What's the secret to parenting children who have very different interests and passions from you?
A sister of mine and I often joke that we are raising each others’ kids. I’ve got horse-crazy daughters who love to ride, work at a horse farm down the road, and have always been passionate about animals — which is very much like my sister, who had a horse growing up and rescued every living creature she could find.
She, on the other hand, has a daughter who’s a dancer and performer — and that was me. I forced my siblings to watch my impromptu singing shows, volunteered to read dramatic poems in front of the entire school, and eventually spent a few years in my early 20s doing professional musical theater.
The irony is not lost on either of us, but it can be a hard parenting lesson: Our children’s passions and dreams are often not our own. As parents we have to learn how to help our kids pursue and navigate their own interests and talents even when we don’t share them.
A lot of moms and dads find this challenging. They may not admit it to themselves, but they want to live out their own dreams through their children. And let’s face it…it’s pretty sweet when that happens. If you were on a swim team in college dreaming of the Olympics and now your son or daughter is proving to have real talent in the pool, that brings a lot of joy.
But what about when your child has a talent or passion for something that you have absolutely no interest in?
Not long ago, a friend of mine shared how challenging that is for her. One of her sons absolutely loves computers, gaming, and all things related to technology. Of course, lots of boys love computer games, but his interest seems to go much further than that. He’s a smart, cerebral kid who has a real gift and love for all things tech. His mom, on the other hand, has no interest in anything related to computers and has a hard time figuring out bow to help him nurture his singular interest while encouraging him to have a balanced life.
It’s a parenting challenge that comes in different forms for many of us.
Maybe you’ve never liked team sports and cheering in the bleachers is the last place you’d want to be, but your child loves soccer or basketball and has a knack for it.
Or maybe you’re an academic with advanced degrees and your child has learning difficulties and you’re wondering if they’ll even make it to graduation.
Whatever the situation, each of us is faced with a truth as parents: Our children are not us. They are unique individuals with their own gifts, talents, and interests. Their purpose and mission from God is not the same as ours. As their parents, our job is not to live vicariously through them, but to provide them with the love, encouragement, and opportunity (where possible) to discover who they are and what God has called them to do in this world.
When we do that, and if we can keep our own agendas in check, incredible blessings often come our way.
We discover new parts of ourselves that we would otherwise never have known. We gain new understanding and appreciation for people, subjects, and experiences that we never had before. Most importantly, we learn about our children — the precious lives God has entrusted to us — and they in turn become our teachers.
And when ours sons and daughters witness that we unconditionally support them in the fullness of who they are, that is a gift they will always carry with them. It is, in fact, is one of the best things we can give them as a parent.