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A former high school coach saw something in our six-year old boy, who was climbing up and down a pole on the sidelines of his brother’s hockey game, that led him to approach and inform us that our kiddo was a pole vaulter, and we must promise to get him on a track team some day. Shortly after, the phone rang and it was our same son’s elementary gym teacher saying she didn’t do this too often, but she felt compelled to urge us to get him into gymnastics because he showed a natural talent, and he was unusually well-coordinated. After all, she saw hundreds of kids every year.

At the time our boy wanted nothing to do with gymnastics, but when I think back on it, I wonder what would have happened if instead of asking him if he wanted to do it we’d told him he was going to do it. Trouble is, we value letting our kids direct themselves. We do enough insisting that they go to school and do homework and clean the house and help in the yard, must we also tell them how to spend their free time?

There did come a moment when as a teenager we were fed up with his choices for his free time and we insisted on pole-vaulting. After all he’d been spotted as a youngster as just that, and we were pushing him for good reason. Now that he loves the sport and is good at it I wonder how much better he’d be if we’d insisted on gymnastics when it was suggested. Gymnasts make great pole vaulters. But then, if we’d done that he’d never have had the opportunity to wow us with his skateboard tricks, and then the guitar solos, drum playing and vocals on stage all of which he developed instead, and loved.

Do we want children who are the result of our molding or do we want children who have been allowed to unfold themselves? Yes.