Quick thought today about raising kids. One of the major challenges of parenting is figuring out the right level of involvement in our kids' decisions about their lives, their interests, and so on. Specifically, should we push our kids toward (what we view as) the most potentially successful or desirable path for them, or should we stand back and let them gravitate naturally toward their own interests (even when they are not what we might envision for them) and offer encouragement in other ways, using a different set of criteria?
Mckay, one of my younger sons, taught me a great lesson about this awhile back. He must have been around 11 years old at the time (he's now 19). On the way to one of his little league games, I asked him, “McKay, so...what’s your favorite position?”
He looked at me and said, “Oh, probably benchwarmer.”
I chuckled a little. “Haha that’s funny, McKay, but seriously... what’s your favorite position?” He quickly shot back, saying, “No, I AM being serious. I like sitting on the bench with everyone else, laughing and goofing around and stuff.” You can imagine this wasn't exactly the answer I had in mind when I asked the question. So I said, “Well, McKay, remember the other day you were in the outfield and you got the ball at the warning track and threw that kid out at second base? That was amazing, buddy! You're really good at baseball!” McKay then said something I'll never forget.
“Well, I may be good at it, but it doesn’t mean I like it.”
I had to think about that one for a minute.
It was a simple, but enlightening, point: sometimes kids don’t enjoy the things they're naturally good at. And, even if they do enjoy those things, they may not be passionate about them. We can all understand this idea, I think, but as a parent it can be easy to forget, mostly because we like to see our kids succeed. Although for many people there's a clear connection between talent, success, and enjoyment, we can't just assume it works this way for our kids. They may have the first two, but that doesn't mean they'll necessarily get the third. As parents we need to be careful and always check our motivations. We should ask ourselves, for example, "Do our kids really enjoy activity X as much as we like watching them do well at it? Are they having fun developing that talent? Does it motivate them to improve and progress? Or are they miserable in spite of their abilities and despite their achievements?"
We need to help our kids figure out, first, what they really like to do. Then we need to help them figure out how to improve themselves in that area of their lives. Talent, success, and interests may not always align perfectly, and if that’s the case, we need to make sure we’re helping them find their passion and not our version of it.
And, through it all, the most important thing we need to remember is: Parenting is not about us. It's about them.