! In those fifteen minutes, something violin-related needs to be learned.

It’s not even about the violin. It’s about getting Lucas to focus and stand by his commitment. It’s difficult, and sometimes I feel guilty about being so hard on him, but I am convinced that it’s the best thing for him in the long run. Why? Because even after our most gruesome sessions, wherein I have begged and pleaded and yelled and clapped time for forty-five minutes, he has learned something. I never stop pestering him until I see the clouds clear from his eyes and I know that he got it.

Then he grins that glorious grin – you know the one – the one that’s like the sun peaking over the horizon at dawn? It’s totally worth all the tears and frustration to see him experience that priceless moment of accomplishment.

One time I was telling another mom about how I force Lucas to keep going with violin until he “gets it” and she looked at me like I’d sprouted antlers and told me I was “super-strict.” Am I? He plays outside plenty. He watches TV and has his own tablet (with about a billion parental controls, but still). It’s not as if we sit around all day memorizing flashcards and learning Chinese (we’ll start Chinese when he’s eight).

Isn’t it important to make our kids push through the hard things, to show them they can, even when they think they can’t?

Although I hate the feeling of being judged by another mom, I know I’m guilty of the same thing, but in reverse: when I see parents give in to their kids when they “don’t feel like” doing something, it makes me want to claw my skin off. I can’t stand it. “You tripped while playing soccer? Aw, poor baby, sit on the sidelines with daddy.” “You’re bored with dance? Okay, fine, you can quit mid-way through the season.” “Adding the hundreds column too difficult? Here, the answer is 352; write it like this, honey.” “Having a rough day? Let’s not bother practicing piano today.” “You probably won’t accomplish anything when you’re upset anyway. You ‘can’t?’ Okay then; quit.”

What are we teaching our kids when we allow them to shirk their commitments? When we allow them to make excuses for themselves and permit them to give up?

I don’t want my kids to internalize the lesson that it’s okay to quit when something is hard. Tiger Mom, Helicopter Mom, Super-strict Mom… call me what you want. As long as my kid knows that whenever he thinks he can’t, he just needs to keep trying, never give up, no matter how frustrating or arduous the task.

If I have any say in the matter, engraved on my children’s subconscious will be a self-assurance which has been nurtured by years of tears followed by grins; a confident, quiet knowledge which has taken root at both an intuitive and an intellectual level: Sometimes, even when you think you can’t? You can

So there, Henry Ford.


  1. I’ve been reading for about a month now….hello. Found you through a comment you made on some other blog. Now I’m hooked. This post resonated with me. We don’t let our kids quit either. You want to join football? Ok. But you are in for the entire season. You don’t understand your assignment? Let’s keep going over it until you DO understand. My son, he’s 11 almost 12, he has a JOB. Like, a real one! Every Saturday morning he walks to the farmer’s market and sells coffee and muffins and breakfast burritos outside the coffee shop. Does he want to get up every Saturday at 7:30 am? No. But he committed to doing it. And you know what? People compliment my husband and me on what a nice, mature, well spoken kid he is. Am I bragging? Maybe a little. I just feel like he’s getting the best possible start to life I can provide. And it will serve him well as he gets older.

    That’s all! Keep up the great work. I think you are a great parent!

    • Oh goodie, there are other Tiger Moms like me out there! WE’RE TAKING OVER THE WORLD (via our kids).

    • I hope so. Because I’ve had enough of the whiny it’s not my fault, I can’t do it, it’s too hard generation.

  2. Hi. You gave me meaning by liking my Oatmeal comment. I just want to say that as an adult with a disjointed life, due to a disjointed mind riddled with ADHD and depression, I desperately wish I had exactly what you are giving your son when I was growing up (or now for that matter).

    For his sake, your sake and the sake of humanity, please do NOT stop giving it to him.

    • Sometimes I think the blogging thing is totally lame and should just stop doing it. I’m not getting paid, after all. And then I get a comment like THIS.

      Thank you. =)

  3. You know, this post gave my life meaning. Okay, well, I guess it had some meaning before, but this post helped. Because I like reading things that I agree with, just like so many people in the world today, and I really did agree with what you said in this post.

    For so many of my students–remedial readers–that extra push, that stick-to-it-ness–is what they’re lacking. When we make it all the way something (reading a great book, writing a whole essay), they get that same look you described…that pride. It’s obvious with those kids that finishing things doesn’t happen often, so when they do finish…wow.

    I hope I can remember this as my own kids get older. I have a 7 year old, too, and I hope that I can teach her to keep trying, even when things are hard.

    Best of luck with the Chinese! Maybe after that you can teach him advanced calculus.

    • Oh, we’re already doing the calculus. I don’t want him to get behind!

      And also, the same thing I said for Nomad – goes for you too. =)


  4. You are giving him the greatest gift. You are showing him that you believe in him and teaching him to believe in himself.
    I am a middle school teacher, and trying to help children learn that they cando things for themselves after their parents have let them give up for years is a major challenge. I teach them that I believe in them, and that I won’t give up on them, but I’m only their teacher. You are the most important person in your son’s life, whether he remembers to tell you that all the time, or not.
    Keep doing what you are doing. It works!

  5. Just catching up on your blog after vacation. I kept saying “YES” in my head over and over while reading this post. I teach 6th grade orchestra. The time when it goes from being “fun” and extracurricular in elementary school to being an actual class where you earn a grade in middle school. A grade that effects whether or not you are on the honor roll. (I’ve had many straight A students slack off in my class and earn themselves a B or unsatisfactory effort and be taken off the honor roll) And seriously, I assess each student according to their own growth. Seriously, all I require is a decent effort while they are present in class, and at least 40 mins of documented practice a week. yes, I said A WEEK. There are students do not practice and complain to me that they can’t play the music. The grade they earn in my class starts to bring down their average and mom and dad let them quit. WHAT IS THAT TEACHING THEM???

    And I’m not even going to get into why my music class is important for their growth and development, because you know all that already. 😉

    (on an aside, I’m sure you will be pleased to know that in my district they must have a music class through 8th grade so they have to go into general music where they have projects to complete, or chorus. The chorus teacher also requires practice time. We all collaborated and set it up that way so there is no “easy A” and they will leave MS learning more music than most schools. I explain that every class requires work and they might as well just stick with their instrument and they will thank me in the end, and many parents still let them quit. SOOOO aggravating.)

    • That would drive me nuts. Good for you and your coworkers for standing strong! I’m not a teacher but I still witness a lot of (IMO) overly-permissive parenting going on. Not me, buddy. THIS MOMMA ain’t gonna raise no quitters!

  6. We went through this with my son in karate and now he loves it. He sometimes doesn’t want to go if he is tired, but I take him and then he is happy he went.