Embracing My Kids’ Interests Was an Opportunity for My Own Growth
When I first became a mom, I looked forward to doing things with my children that I had enjoyed growing up. It didn’t occur to me then that embracing my kids interests instead would be so rewarding.
I first realized that this was not to be when my oldest asked to take ballet lessons. My mother tried for years to convince me to get into a tutu and ballet shoes but I made it clear that I was not interested. I would rather run around outside, collect frogs and get as muddy as possible. The next year my daughter asked to play T-ball, again something I had not done (though if girls were allowed to play ball in the 70s, I may have done this). This was later followed with Girl Scouts, basketball, soccer and marching band and more (none of which I had ever participated in before). Later children added more interests and activities that I had never experienced myself (fencing, jazz band and 4H dog club to name a few).
Things I did enjoy: horses, riding, hiking, painting and drawing, took a back seat (to be fair, my kids were interested in horseback riding, just not in the animals themselves and our family budget didn’t stretch to include horseback riding lessons for us all), and I quickly found myself in the center of their worlds, following their interests. Instead of resenting it though, I threw myself into it and loved it. Through my children, I have discovered a number of new interests and learned more than I knew possible about things I knew nothing about.
I have always been what I call a chronic volunteer. I think I must emit a strong “pick me” vibe to those who need help; before I knew it, I was not simply attending, but also actively involved in these activities as well. In the span of 20 years, I coached T-ball, softball and soccer and was a Girl Scout leader, dance mom, band mom, color guard mom, stage mom, Cub Scout mom, and 4-H leader. Each one of these was a learning experience that I feel fortunate to have had.
Joining in with my children has been rewarding in many ways. I have expanded my interests and got to spend time learning alongside them. Being involved in their activities means I understand when they talk about their passions (at least somewhat) as each discipline has its own terminology. I think that perhaps my willingness to join in has made them more open to new opportunities as well. They don’t see me shying away from trying something new and they now realize that many of these activities I only do because of their interest. Perhaps because of this, when I need company for an activity I am interested in, I usually have someone willing to give it a try.
Over time, I realized that to pursue my interests, I simply needed to be patient. Many years ago, we were a hiking family. We spent many weekends at a family house in the mountains with no TV, just a deck of cards and a few board games. There wasn’t much to do but explore the outdoors. After our fourth was born, our third developed a disdain for hiking and expressed this opinion in a clear but rather dramatic fashion. Our hiking days came to a screeching halt. With occasional prompting over the years, this hiking hater has become the one most likely to jump for the boots if I suggest I need a hike, (and also logged over 100 miles on a weeklong trip a few summers ago). I see this as evidence that frequent suggestion and perseverance as well as a boatload of patience can win out.
As the kids got older, they were intrigued by my “hidden” interests, things they didn’t know about me. We have discovered together that though we all have our own passions, our interests are not mutually exclusive. There are some commonalities everyone in the family enjoys: music (not necessarily the same type, but for the most part we are all tolerant of each other’s choices), theater, and some level of enjoying the outdoors. Finding the balance to make everyone happy is still a challenge, so sometimes we separate, with those who enjoy an activity going while the others stay behind; other times we all go along, knowing that other family members will reciprocate when it is our turn to choose.
Embracing my kids’ interests not only introduced me to many new activities, it also made me more open to new experiences in general. It pushed me out of my own personal comfort zone and forced me to face fears. I am more open-minded and willing to try new things and go new places. Watching them grow and learn encourages me to do the same. I’m certain it has also been one of the “secrets” behind the close relationships I share with each of my now grown children. I’d recommend every parent give it a try. You have nothing to lose beyond a few hours of time.