My husband and I assumed we’d be sports parents. More specifically, hockey parents.
We live in Minnesota, the self-proclaimed “State of Hockey,” where backyard rinks and ice time are all the rage.
My husband played hockey, and I’ve always loved hockey, so we kind of assumed that would be our future. As good Minnesotan parents, we strapped hockey skates on our preschooler and hit the local ice rinks.
There was just one small problem, however. Our son had zero interest in organized sports of any kind.
When our kids don’t go in the direction we anticipate, it can be a shock initially.
It was a problem only for us. He was happy as could be simply being a kid playing whatever, whenever he wanted.
We took him skating over the next few years, just in case he developed an interest.
Once at a hockey store, while getting new skates, the owner, who was also a hockey coach, tried to woo us into changing school districts to come play for him. Even at a young age, our son appeared built for sports.
But he just wasn’t interested.
Initially, I think we were disappointed we wouldn’t experience that aspect of parenting. There would be no group of new friends, no cheering our kid on from bleachers, and no lessons of being on a team.
Learning to embrace our son meant letting go of any preconceived dreams we had for him.
We had to let go of what we imagined and celebrate the kid we had.
Over time, we realized there were some benefits to not having a kid in organized sports. We had the freedom to set our own schedules, and we saved thousands of dollars. We didn’t deal with the club sports politics or the stress of getting him to practice.
Instead, we invested our money and time into what he was interested in to encourage those passions, including technology, virtual racing, and photography.
We love him for who he is.
And so, it hurts when people only ask him about sports.
Nearly every adult interaction begins with the question, “What sports do you play?”
His answer always seems to disappoint the asker, and the conversation often ends there.
While I understand sports is a popular cultural thing that connects with many people, it isn’t the only thing.
While my husband and I always support our son regardless of what interest he pursues, we hope that other people will do the same.
We never want him to feel less than for pursuing a different path, instead celebrated for finding something he loves.
As adults, we can show our support for all kids by asking more inclusive and engaging questions. Here are some examples:
- How do you like to spend your free time?
- Tell me about something you enjoy doing.
- What are your hobbies?
- What’s your favorite thing to do with your friends?
- Have you tried or learned anything new lately?
These open-ended questions allow a kid to talk about whatever they want to and encourage them to share instead of pigeonholing them into one box,
Maybe their answer will be a sport, or maybe it will be music or art or some other less glitzy hobby that is equally deserving of interest.
Yes, as parents, we need to prepare our kids for awkward conversations
We want our son to feel confident in himself and how he chooses to spend his time.
But there are moments when people ask my kid about sports, and they’re visibly let down by his response. I think sometimes that’s because sports is all they know to talk about, and they genuinely wished to connect on some level.
Other times, it seems they’re disappointed in him for not playing sports and in our choice for not pushing sports.
There are many benefits to youth sports, but we also need to celebrate the other pursuits that are often supported with less fanfare.
Teenagers are especially attuned to when they are going against the norm
As graduation season approaches, many seniors dread the, “Where are you going to college?” question. For those that choose to do something different, this barrage of inferences can quash the excitement of the graduate making a different choice or make them feel worse about this turbulent time when maybe things didn’t go to their plan.
Simply asking, “Do you have any plans after graduation?” or “What are you most looking forward to after you graduate?” can make teens more comfortable with talking about their future.
We can model these open-ended conversation starters for our kids, too.
As adults, I’d argue we don’t ask each other the best questions either. All too often, we default to asking about how work and the kids are, and we expect responses that include words like “busy” and “fine.”
If we truly care about the person we’re asking, we should hone our questions to go beneath the surface and take the time to listen to longer than one-word answers.
My personal favorite is one a former teacher asked me years ago: “Are you happy?“
Rather than asking me how I was, she asked if I was happy. And she genuinely wanted to know.
I’ve never forgotten the difference that one word made. It’s bold to ask because it invites the other person to share their troubles if they’re not. It isn’t a question to be asked casually if you’re unwilling to listen to the answer.
Our kids deserve to be asked about whatever it is that lights them up.
Let’s flip the script and ask better questions to young and old alike.
We all crave connection, and one of the best ways to forge it is in meaningful conversation.
So lets all work on asking better questions.
This is a contributed post from Michelle Koch from One Grateful Girl.
Are you looking to help your child find their passion? We love the book The Self-Driven Child, which makes a radical case for giving more control to your kids regarding their life. Using science and data, this book will make you re-think your approach to parenting in a common-sense way.
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