Several weeks ago I found myself standing in front of a crowded auditorium, speaking to hundreds of eager high school jazz players who had come to hear Wayne Bergeron, a Grammy-award-winning jazz trumpet player, instruct them. It was my job to introduce Wayne and to “pump up” the audience. “You know that I’m just a housewife, right?” I’d asked the guy who told me to introduce Wayne. “You signed up to host this clinic, so you introduce him,” he said. So there I stood at the microphone, reading Wayne’s bio aloud from the jazz festival program (because I knew nothing about Wayne until that very moment), and then said, rather sheepishly, in what I hoped was a crowd-energizing tone, “Let’s give it up for Wayne!”

How did I end up introducing Wayne Bergeron, you ask? Because I have a son, Shane, who plays trumpet in the Crescent Super Band and, wanting to be a supportive mother, I’d signed up as a parent volunteer to help run the Peaks Jazz Festival, where my son’s band was performing. So I spent a whole afternoon at the festival, introducing Wayne and sitting in on his trumpet clinic, then escorting a high school jazz band through its adjudication round (and no, I didn’t know what “adjudication” meant until that day). And all the while I found myself marveling at how our children’s passions take us places we never dreamed of going.

When my children were small, I wanted to give them every opportunity to develop their talents, but I wasn’t sure how they’d discover those talents unless I exposed them to lots of different interests. So I spent most of my children’s childhoods in the car, taking occasional breaks for showering and eating. Here is a partial list of activities we’ve explored: soccer, karate, skiing, gymnastics, tumbling, dance (ballet, tap, and jazz), clogging, basketball, tennis, golf, swimming, art, drawing, drama, chess, sewing, choir, voice lessons, piano, violin, clarinet, flute, trumpet, and futsal (a type of indoor soccer—who knew?). And I still felt mean when I told my daughter she couldn’t take fencing, guitar lessons, or horseback riding.

But I eventually realized that sometimes, in my uncertainty as a young mother and my quest to be the perfect mom who had perfectly well-rounded children, I was pushing my kids to do activities they didn’t really want or need to do (I still marvel that I ever thought my oldest daughter might want to be a cheerleader—lol). And we became so busy and our lives were so structured that we never ate dinner together, or had downtime just to play, or daydream. So I learned to relinquish some of my expectations and to set limits. My youngest daughter still asks to do every activity that comes along, but I’m wiser now, remembering the times when she begged and begged to go to [insert desired activity of the moment] and I signed her up and paid the entire semester’s nonrefundable fees and then after the first two lessons she said, “Um I don’t think I want to go anymore.” (That’s never happened to any of you, right?)

What I have discovered is that despite my own often misguided attempts to help them along, my children will eventually find their passions on their own, even if it’s through a series of twists and turns and false starts. My oldest daughter is just discovering a love for post-colonial African and Caribbean literature in her third year of college. My fourteen-year-old currently loves to ski, with little encouragement from me. My youngest daughter is a natural thespian, about to star in a Shakespeare play at school, and a talented soccer player. And Shane—he became a trumpet player in the sixth grade after years of hating the piano, when I got tired of him stomping down the hall every time he had to practice piano and I told him he could quit if he found another instrument to play. Little did I know that out of that default decision and the screechy, tentative beginnings of brass music that followed would emerge a passionate and gifted trumpet player who eats, sleeps, and breathes band and jazz and who now belongs to the most renowned professional high school jazz band in the world. Or that, even though I knew next to nothing about jazz and can’t play a musical instrument to save my life, I would one day introduce Wayne Bergeron in a crowded auditorium—and enjoy it.

How do you determine what extracurricular activities your children do? Do you struggle to keep a healthy balance between extracurricular activities and family time, homework, and free time? How do you foster your children’s interests without imposing your own expectations on them? Have your children’s talents and passions surprised you? How have those passions enriched your life?


  1. Selwyn

    March 10, 2010

    Time and $ decide the extracurricular stuff for my boyos. We’re saving for a monster holiday, so all extra’s are out.

    Except for Kung Fu, which I was going to take up, but Hatro fell in love with it. It’s a huge boost to his confidence (he was bullied last year) and I have never seen a 12 year old boy so thrilled and delighted to be sore and sweaty, twice a week. Our deal is he has to do his piano practise in order to go to Kung Fu class – and the kid GOES AND PRACTICES WITHOUT BEING REMINDED. I never thought I’d see the day…

    The younger son wants to go too, but we’ve agreed he can after our holiday. Sacrifices, but worth it. Their passions have enriched my life simply by being SO eager and passionate. It looked like such fun I gave myself permission to dive back into stuff I’m passionate about, without apology. It’s fun!

  2. Mel

    March 10, 2010

    Great post. I don’t have kids yet but this is something I’ve been thinking about lately. I love art and literature and everything about the humanities, and while I certainly want to make sure that my children are exposed to these things I wonder where the line is between exposure and pressure. I think my passion for these things stems partly from the fact that they are my “discoveries.” I didn’t grow up with parents who took me to the symphony or to museums; these are things that I discovered on my own. While I most certainly want to expose my (future) children to the things that I love, I also think it will be important for them, in creating their own identities, to discover interests and passions of their own.

  3. Gwenevere

    March 10, 2010

    At this point in life, finances are the sole determiner of which extra curricular activities we engage in. I’m looking forward to the day (in 25 years or so when student loans are paid off) that we can add something else to our criteria.

  4. Sharlee

    March 10, 2010

    Oh, wow, I loved this, Melissa!

    “And all the while I found myself marveling at how our children’s passions take us places we never dreamed of going.”

    This has happened to me over and over again. My life has been so enriched by my children’s passions–whether those passions were dinosaurs, volcanoes, ancient Egypt, space exploration, music theory and composition, football, Shakespeare competitions, wrestling, jazz and funk and fusion music, or the plight of the children in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Whole new worlds have been opened to me. (And believe you me, the world of wrestling in Utah county is a culture unto itself! :-))

  5. Cath

    March 10, 2010

    I find this post so comforting! My children are too young to develop a real affinity or talent for something but I have wondered of late how I can help them find their way. I’m encouraged knowing yours found their passions on their own. Maybe my job is to expose, support and hold the doors wide open. Any other thoughts about helping them discover what they love?

  6. jendoop

    March 10, 2010

    After trying to be a “soccer mom” we’ve scaled back on activities for everyone’s (AKA mom’s) sanity and finances. I’d much rather have a summer weekend at the beach than go to 30 minutes of soccer practice for 8 weeks. Plus the games are always on Sundays where we live, it doesn’t work out.

    Our schools have been great at providing extra curricular activities for our kids – chorus, craft club, and Kinex club are on the docket now. My teenager keeps busy with church activities. It’s good to have a few nights a week just to hang out, go for ice cream, go for a walk, or watch American Idol.

    I trust my children’s innate curiosity and God to help them find their talents. Who knows – maybe one of them will be the best electrical engineer in the Northern Hemisphere.

  7. Melissa Y.

    March 10, 2010

    I love this Melissa. I’m looking forward to the places my kids will take me. I love that you went with them even though it was foreign territory for you.

  8. Sage

    March 10, 2010

    Great post! I too have paid for lessons never received. I have one son who especially can’t make up his mind to stick with something–except he’s a gifted writer and cartoonist.

    My rule is one outside lesson per kid. But right now–that’s not even happening (except scouts and activity days). I’m also for lots of down tome in the summer, but I have the opposite problem as some moms in that I don’t give them enough of a push toward something. It is definitely a struggle for me to feel like I’m doing the best I can.

  9. jks

    March 11, 2010

    Yeah, being a mom is a fun career and it exposes me to all sorts of things.
    Please don’t say “I’m just a housewife” ever again. You do all of us a disservice when you won’t stand up for your career. We are smart, capable women. I, myself, might be overwhelmed at having to introduce Wayne, but like you I know that sometimes you just have to step up and do it.

  10. Melissa M.

    March 12, 2010

    jks, you have a point. I certainly would never want to minimize my role as a stay-at-home mother and homemaker—roles I value highly. Saying, “You know I’m just a housewife, don’t you?” was my self-deprecating, humorous attempt at emphasizing that I am not an emcee or professional entertainer and that I felt ill-equipped to be on stage. But I could just have easily have said, “You know I’m just an editor, don’t you?” I realize that statements like the housewife one do indeed do all of us a disservice and I sincerely apologize. I certainly don’t want to give the impression that I feel inferior in my role as a homemaker!

    Also, thanks to those of you who commented—I’m a bit late getting back to this one, but I do appreciate your comments. =)

  11. Michelle L.

    March 16, 2010

    loved this Melissa.

    We had our ward talent show last night and it was inspiring to see the varied talents from a girl who is a college gymnast to a boy who taught himself to juggle. My oldest even played a concerto on his viola (blatant bragging).

    Yes, finances can limit what we do but there are always, always inexpensive and free options. I’ve had great success with teenage tutors and teachers. They often charge less and care more.

  12. djinn

    March 16, 2010

    Wow, Michelle M., I’m awed by your willingness to travel to those unknown places your kids take you. Such love, trust, and guts!

  13. kyliemm

    March 22, 2010

    Oh how cute! What a lovely post. It was encouraging and nice, and I loved reading it 🙂

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