I begin this post with an apology to my mother for the millions of times the words “I don’t want to” came out of my mouth.
“I don’t want to go to sailing lessons.” “I don’t want to go to gymnastics class.” “I don’t want to go to tennis lessons.” “I don’t want to practice the piano.” I even remember sitting in front of the television watching the weather station with the hopes that sailing class would be cancelled due to a torrential rainstorm.
But, most of the time she made me go, and most of the time I ended up having a decent time once I got there; I’d say it was probably about a 60% success rate.
Fast forward thirty years and I find myself, predictably, in the same position. My six-year-old has a knack for saying “I don’t want to” before we even finish telling him what we’re going to do. He’s too tired to stay at afterschool, too sick to go outside, doesn’t want to go to the library; can’t we just stay home and watch a movie?
I’ll admit that he is much less stubborn when it comes to sports, namely because his crew of 3 or 4 best friends tend to always be there waiting for him at soccer practice or t-ball. But often, we find ourselves saying, “I don’t care if you don’t want to, we’re going.”
So what’s a mom (or dad) to do? Is forcing our kids to do something they initially say they don’t want to do just another form of being overscheduled and over-zealous with our kids lives, or do we really know what’s good for them?
In my case, the fact that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree is a helpful lesson. You see, I didn’t like tennis lessons when I felt like I wasn’t as “cool” as the other girls in my group, but by the time I got to high school I had grown to love the sport and became captain of my high school tennis team.
I didn’t like sailing – and I’m sensing a trend here – because some of the wealthy kids were exclusionary and I hated feeling not good enough.
But the first time I hung out with the man who would become my husband I wowed him taking the helm of a sailboat and getting us out of a tight situation while he fixed some tangled lines.
As I watch my son, I see myself. Timid when he doesn’t know other kids, self-conscious about whether he’ll be good enough, and sometimes just downright lazy.
But I also see that once he gets over the “hump” of just getting out there and getting started, he begins to enjoy the activity and quite often cites it as his favorite part of the day.
Twice this week we went from full-scale yelling about getting geared up to go outside, to running through the snow with glee, building a fairy castle in the woods, and sledding until we couldn’t climb the hill another time.
In my case, knowing what’s best for my son has a lot to do with knowing what’s best for me, even when I don’t want to.
I still hesitate to put myself in situations with new people, even when I know it would be good for me professionally; sometimes I give myself an excuse to avoid the situation and other times I suck it up and try my best.
I have just as much trouble as my son motivating to get myself outside for some exercise; about half the time I push myself because I know it will make me feel better, and sometimes because I want to be a role model for him.
As adults, we get to make these choices for ourselves. We push ourselves to try new things or do what is good for us, but we also get to choose when it’s too much, or when we feel we’ve given it our best and it just isn’t going to work out. Sometimes we just need a break.
We have to give our kids some choice too. There were times when I was young when I just knew that quitting was the right thing to do – when my gymnastics coach was too tough for an 8-year old girl, or when I came home from sailing class still upset about having to go.
My parents eventually listened to me and I remember feeling a huge sense of relief. It also helped me to recognize the things I did enjoy and to gravitate toward those.
I suppose it comes down to asking ourselves how we would feel if we were in our kids shoes. If someone pushed us to do this thing we didn’t want to do, would we end up appreciating it in the end, or would we be miserable and angered at the loss of control?
So if my son tries something at my request, and he really, honestly, doesn’t like it, I’m not going to keep pushing. Some days I’m just going to give him a break and let him stay inside. But sometimes, if I truly believe that he’ll enjoy it in the end or that it will be good for him, I’m going to make him do something, “because I said so.”