When should parents push?

I swore when I had kids, I wouldn’t push them into any sports or activities.  I wanted them to follow their hearts and discover their passions on their own.

Eight years into parenting, I’m realizing my approach, though well-intentioned, was a little off, at least concerning certain children of mine.  My oldest, for example, is like a little birdie who would never learn to fly if it wasn’t for a gentle (or sometimes harder) push from mama.  As a result of his hesitancy, we’ve decided on a few non-negotiables in our family.  The first is piano, which the kids will learn through middle school.  We will consider allowing them to pursue another musical instrument later on, but for now piano is a must.  No negotiation.  Am I a Tiger Mom for doing so?  Maybe.  But I want my kids to learn to handle requirements and responsibilities within our family unit.  They have a really good life–food, shelter, no worries.  I don’t mind throwing a little hardship in the way!  And this is piano we’re talking about, for crying out loud!

The second requirement for my kids is that they learn to swim and complete at least one summer season on a competitive swim team.  That might sound harsh, especially if a child is non-competitive and dislikes the sport.  My logic, though, is that swim team will encourage my children to become truly proficient in the water, which will ensure greater safety later on.  It’s a form of quality control and with five children, I need any help I can get to make sure than everyone is up to par on swimming and safe around water.  They will thank me someday when they’re on a boat and not fearing for their lives.  They will also learn handling anxiety before races, being part of team unit, and the discipline of practice.  It’s so win-win, it’s not even funny!

This summer is the first time we’ve put part B in action and believe it or not, we are reaping the benefits.  M, my oldest, has truly taken to the water and has improved his swimming technique tenfold.  Not to mention, he is loving being on the team.  He races into practice, gets excited before the meets, and comes out of the water all smiles all the time (unless he’s lost his goggles!).  Here is an example of a child who would have never tried swim team until mama pushed.  I’m so glad I did.  And you can bet I will continue to do so!

Doesn’t he look like he’s having fun?

The same may not ring true, however, for other children of ours.  I can already tell which ones are up for adventure and are willing to try anything.  In their cases, we’ll probably have to take the opposite approach (the one my parents had to take with me) and actually hold them back from trying everything.  Such was the case with our second oldest this past year.  He wanted to try three different things one season and we all paid the price.  He was exhausted and learned a valuable lesson about choosing involvement carefully.

There is never a clear path raising kids.  Each child is his own entity and there is never a one-size-fits-all strategy parents can employ.  Every day I am learning to throw my expectations out the window, that no two children are the same, and that holding back is important, but that a little push can never hurt.  How else am I going to get all my birdies out of the nest?

Keep the faith and God bless on this marathon journey of parenting.

  • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com/ Kellie

    Nice! I think it is all about knowing your kids and what they need. We have to push a bit to get our oldest boy to do piano, but he’s doing it and generally likes it. We are going to push him into choir in the fall, because his sister is going, he has a nice voice, and he should learn to use it. He isn’t excited about it, but dealing with performing in a group is an important skill, and I’m considering it part of his music education or “school.”

    And, like you, I also pushed with swimming. Our oldest swam for two years before I let her quit, but those two seasons came with a lot of tears! Now that swim season is in full swing my oldest boy (who was pretty indifferent about swimming this year) is loving it, and my daughter who I let quit is sad that she isn’t swimming — go figure!

    • Bethany

      All are wonderful life skills that they will carry on into the future. I’ve proposed choir for my kids, but none seem to be biting. Since piano is such a push, I’m going to back off that battle. Perhaps my girls will enjoy singing?? I know I did!

      Who knows for you–maybe a year off is all Gianna needs to realize she really wants to be on the team? Separation will make the heart grow fonder if its meant to be!! And kids have to learn that they can’t do everything like you talked about in “Quitting Time”. It’s a good life lesson.

  • Angel

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pushing children especially in those two areas. Sometimes that push can be called “encouragement” because children don’t have the foresight nor the experience to understand how certain skills can benefit them later in life. My children have to be reminded to practice the piano. At times I’ve questioned whether to continue doing this because I’ve gotten some hard resistance. But I’ve come to the conclusion that they will appreciate what I did for them years later when they can create beautiful music all by themselves and they can share this talent with their friends and family. I also want them to understand that anything worth having is not gotten easily and that hard work does pay off.

    • Bethany

      Angel, I couldn’t agree more. The kids will thank us later, as I have done to my parents regarding piano!

  • Kat0427

    I think that siblings with different personalities can learn from each other, which is a real blessing if you think about it. I’ve already noticed that my child who might be less inclined to participate in activities has been motivated by my other child, who would participate in everything if that was possible. It’s nice when mom and dad don’t always have to do the pushing/holding back!

    • Bethany

      Kat, I totally agree with your thoughts here too. It’s amazing to watch my oldest participate in an activity more readily when knowing that his younger brother will be too. Learning from siblings is such a gift. My kids probably learn more from each other every day than they do from a nagging mother. It is a treat to watch lessons GG and I impart to our oldest trickle down as he teaches the younger ones. Something is sticking!!

  • Jennifer

    I love these thoughts, Bethany – thanks so much for sharing. When I began my parenting journey – nearly 6 yrs ago – I had such similar sentiments about not wanting to push my kids regarding extracurricular participation. I think that my eldest, however, may require some of the gentle nudging that you note was needed with your oldest. And, regarding swim team, I learned to swim at a very young age, as I grew up on the coast and spent many a day at the beach & the pool. Despite being an early swimmer, however, I never swam competitively, and boy, was lifeguarding certification (in order to work at a summer camp on the beach) more challenging that I had anticipated!


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