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Monday, May 23, 2011

Parenting: It's Not About Us

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.


  1. Great read and great advice Murph! Love the blog!

  2. Well said, Murph. I'm glad you listened to your son when he told you the truth. I'm curious...did McKay keep playing baseball? If so, was it because he wanted to?

  3. Well said.

    I am curious, though, if not liking the game had anything to do with being the son of an All Star and MVP. Where you and your wife may not have pressured him in the game, there were probably plenty of people thinking "That's Dale Murphy's kid in Center." That's got to be some intense pressure.

    When the pressure of living up to a MLB player on a baseball field (simply because he's your dad) is that great, I could understand enjoying a bench warmer position.

  4. Erskine ThompsonJune 1, 2011 at 11:37 AM

    This reminds me of the story of the late Eric Show, who really just wanted to play his guitar, but whose dad pushed him and pushed him to play baseball, because he was major league quality. I read the story at espn.com, and it really brought a tear to my eye.

  5. Thanks for sharing! I grew up on the ball field along with my siblings, whether it was playing or watching a game, and I live for baseball. So, naturally, my son ended up in Little League ball. Lately he has expressed a desire to play soccer, and it has been hard on me to concede. I did finally realize that it is about his happiness, not mine.

  6. Fascinating take on it. I have two little kids and I don't know that I would have thought of it that way. For me, I always enjoyed what I was good at. Maybe that wasn't the right way of looking at it and maybe all kids don't see things like that.

    For me, I always wanted to play baseball. I made it all the way through high school with a chance to play in college but nothing beyond that. However the passion for the game drove me. If I wasn't any good, I would have quit a long time ago.

    However, a good lesson in this is maybe that the things we aren't best at aren't always what is best for us. There are a lot of life lessons you can take from that but I will leave it to each person to figure out what that means for them.

  7. Thanks for all of your ideas and comments!