I just may lose my cookies if I hear another comment about a child needing to "find his passion." The latest one came from the mother of a 9 year old. Disenchanted with the local public school, her daughter was applying to a competitive private school. She was convinced that the only way this child would win one of the coveted spots would be by demonstrating that she had developed passion about something, anything. The problem was that this little girl loved it all. The mother complained, "She hasn't narrowed down her interests like other kids have." Are you kidding? That's what I call a good problem. She was serious.
One of the key components in the new sport of Competitive Child Raising seems to be the misguided notion that children tween-age and even younger are supposed to know their calling. (Assuming that the child will live well into his 80's, that means the flame of passion is supposed to last for 70 years, by the way.) And I am not sure who is more stressed by this search, the parent or the child.
Proponents of the pursuit of passion feel that once the child finds what he was "meant to do," where his talent lies, and what he loves best, he'll be on his way to a successful life...to say nothing of a full scholarship to his university of choice! I don't think so.
In the olden days (as we used to say), kids grew up, chose and were educated or apprenticed for a career, and stuck to it forever and ever. Today, not only do many kids enter college not at all sure of what they will do upon graduation, but the ones who do, often change direction. College graduates enter a field and after some time, decide it's not for them. People in their 40's and 50's change careers, still searching for their "thing." Times have really changed. Why do we expect children to find their passion?
I have a friend whose daughter's passion was ballet, and passionate is what she was. She lived and breathed ballet. In fact, her entire childhood until college, was spent at after-school and weekend ballet practice, especially during Nutcracker season. Summers were spent at ballet camp, family vacations planned around ballet productions. New York Ballet Company here I come! Today this college graduate is teaching English at the local community college, happy as can be. So much for her life's passion. It was more of a temporary obsession.
The pursuit of passion is making a mess of family life. Parents offer their children a tasting menu of activities, hoping to find the one. Each season a new activity is sampled with all its trappings: uniforms, gear, schedule changes, carpool arrangements and practice. And when you hit the jackpot, add tutors, trainers and specialized coaches to the calendar. Every day of the week is filled with passion prep. What happens to free time? Where are the carefree childhood years? When are the family meals or family game night? No time, the underwater basket weaving coach is on the way.
And someone please explain why parents today feel they must pursue everything in which the child shows a fleeting interest or maybe demonstrates some talent. Maybe playing the bongos is his calling. Quick, call an instructor! Parents can actually extinguish the very spark of interest by lighting a backfire of lessons, coaches, and activity immersion. Sometimes dabbling at this and that during the child's unstructured time -- wandering, exploring, discovering, and developing an interest on his own -- is plenty good enough. Not every fancy has to be maximized.
Children need to experience a whole lot of life before they should be expected to find and settle down into one "shoe that fits." It is true that some people actually do have a calling, maybe even at a very young age, one on which they build a career. But most of us don't. Most people have hobbies and avocations, interests and specialties that ebb and flow, but they aren't necessarily their life's passion and work. Is it reasonable to expect a child to discover a passion -- the one great love for which he will suffer the ups and downs, wins and losses, aches and pains -- if he doesn't have the miles and perspective that only experience can bring? Kids are fickle. What they love today, they just may hate tomorrow, especially if their best friend isn't doing it too.
Rather than searching for your child's passion, pay attention and know him. While you hoped you would have an artist, working in the garden may be your daughter's thing this year. Even though Dad is a basketball fiend, your son may have no interest in sports. Maybe his team sport will be a drama production. (It is a team, after all.) Just because all the other kids are playing soccer doesn't mean your child should. What lights your child's fire, sparks his interest? Try to follow his lead, be his cheerleader, help him to pursue the sparks in his life, and even join him in his interest. You can't make passion happen, and you sure can't buy it. Passion develops on its own schedule, and it just may happen long after childhood.