Connecting With Your Kids (Even When Their Interests Differ From Your Own)

Stephanie Grandestaff Road Maps

As a kid growing up in a small town, I loved to play sports. I began playing baseball at a young age, then football, basketball, bowling and track. I not only enjoyed playing, but watching sports on TV or in person, as well. I knew when I had kids of my own, I would steer them in the direction of athletics as soon as possible.

When I married my wife, I became a stepfather, of Leah, age 7, and Alex, age 5. They had not yet been introduced to sports, but I quickly signed them up for different things. I instantly knew Leah had some athletic ability. She did well in everything she tried. Alex, on the other hand, not so much. When it came to baseball, he preferred to build dirt castles on the field so he could kick them down. When he wasn’t doing that, he was chasing butterflies and grasshoppers. He had no interest in the baseball aspect, which was fine, but every year, when I’d ask if he wanted to play, he always said yes. 

We tried Mighty Mites football when he was old enough, and again, he was the kid dancing during the game and stacking cones on the sidelines. He had no interest in the sport at all. I signed him up for soccer, which I knew nothing about because it not offered to me as a kid. Though I did not know anything about the game, I did know running in circles and trying to play tag with your teammates during the game, was not part of the competition. 

I thought maybe bowling would be more his jam. Sadly, he would walk up, chuck the ball down the lane, and instantly turn around, with zero care as to where the ball would end up. 

Alex continued to play sports through grade school, mostly because he knew he would get a medal at the end of the season and snacks after games.

Once he hit junior high, Alex began to get into things like horticulture and wanted to join band. These are two things I never did, but I was happy to invest my time and money if he enjoyed these activities. He did not try out for a single sport in junior high until 8th grade when he found out he couldn’t be cut from the track team. About two weeks into practice, he had a little mishap, and broke his elbow. His junior high athletic career was over!

The summer break between 8th grade and high school, Alex played a lot of backyard football with friends. He fell in love with it and told me he was ready to try out for the football team. As happy as I was to hear it, I also knew he would be so far behind all the other kids who had been playing for years. I warned him of the uphill battle he was about to enter. He went ahead and tried out and made the team, though he only played a few minutes in one game. He still loved it and wants to play again next season.

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He joined Jr. ROTC and stuck with band his freshman year. I had no idea how much time and money goes into high school band. There are band camps during the summer, practicing before and after school, and out of town band competitions every weekend. I tried to be there to support him while also getting my other two children to their sporting events and practices. 

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Although I would prefer to be watching him hit a baseball or drain a three pointer, I will continue to support him in whatever it is that makes him happy as he makes his way through high school and beyond. I’ve learned we can try to raise our children to share our interests, but it is also very important to support them in their choices, and I can credit Alex with helping me learn this.

Here are three quick tips to get started:

  1. Ask questions about what your child is most looking forward to this week, month, or year. This will give you insight into what makes him or her tick. Encourage them to elaborate more on why they’re looking forward to that item by affirming, “Oh, wow?” or asking open ended questions such as, “Oh, I wonder why?”
  2. Pay attention to the way your child talks about certain activities, and try to read between the lines a bit. You can often tell what a person is most passionate about because they keep going on and on about the subject, or know more details about it than the average person would.
  3. Be willing to learn more about your child’s interests and friends. What do they like to do together?

From there, you’re armed with a better understanding of what interests your child, and you can learn more about it and find ways to talk to them about it. Or if it’s an activity, you can even make plans to join them in doing it together sometime. The important thing is that they’ll know you’re paying attention to them and that they have your support, and that’s invaluable in creating a bond that will last a lifetime.


Author

Herb Cody is a husband and father of three. He is a part time Uber driver and full time caregiver of his spouse, who suffered a traumatic brain injury after an auto accident November, 2015. Herb loves football and is a St Louis Cardinals fanatic. He and his family live in Nixa MO.