Actually, she isn’t signed up for soccer. Even though her school offers it. Even though it takes place on a day that she stays late. Even though she owns soccer gear. Even though there’s no extra cost. Even though there’s no reason in the world not to.
Except that there is one reason: She said, “No thank you, Mommy. Maybe in the spring.”
How much input should a child have in selecting extracurriculars? We’ve always let the Maiden take the lead. We’ve exposed her to art, sports, music, science, language, drama, and dance–and then asked her what sparked her heart.
And she’s chosen. Within limits–otherwise she’d sign on to everything–but she’s chosen. Some activities she’s loved and has repeated year after year (dance). Some have been one-season wonders (baseball). Some have continued at home on her own (art). But the decisions have all been hers.
Not everyone agrees with this approach, however, and it isn’t just hardcore Tiger Moms. In one middle-of-the-road philosophy (apparently favored by Michelle Obama, among others), the parents choose one of the activities instead of giving both choices to the child. The reasoning sounds valid. The kids learn how to improve themselves at something they don’t like, and that’s a valuable skill.
But it’s not the only one. And when I see completely child-led afterschool scheduling, I know this with certainty: For my daughter, at least, the benefits far outweigh any others.
When the Maiden’s wrapping her little brain around karate vs. tap vs. gymnastics, she’s not just picking a fun activity. As time passes, there’s something far deeper going on: In making her own schedule, she’s slowly learning how to choose. And in choosing, she’s learning to listen to her heart.
I want my girl to grow up not just doing what she loves but knowing how to discover her dreams. I want her to learn that she can find her dream and chase it down. I want her to know that she truly can be anything she wants to be–but that to get there is a journey.
I want her to realize that she has to see before she can make decisions. That she can map out her path, little by little. That her choices are her choices, and she might make good ones and she might make bad ones, but each situation is going to help her know exactly what her next step needs to be.
I want her to know that whether she picks ballet or baseball, the choices are hers–and she also owns the consequences of commitment. I want her to see how decisions, even good decisions, don’t always turn out the way you want them to, but you have to learn to live with them.
And most of all, on dance days when she complains–days when tights are annoying to wear, she doesn’t feel like waiting for the other group to practice, and last week the teacher told her to stop talking and pay attention–then, I hope, she will come to understand that even pursuing our most deeply held dreams requires great sacrifice.
And that lesson is worth more than all the soccer moves and ballet combinations in the world.
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