"Mom Struggling To Let Her 14-Year-Old Make Her Own Decision"
My 14-year old daughter Misha is a wonderful person. She is intelligent, caring with a great sense of humor and a truly good soul. She is beautiful on the inside as well as the out. She is a honor roll student and a 8th grade peer advisor. I am very proud of her. She is also an outstanding athlete. She has set records in cross-country and placed 1st in the 800 and the high jump in our city. She plays on a select soccer team also, but her first love is basketball.
Misha has just started 8th grade and we have had long discussions regarding cross-country. She does not want to run this year. At the end of last year, I had asked her to do one more year because she did so well, and told her in high school she could drop cross-country and stick with Bball, Track and Soccer. But now. I am torn. The 8th grade season only lasts 6 weeks. It helps to keep her in shape and she is number one in our city (pop 187,000). She has expressed her reasons intelligently and I value her reasoning, but am afraid it might be a mistake to allow her to make this decision. Misha has said the meets are the problem, that they scare her. She wants to do track (the 800 and High jump), but does not want to run cross-country anymore.
I want her to learn to face her fears, and I believe it will make her a stronger person, BUT I do not want to force her to participate in an extracurricular activity she is extremely adamant about not doing. I want her to know I respect her opinions and her ability to articulate them to me.
I know that she has thought a lot about this and is making this decision because she thinks it is right. I also know if I request her to do cross-country she would, BUT again, I do not know what is right.
She is building a name for herself in our city. High Schools and even our Preps have noticed her, which is only going to help her when it comes time for college and scholarships. I want my children to receive a top education and want to help facilitate that in anyway I can. Misha wants to play college basketball, too.
What do I do? Do I allow her to make this decision on her own or do I ask her to stick it out one more season (remember this is only 6 weeks). I want her to be strong, but I also want her to respect me and know I respect her.
One last thing, she called me after I got to work this morning, now she is questioning whether she should do it. She said she knows she will wish it to be over throughout the season, but thinks maybe she should. What do I do?
It sounds as if you understand that there are many varied skills that your daughter will need in the course of her life. From what you say, it's clear that your daughter is proficient intellectually and socially. She is incredibly competent physically. It is obvious from your description of her activities that she will continue to have many wonderful opportunities to continue to work on refining and building on all of these skills.
The skill she is working on in this situation, however, is a different type of skill. She is trying to decide what she really wants to do. As someone who is gifted in sports, she may have just begun to play whatever she was good at without giving a second thought to it; without asking herself, "Is this what I really want to do?" Now, she has begun to prioritize the sports that are the most important to her. And she is working on making a decision that is really her own.
Another issue that you allude to is fear. In cross-country, she is in a somewhat difficult position. Now that she has already beat the local competition, there is another kind of pressure that she is starting to experience. Can she maintain her ranking when she competes with a bigger pool of athletes? Your daughter has a reputation and an expectation of herself now that she didn't have before she set this record. The potential for disappointment and failure may be even greater for her now than if she were in the middle of the pack.
You also have all kinds of hopes for her. You want her to get into a good college, to be able to build a collegiate sports career and to be able to achieve her potential in everything she attempts. You want her to have had the experience of standing up bravely to her fears.
In this situation, however, the core questions for you are, "How can I help her learn to make good decisions?" And "How can I help her learn to deal with her fears?" Here are some suggestions for coming to terms with those questions:
. Give her the freedom to make her own decisions. In order to make good decisions, your daughter has to have opportunities to practice and she has to have the freedom to make some bad decisions. (This is not to say that all decisions are either good or bad. Most are mixed.)
It is essential that children be granted the space to make mistakes, to fail, to make wrong decisions (as long as the decisions don't have devastating consequences.) There is often more to be learned from these situations than there is from all the "successes." Once your daughter has survived making a decision she regrets, she will have many more resources with which to face future decisions.
. Help her think through the decision-making process. You can support your daughter in learning how to make a decision by talking her though the steps. Ask her what the pros and cons are of doing cross-country. You can help her think about what it would be like if she didn't do it and what it would be like if she did do it. You might also want to think with her about possible outcomes if she does decide to do it: how she might feel if she competed and someone beat her record, and how she might feel if she set another record herself. This is a time for her to express her thoughts, and for you to listen.
. Don't interfere with your daughter's decision-making process by saying too much. Once you have helped your daughter do this reflection, it is time for you to be quiet. She needs the space to struggle with her own uncertainty. This learning is as important for her as any sports conditioning she will get by going out for the cross-country team.
. Express your confidence in her ability to decide. Interestingly, at this point, when they're struggling to decide and we've stepped out of the way, sometimes our children ask us to make the decision. If Misha requests your intervention at this point, you can let her know that you are confident that she can make the decision herself and that there is no "wrong" decision in this situation. (And then you get to convince yourself of this-remember your own words: "It's just 6 weeks.")
. Talk to your daughter about fear. Ask Misha what she is afraid of. Ask her what she would do if the thing she is afraid of happens. Sometimes, just talking through our worst fears begins to tame them. Then you can ask her the pivotal question, "Is this a fear you want to learn to deal with now or one you would like to face a little later?" Then, again, it is time for you to be quiet. This sets the stage for allowing Misha to make a conscious and direct decision about whether she wants to face this particular fear right now. People don't gain the same sense of self-competence if they are pushed to deal with a fear as when they decide for themselves the time is right to face it.
If Misha decides that she wants to face it now, you can think with her about the skills she has used in the past when she was afraid. Then, the two of you can come up with some new strategies for her to use.
. It takes more than just physical ability to be a successful athlete. It can be thrilling as a parent to discover your child's special talents. We feel proud, excited and full of anticipation about the potential we see. It's tempting to imagine your goal-making twelve-year-old on the Olympic Soccer team. While is it natural for parents to hold expectations for their children, it is important to consider who our children are. Many children who have natural physical talent may not have the desire, the attention, the stamina, the spirit of competition or the single-track focus necessary to become an outstanding athlete. Many children with a natural physical ability in sports may choose instead to become musicians or poets or doctors or computer programmers.
. There is more to life than winning. Children today live in a highly competitive culture. While it is exciting to be "successful" in so many realms, it is also important for children to have the opportunity to learn to appreciate life's other gifts. It is important for kids (and all of us) to enjoy pursuits in which we don't need to "excel," in which winning or "being the best" isn't the goal; to choose activities, not because we're good at them, but simply because they bring us pleasure.
Your daughter has the experience of being a peer counselor, of being able to practice empathy and helping other students. Continuing to provide these kinds of experiences will enrich your daughter's life and help her broaden her definition of "success."