Raising Kids Who Think Exercise is Normal

Caveat: My mom is an athlete. She was a competitive runner when I was a kid, she was a high school basketball coach for years, when she was in high school (as she occasionally reminds me) she was part of a basketball team that won three state championships and was the state scholar athlete of the year. Now in her 50s, my mom is a yoga instructor and does master’s level swimming for about half the year. So while to some degree exercise was normal in my house growing up, my mom is not ‘normal’.

Finding a Passion
I grew up playing mostly team sports, and mostly because it was expected. It was ESPECIALLY expected that I play basketball. My sister and I never really had the chance to find something we were passionate about. My sister, I remember, wanted to dance (probably with ideas of fancy ballet) and when she was eight or nine my mom had her do a session of jazz at a rec center. I’m sure my sister had trouble clarifying what she was looking for out of a dance class and I know my mom was looking for something cheap and convenient (all of which are understandable) but I think this was a big missed opportunity for my sister who did take ballet as a PE credit in college and now in her 30s just took up barre classes. In high school she was a volleyball player and was offered volleyball scholarships. We played team sports because it was what our family was familiar with and we were good at it. But neither of us had the passion or love to play recreational leagues in college or as adults. So it’s important to me to find something that my kids LOVE and will keep doing — while at the same time recognizing that what kids say they want and what they really want can be different.

…..with preschoolers
My kids are preschoolers! How do you identify a passion in someone who has only the haziest idea of the rules of sports (you hit, then run in baseball; you shoot the hoop in basketball; lacrosse involves a ball and a net on a stick) and whose ideas about individual sports are almost equally absurd (my daughter cried when I explained her preschool class will go WATCH The Nutcracker, not dance in it; my son argues with me that he DOES know how to swim ON the water, but he is a SCUBA DIVER so he WANTS to sink to the bottom — all untrue). One option is to pick a sport or activity they have some aptitude for and make them stick with it until they are good. Another would be to sign them up for lots of things and see what they like. But there is a tension (for me) between their self-determination and keeping our family schedule family centered rather than activity centered.

Our Current Solution
In previous years my kids have taken rec center gymnastics because we lived within walking distance and it was cheap. Then with my MIL’s repeated suggesting we signed them up for dance together. This year, since they would be in separate age groups for both gymnastics and dance we decided to pick an activity for each of them that played to both strength and weakness. For Sam, we picked parkour. He often thinks he can’t do things he can do, needs a lot of proprioceptive input, and likes both Spider-Man and climbing trees. Caroline we decided to keep in dance — she could use some skill in following directions, not always getting her way, loves ballerinas, and is pretty dang cute in her dance outfit. Of course, when we went to Caroline’s first dance class today, Sam was upset he wasn’t in it, claimed he hated parkour, and was pretty bummed but I told him we would wait a few months and decide.

Is there a moral to this story?
Maybe? I workout at home, and occasionally take classes (lifegoal unlocked: just did a circus class) out and about, and I want my kids to see that my husband and I make time to stay in shape and I also want them to see that we pursue the exercise we like. I want them to both have the freedom to find what they like, and the grit to see that it takes time to get proficient. They are so little right now, but I want them to have a great foundation!

A last note
I feel it would be remiss for me to not acknowledge that I have incredibly privileged to have options about this at all. I stay home, I have a car, I have the funds for special outfits and classes. But I also heard a great conversation on NPR the other day about a mom teaching her daughter and the daughter’s friends double dutch. Encouraging pick up games, or just letting kids go outside to a neighborhood park, these are ways of achieving some of the same things and letting kids find their passion. But I just want to note that I am incredibly aware that I am lucky to be able to make these decisions for my kids!