I mentioned this in a post last week (and gymnast Jordyn Wieber’s mom gave some really good insight) but I thought I’d elaborate a bit in case some of you have any insight for me. I feel like I am constantly befuddled as to what extra-curricular activities I should have my kids involved in. Just figuring out the timing of classes and game schedules is enough to make me want to take a nap, but I am also constantly second-guessing what activities would be best for each kid in terms of their natural abilities and talents vs. what I really want for them.
Philosophically, I agree with the theory that kids should choose their own passions. I have seen the results of pushy parents who force their kids to be involved in the activity of the parent’s choosing, with no regard for the child. I’ve watched kids cry while being forced out onto a baseball field. I’ve seen parents insistent that their preschooler learn violin. And we’ve all seen commercials for that show Dance Moms. Clearly, I don’t want to be that kind of mother. I want my kids to choose what it is that they love instead of being forced into a hobby that isn’t a good fit.
At the same time, I do think that kids need some gentle encouragement, because seriously . . . what child naturally decides to take piano lessons or signs themselves up for a group sport? Obviously, parents are behind these decisions for younger kids. I wrote a post last year about my decision to stop taking my boys to the skate park, and that was met with some critical readers who felt I was squelching their passions. But without me, they would never have even known the skate park existed. I bought the helmets, I bought the boards . . . and I also decided that they were better off skating at home instead of around a bunch of foul-mouthed teenagers. So, yeah. I do think that parents play a role in the decision-making.
For example: India does not care for sports. At all. She’s very much like me, and more interested in reading and music. However, I really want her to find some kind of physical activity that she enjoys. I don’t care what it is . . . but I don’t want her resigning herself to the “athletically adverse” label I assigned to myself as a child. I’ve tried really hard to help her find what she enjoys. Basketball was a bust – she hated it. She wasn’t thrilled with soccer, either. Finally we signed her up for tennis. She did NOT want to go initially, and it took some prodding for the first couple of lessons, but now she is really enjoying it. I think her enjoyment is heavily influenced by the adorable tennis outfits I let her pick out, but she is happily engaged in a sport, which is what I wanted for her. But did she naturally stumble onto this passion? Not at all. It was a heavily orchestrated affair.
On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got my boys, who have never met a sport they didn’t like. However, they are ambivalent about the creative arts. Coming from a rather musical family, I’ve always felt that kids should at least be introduced to musical concepts, and know how to play one instrument proficiently. And yes, perhaps that fact puts me in the category of the pushy parent I described above, but there it is. I don’t need my kids to be concert pianists, but I’d like all of them to be able to read music and having a working knowledge of chords and theory in case they decide that music is something they want to pursue later in life. I don’t care what instrument floats their boat, but I think the arts are important. Consequently, I am currently making Jafta take piano lessons, despite the fact that he would rather not. Once he’s a little older I will let him choose a different instrument but I think piano sets a good foundation. My mother did this as well, and I’m glad she did. I ended up majoring in piano performance for two years in college, even though at age 6 I was kicking and screaming over lessons. Does that mean she chose my passion . . . or does it mean that she taught me discipline until my own passion matured?
Then there is the issue of choosing a sport for my boys. They really are game (no pun intended) for any sport – they would happily partake in football, karate, paddle boarding, surfing, basketball, baseball, skating, BMX biking . . . I think the interest is there at any turn, but because our time and resources are limited, I’ve got to narrow it down. So how do I make those decisions? Do I let them choose? Do I pick the one I’d rather watch them in? Do I just base it off convenience and schedule?
Let me pause here and mention that I realize it is an incredible privilege that we are able to even talk about multiple sports programs because this stuff gets pricey. I know there are many kids out there that don’t have the same access due to limited resources. P&G created the Team USA Youth Sports Fund to try to ensure all moms, regardless of their resources, can raise healthy, active kids. P&G has sponsored this post today, and for every new follower over at @thankyoumom on twitter, they will donate $1 to the fund up to $50,000.
Have I ever mentioned both of my parents were black belts in Tae Kwon Do? My mom was an instructor, and I had to take it for a while, but eventually begged my way out of going. And now Jafta is begging his way in.
Honestly, as I’m writing this, I think maybe I’ve answered my own question a bit. I think parents play a huge role in influencing their kids’ interests. None of my kids have ever begged for lessons. In fact, Jafta has readily admitted that, if left to his own devices, he would stay home and play video games all day. (And we don’t even OWN video games). So if my kids are active in sports or the arts, much of that is coming from my preference that they be active. I know that I want my kids to be involved in extra-circulars as they grow up. I want them to play team sports and I want them to be involved in some kind of creative activity. At this stage, I might be picking it for them, and I might even be pushing past resistance. As they get older, I will give them more freedom to choose, but I will probably also insist that they pick something. I think that having kids involved in activities is important on many levels.
How about you? How do you choose what activities your kids are involved it? Have you ever put them in something that they didn’t like, and insisted they continue?