My Daughter isn't Going to Be a Gymnast (and that's Okay with Me)
As soon as Scarlet was old enough for gymnastics, I signed her up to toddle around at one of the best gym's in Los Angeles.
I was a competitive gymnast and by the age of ten, I was at the gym practicing from 4-8pm four days a week and competing on the weekends. It was my passion.
And I just knew it would be our thing together, Scarlet and I. She'd go to Woodward Gymnastics Camp at age seven, like I did, and maybe I'd even get to be her cabin mom. Seriously, a lifelong dream I just knew would come to fruition when I found out I was having my very own little baby girl.
And obviously, it would be just like my childhood memories attending camp there each summer, complete with friendship bracelets, karaoke contests and the two-a-day practices I loved SO much.
But, life, as John Lennon said, is what happens while you're busy making other plans. And after shlepping Scarlet to Burbank (in LA terms that's like a lifetime of traffic away from our home) for gymnastics at least once a week for three years, she decided she didn't want to do it anymore.
I braced myself for a little bit of heartache. Mourning the weekends we wouldn't spend together at competitions, me more nervous than her for her new routine on the balance beam.
But instead, I actually surprised myself with how 'okay' I was with her decision.
That's right. Her decision.
Perhaps I had prepped myself with years of letting her make some of her own choices: Want to wear your princess costume to school every day for a year? Sure! Decided you want your bangs to be an inch over your eyeballs because that's your style? Okay -- it's your hair! I did, however, draw the line when she told me she didn't really want another little brother when I was 9 months pregnant with my third baby. (Some things are really a mommy and daddy's decision, afterall).
I asked 15-year-veteran Mommy + Me Instructor, Synthia Praglin, for her take on the matter. "Participating in the decision making process is empowering; giving choices teaches children the life long skill of decision making, helps build self esteem and teaches them to take ownership over their choices," she says.
According to Praglin, "It’s only through the opportunity to explore options that we see desire and passion develop. (This is not to be confused with over scheduling which I have seen to be rampant and which inevitably backfires) When kids are given options, they tend to gravitate towards activities that they truly enjoy, even if the skill set is not quite there yet. The important part here is enjoyment and pleasure from the activity".
Scarlet had been introduced to Irish Dancing through her pre-school teacher and when she moved on to Kindergarten, she wanted to continue. So we signed her up with the dance company her teacher recommended, with an instructor who had been in Riverdance.
And that became her passion.
I had never seen Riverdance and we aren't even the slightest bit Irish as far as I know. But what I do know is that I want each of my kids to find something that moves them. A passion. And if that changes over time or takes a roundabout route to get there, that's okay, too. This is their journey and I'm here to encourage them and always have their back. Bring on the Riverdance!
In an effort to find the balance of it all, I asked Praglin (who was Scarlet and my Mommy + Me instructor almost seven years ago) a few questions with both her experience as a mother to a teenage son going off to college and as a studied Child Development Specialist (among other amazing things -- full Q+A here) and here's what she had to say:
Q. What are your thoughts on a child trying something and then either sticking with it and seeing it through (until the season ends or tuition is paid) versus no longer participating?
A. With younger kids, interest is definitely going to ebb and flow. Sometimes the reason for the waning enthusiasm is obvious and other times it’s not. So it’s important to take a good look at what might be influencing the desire to “quit.”
- Is the timing of the activity problematic? Knowing your child’s energy level (generally) and that day in particular.
- Has their interest simply dwindled? Is it not as fun as they originally thought it would be? (My son wanted to play soccer but his desire changed dramatically when he found himself in the middle of 12 kids kicking each other as they all tried to kick the ball. From that moment on he wanted nothing to do with “contact” sports. We did finish the season, and my son spent most of his time on the court picking flowers out of the grass.
- Do they feel a connection to the other kids? Coach? Teacher?
- Is it simply “too hard…” Not everyone can be a musician or an athlete.
Young children don’t necessarily understand commitment and/or the time/money parents put into the activity. Parents of young children should go into activities with their eyes wide open and recognize the day many come when their child just doesn’t want to participate any longer. I suggest choosing your battles wisely. Is it truly worth it to force them? Once the “fun” is gone, it merely becomes a battle of the wills and everyone is left feeling defeated.
Q. As a mother with a son who has now graduated high school, is there anything you look back on that he joined or didn’t join, or any hindsight things that might be relevant?
My son tried the typical sports a young boy tries. Soccer, T-ball, Basketball. At the end of each season, we came away realizing that he really wasn't all that interested in any of these contact sports. The next season we put a tennis racket in his hand and the world looked different. He picked it up quickly and dreams of college recruitment danced in our heads… (he was 8!!) He went on to play JV and Varsity but never had that attitude of “need to win,” and just like that, the scholarship dream died.
In 3rd grade, he begged us for a Saxophone. He could barely get his fingers around that instrument, but he was nothing if not persistent. Neither my husband no or I play an instrument, so the fact that he was so musically inclined was music to our ears…College??? He joined the Jazz band in Middle School and then in 9th grade abruptly announced he was done. My dreams of seeing him play the Hollywood Bowl were shattered. His reason was he wanted to be in theater, and he couldn’t do both. I really struggled with this one, but he was insistent and the tears didn't make it any easier for me. For the next 4 years, he performed in 2-3 shows per year, with rehearsals going late into the evening only to come home to hours of homework. I watched him go from having no spoken lines to several lead roles in H.S. His self confidence and comfort speaking in front of an audience grew by leaps and bounds. And I saw happiness in what he was doing. I finally understood that he knew all along what would make him happy and any remaining concerns I had had about letting him “quit” were laid to rest. (And he has no plans to major in theater…he wants to be an architect)
He recently told me how he played guitar with one of his campers this week and how much fun he’d had playing. His own guitar is sitting in the corner of his room, untouched, for the last 4 years…
So what have I learned? That given the opportunity, kids will chose things that make them happy and will do well, if not better than when they are forced. Allowing him the opportunity to make some choices on his own worked for us. Perhaps it’s partly who he is, but certainly forcing him to continue playing sax or guitar or pushing him on the tennis court would not have worked. It was only through supporting his choices that his self confidence and self esteem soared. And he may or may not, come back to any one of those activities as an adult. The lessons learned have not been lost…they are just sitting in the corner waiting for the right moment.
Q. When, as parents, we have a vision of what our babies will do when they are kids (sports, etc.) or be as an adult (doctor, lawyer, and so on) how can we prepare ourselves to be open for their journey?
A. As an adult, it’s normal to wonder “what if…” and “if only…” when it comes to things we didn’t do or dreams we left behind. But it is a terrible mistake to find ourselves living out these lost dreams through our children. We cannot and should not project our aspirations on our kids before they are even old enough to participate in the decision. It’s natural for kids to want to please us, but if what they do is strictly motivated by a desire to please, they cannot grow and develop into the people they deserve to be. Our role should be to support our kids in their dreams, not ours.
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