I think parents have to know they have experience that helps guide them in knowing what is good for their kids and in helping the parents to decide upon particular values they have and want to instill in their child. However, they have to also know their child will have differences of opinion and allow room for that and the exploration every child needs to find their talents and passions. For me, it is helpful always to come back to the following couple of questions and try to answer them honestly:
- Am I pushing this for my child's health?
- Am I pushing this for my child's education and later career success in whatever career she may have?
- Am I pushing this because it fits my image of my child or because it will help her with her own goals?
If I'm pushing something because it fits with my image of her as a success, I'm probably in need of some reflective time and I probably need to let it go. If I'm pushing something for my child's own health (like, eat the green stuff instead of the neon colored corn product coated in sugar) then I am doing what I need to as a parent.
It is question number two that gets a little trickier and needs the most thought.
As an example: I doubt if studying classical music for seven years hurt you at all and though it may not fit with your current interests or the interests of your friends, it may have introduced you to some listening skills that give you a better understanding of how music works in general. It is completely possible your parents could have answered question number two with a resounding yes to this question (though they may also have needed to answer yes to number three - which would have meant letting you quit).
I think wanting to expose your child to a wide variety of healthy experiences is a good thing. Wanting to narrow them into one activity alone and over-focusing on one thing runs the risk of pushing a child in an area that is not their interest at the exclusion of things that are their interests. Including even, some that do not interest you that much.
I'm going to write about how I address this in my own household as an example and hope you find it helpful.
I want my child to be healthy, successful academically in a general way, find a passion, have athletic ability and activity to fall back on for health, be able to swim (for her safety on boats, docks and around pools), and have some sort of musical ability.
My Child's Goals
My daughter just wants to have fun, do something that allows for her to "hang with friends," and "Keep the water off my face."
What I Ask of Her
In order to attain my goals for her while respecting most of her wishes, she is currently (at age seven) required to take swimming lessons until she proves she can move around in the water independently enough to get from one side of the pool to the other and know basic open water safety rules, take a class that teachers her a musical skill, and participate in a sport.
By handling things this way, I feel I am attempting to give her skills that are important for her future well being both physically and in possible career fields (As an example, learning how to work collaboratively and as part of a team is a good general skill that a child might learn while playing a team sport. It is also well established that there is a relationship between a child's activity levels and success in school). At the same time, I am not specifying exactly the activity itself - she gets to choose that. I played the piano for eleven years as well as the flute for about five - if she chose drums, or the guitar, or the saxophone, or stuck with the vocal lessons, she would still be meeting my goals while exploring her interest).
For the sport, swimming would count, but she chooses to also do Tai Kwon Do and is considering trying Soccer. For music, she has taken voice classes in the past, but recently chose to switch to piano.
I have to be careful about
It easy to get a plate that is too full, so I often have to ask my daughter to give something up in order to try the next new thing. It is a constant balancing act. It also sometimes comes into contradiction with teaching commitment, tenacity and perseverence. When she wants to quit because something is hard, I won't let her. When she wants to quit something because it just isn't a passion for her - then, I don't see the point in forcing her to continue (unless it is something required for school like writing, or something I am requiring because the skill is important, like swimming).
In the case of swimming, I have been absolutely up front about why she needs to be able to swim and given her an "out" or a goal to shoot for, that when reached, the choice becomes hers whether to stay or quit.
I think if you approach things with this kind of a philosophy (but pointed at the things that are most important to you) you also have to have a good relationship with your child where your child is comfortable discussing his/her hopes, dreams, desires and goals with you. That is also a very good thing.
A Great Resource to Help Families Communicate as well as think through things like this
We have used the methods covered in "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families" and "The Seven Habits of Happy Kids" both to identify what our goals are and to communicate about those goals while keep everything in balance. We refer back to these two books a lot and even have a family mission statement to help guide us in our decision making. It probably appears that it only loosely relates, but I highly recommend this book and the ideas in it as a way to give yourself a guide for checking in with yourself and your own goals for your child as well as how to teach your child about achieving goals and being disciplined about it, how to communicate effectively and just attain success in each thing he/she tries. It will relate much more closely than I can express here.