I ended up in a couple of different conversations with the same theme last week. Son/daughter, out of nowhere, decides to quit an activity they've been involved in for several years with the explanation, "it just doesn't make me happy anymore."
The result: parents who are beside themselves!
Dumbfounded upon hearing the news, these parents had similar reactions...shock, anger, and frustration.
The BIG problem: how to balance teaching a lesson in what commitment means versus allowing our children to express who they really are.
Anne* is upset because her son, a second semester senior in high school who has a great head on his shoulders and has gotten himself into the school of his choice (a/k/a dad's alma mater), has played tennis for the past several years, and claimed to love the game SO much he received special (expensive) equipment for Christmas a few months ago, in order to rock his last season with the team.
One recent day he announces to mom, "I am quitting tennis, I want to play baseball this spring with my friends."
Anne is totally stunned....and counting all the extra money spent on equipment and clothing he just had to have a few months ago. While dad isn't happy, he doesn't want his son to participate in a sport when his head's not in the game because, in his mind, son may get injured. Son is not going to be playing tennis in college anyway.
Anne cannot get over the money thing...or (maybe even more so) the fact that she's always felt she knew this child SO well, and the idea he has come out with this (in her mind) complete change of heart means he will also be letting down his tennis team/coach, which is beyond Anne's ability to comprehend.
I have known Anne for several years, so I (boldly) decide to ask her some questions in the hopes of possibly showing her this situation is more about her [ego] than about her son's lazy commitment level.
Here is a snapshot:
Anne is a TERRIFIC mom who loves her kids VERY much. She is their biggest cheerleader and demonstrates this by feeding them plenty of healthy, tasty food so they are strong and have the energy to be the best student and athlete they can be. Anne does all she can to make sure her kids get the rest they need. She drives them wherever they need to go, to participate in the activities of their choice, she wants them to be well-rounded individuals. Anne and her husband buy their kids the items they require to be able to do their best on the field...and, like lots of other moms I know, Anne spends HOURS of focused energy on the sidelines (in all kinds of weather) screaming encouragement and devotion to the child/team she has come to love.
Anne has also made good friends with the other moms on the team. And, she is such a helping/caring individual she has offered, on more than one occasion (including this year), to help organize the annual banquet.
Sound like someone you know?
Anne admits she has been telling her very-academically-driven-super-friendly-helpful-son for almost a year now to relax and enjoy being eighteen and in high school.
"So, he's just doing what you have been asking him to do for a year now?" I ask Anne. "He's telling you, Mom I don't want to play tennis anymore, I want to spend the last semester of my high school years playing baseball with my friends."
Anne's first inclination is to turn the situation at hand into a lesson on teaching her son the value of commitment (even though her son worked his tail off to get the grades and test scores he needed to get into college), she wants him to respect the money they spent on equipment and team/tournament fees, and to understand if he bows out she will lose face with the other moms which is not something she wants to do.
Anxiety over what other parents (maybe even her own?) will think, or say, is clouding the picture.
An even bigger internal challenge for Anne is she didn't know her child as well as she thought she did. And she wonders...what else might I not know?
So what does this mean for Anne (and other moms/dads who might be able to relate to this situation on some level)?
I believe it means Anne can choose to be upset about her son's change of mind for all of the above reasons, or she can use the situation as an instrument for change in Anne.
Well, Anne can continue to focus on the money spent, which may go wasted, continue feeling guilty and angry her son is letting down a team and a coach which appears more important than her son's following her clearly stated wishes that he be eighteen and enjoy his last semester in high school, and she can continue to resent the fact that she has to tell some fellow moms she will bow out of planning for the banquet...OR
Anne can be happy that her son had the courage to tell her what he really wanted to do and then take the steps to make it happen, and she can meet/support him where he's at by rooting him on this spring season of baseball, and she can continue to be friendly with the moms from the tennis team (if they are willing...if not, then they probably weren't really friends to begin with).
One of the most important messages in the book The Conscious Parent by Dr. Shefali Tsabary, is that our children are our greatest teachers. They come into the world to help us see where we need to grow.
Sometimes, just like you, our children change their minds and honor their inner voice.
Have you encountered a similar situation with one of your kids? If so, how did you handle it? I'd love to hear about it...comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Anne is not her real name, some of the details have been changed, because while I don't need a million friends, I like to keep the ones I do have.