Should Our Children Follow in Our Footsteps?

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One of the great joys of parenting is watching children follow in our footsteps. Don’t we all dream of having a child next to us cheering along as we watch our favorite sports team? That’s happened for both me and my husband, even though we follow different teams. One of my favorite experiences was reading Charlotte’s Web to my children and having them love it as much as I did when I was their age. Yet, even that moment didn’t come close to what I felt when one of my kids came to me and asked me to load more Pink Floyd music on the iPod. These are the shared experiences that make parenthood so fulfilling.

What are we to do, then, when a child has no interest in our sports teams? How about when our child has no interest in sports altogether? What are we to do when our kid emphatically says, “Mom, I hate reading. There’s nothing I hate to do more.” Ouch, that one hurts.

If having children follow in our footsteps gives us joy, what are we supposed to feel when our children don’t follow in our footsteps? That’s a much more complicated feeling. Does it have the potential to exceed the simpler feeling that comes from a shared experience? I believe it does, but I’m still figuring this one out.

What got me thinking about it? James Hetfield and my mom. (Just seeing those two names written next to each other is odd.) I was listening to an interview with Hetfield, the lead singer of Metallica, and he was being asked about his style of raising his kids. The interviewer asked whether he makes his kids listen to “good music.” He responded that they do enjoy music, but that they have their own music they are interested in—not the music he listens to or makes. The interviewer continued to pursue the point, asking whether it doesn’t disappoint him that his kids won’t listen to the music he wants them to. He answered “no,” and explained that he sees it as an important part of growing up. Each generation should have their own music and interests. He left the impression that that’s precisely what made music so appealing to him—adults of his parents’ generation weren’t listening to what he was. His music was unique, it was exciting, and it belonged to him.

I grew up in a sports family. My siblings who came before me played baseball, softball, volleyball, football, basketball and ran track and cross country. I didn’t. My high school career didn’t include a single one of those activities. It would have been easy to leave it at that, but at some point, my mom noticed how I was always messing around on the piano, trying to teach myself how to play. She asked me if I wanted to take piano lessons. This was an oddity for our family, but I think she figured the money she would put toward lessons might equal the amount spent on extra-curricular sports. I did it for several years, and never really got very good, but I liked it, and I still think about it. Later, she noticed that my real passion in high school was writing, and she encouraged me to stay late at school a couple days of the week to work on the school newspaper staff, telling me that she viewed it as similar to ball practice.

The point is, she tried to find out what my interests were and gave me some resources and encouragement to help them grow. In some instances, she noticed my interests before I was even fully aware of them. Both James Hetfield and my mother seem to have figured out something about parenting that I am just beginning to discover. Part of our job as a parent is to nurture what’s unique about our children, rather than continuing to feed our own interests. It’s not always easy, but there seems to be a reward in it for both child and parent.

I have a daughter who recently asked me to take a cheerleading class. The first thing that went through my mind when she approached me: oh, barf. Cheerleading could not have been less appealing to me when I was her age. It’s not real appealing to me now, either. I have started noticing an interesting phenomenon the last few years, though. Former cheerleaders seem to grow up to be pretty cool. I’ve had more conversations with fellow moms, coworkers, doctors, neighbors, and the like, who at some point tell me in conversation, “I was a cheerleader in high school.” Smart, talented, professionals. Moms that know how to keep their cool when the meltdowns occur. Neighbors who bring food over when you bring three babies home from the hospital. These are a few of the things the former cheerleaders in my life grew up to be.

While there is a joy in having children follow in our footsteps, what feeling do we get when we help our children find their own paths? I’m excited to experience that feeling.

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