An old friend visited me recently. She’s raising a lovely 18-year-old son who I’ve known since he was an active toddler.
During our conversation she shared enthusiastically about her son’s serious commitment which has led to his becoming a violin virtuoso, participating in an outstanding youth symphony with many performance opportunities. He’s currently auditioning for several universities and hopes to attain a scholarship to pursue his musical studies.
As I noted the stars in this proud mom’s eyes, I recalled the last time I was with her. At that time, her son was twelve, and counting on a career playing professional soccer. Their days were filled with soccer practices and matches, and Mom was always there cheering him on, even admitting to having become a stereotypical “soccer mom.”
I’m also remembering the week of his fifth birthday when he was into dinosaurs. He could name them all and carried an encyclopedic knowledge of their characteristics in that tiny head of his. His mother—younger, then—told me he would be a paleontologist when he grew up.
This family reminds me of the long and interesting ride parents sign on for when they bring a child into this world. Growing up, children try out many interests and personal styles. A few children discover who they are and what they want from life early, but for most, life is an ever-changing series of explorations.
So the challenge for parents is to figure out how much to invest in supporting a particular activity as opposed to supporting their child’s natural evolution. I know another family whose child is young but appears to have real potential as a gymnast. Coaches have begun talking to her parents about an Olympics preparation plan which would consume much of the family’s resources. They sit atop the horns of this dilemma: Should they support her in this endeavor sacrificially, knowing that all those who “make it” must do this? Or should they dial things back a bit and wait to see if other interests beckon?
What I’ve learned from listening to such stories is that children will lead their parents along an interesting path as they learn about themselves over time. The key for parents is to support the healthy development of their children while often sitting in the passenger’s seat.