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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Parenting: guiding vs pushing and more


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Yes, good question Kate B.


In my younger parenting days, I had arbitrary rules: Music Lessons are Good! Team Sports Teach Cooperation and Teamwork! Kids Must Learn to Commit and Stick With Something! Kids Should Try a Variety of Activities!


As a result, my daughters were involved with soccer, ballet, and instruments, and one had a brief fling with gymnastics. At that time, it was hard for me to let them "drop out" of an activity. I was thinking so hard about what the activity was "supposed to" be doing for them that I didn't look hard enough at what they actually were getting out of it. And I had my own parental baggage: activities I tried and discarded and wasn't encouraged to stick with. I thought a Good Parent would not allow a child to give something up until they had Really Given it a Good Shot.


But one by one, other activities have gone by the board. Piano is gone for both of them -- there's just not enough time or motivation. The younger one still plays soccer, and enjoys it almost as much as ballet, but the older one gave it up after fourth grade -- she enjoyed the social aspect, but never really liked the game. As hermom says, there's always a tinge of sadness when they stop doing something. Partly, I worry if it's really a good decision, made for the right reasons, and partly it's hard for me to give up my involvement in the activity: socializing with other parents on the soccer sidelines, or whatever.


If one of my daughters wanted to give up ballet, which each regards as her primary love, I'd want to know why. We'd do some serious thinking about what was driving them away, and whether it could be remedied by a change of studio or fewer classes or something. But if they truly had just gotten tired of it, I wouldn't make them keep on.

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Yes, I agree, that IS a very good question!


And I'm not sure of the answer. So, now that my child-rearing days are just about behind me, it gives me a chance to look back and see what I did.


The only activity I've ever forced upon my kids was swimming lessons. We live at a lake - it was a safety issue and so, although my son thoroughly balked, I insisted and continued to insist he not quit during his first year of lessons despite his hating it. He DID continue through the Y swim program for the next six years (5 of which were his choice) , ultimately became a really fine swimmer and is grateful for it. He was a shy kid who hated competitive sports so being an expert swimmer really brought him some good recognition from other boys for his athletic ability. But we battled it out when he was 6 years old.


He went on to Cub Scouts for a few years, quit, joined Little League, quit after 2 years. We only required that he finish out the semester or the season for the sake of the group. I think that's important.


He also took Irish dance lessons till high school at our step dance school. It was his decision to quit and we honored it without comment.


As a teen, he was involved in a variety of activities and there never seemed to be an issue about whether or not to quit. He's a responsible type guy; I HOPE some of it is because we did something right but I have a feeling it's just his nature and we could've been lousy parents yet he'd come out OK. I think we're just lucky.


Daughter took Irish dance lessons, swim lessons, ballet lessons, piano lessons, etc. all at various times and not necessarily during the same years. She competed in Irish dance till about 12 when she reached the point of having to choose between Irish step and ballet. She chose ballet. Twelve seems to be a banner year for making such choices. She also quit piano lessons at that time. She'd never complained about them but it bothered her to come unprepared often to lessons. She had quit piano lessons for a year when she was younger but at nine had asked to start them again. AT 12, though, it was really clear that choices had to be made. I think that's a really good lesson in itself. She decided that ballet was really the one activity she couldn't imagine quitting and she wanted to give all her time to it.


As a musician, it DID bother me to see the piano lessons fall away. But I consoled myself that she had enough training to return to it for pleasure or even seriously much later on should she ever wish it.To this day, when ballet is on break, she returns to the piano and will still teach herself new music.


I think we have to look at each child individually and try to guess why they want to quit an activity. If it were up to my son as a young child, he'd never have joined any activities. He was terribly shy. By pushing him a little, I think I he was able to learn that he really DID enjoy some activities. If he hadn't tried, he wouldn't have known. Likewise he also learned that he hated others (like baseball).


Other children, like my daughter, need help knowing when to quit. She was trying to juggle too much and didn't want to give anything up. She needed help realizing that she was running herself ragged and needed to make choices.


So, it goes both ways. You have to nudge some children to continue and you have to urge others to pare things down.

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  • 17 years later...

This is an old thread but the experiences shared are just as relevant today as they were then. I’m a pushy parent and I struggle with balancing encouragement with being overbearing. Like others here, my emotionally distant parents expected me to figure it out on my own and I did. Even had they offered, I don’t think I would have accepted much help. But I want(ed) a different relationship with my kids - so I work to show my support, be a sounding board, give advice (even unsolicited!) and generally be an involved parent (without being too involved). Kids have to have room to make their own mistakes. 

But dang it’s difficult! Right now, DD is a sophomore and although she’s dancing at a high level and says she wants to pursue ballet beyond high school, I can’t tell if she has the drive to make it happen. “Everyone” says she has the talent. But if the drive isn’t there, it’s not going to work. She’s so hard on herself! I wish I could build up her confidence. Magic wand, anyone? 😉

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Oinkteller, I am a couple of years ahead of you and I have absolutely no answers! All that I can offer is that the drive has to be internal. Even if you can see a clear path (as if that were possible!), your dancer has to find it on her own or she may not be ready to follow it. The old 'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink it.' thing. 

I always try to be a reasonable sounding board, but sometimes I can just tell that I need to take a breath and bite my tongue, especially on a subject that we disagree and she already knows my position. I don't have the ability to lead her to the professional world, this is her path, not mine. She has to tackle each obstacle as it comes and find her way. She knows that I am always here for her, and will help her sort out anything that she needs help with. This is her life, her path and she is the CEO. I am simply an advisor on the sidelines. Good luck, it is no easy task being a ballet mom!

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I have a dancer who quit all of a sudden after a bad summer intensive experience. "Never wanted to dance again."  This was really frightening for us a parents as he had always loved it so much, and he became completely unrecognizable. To this day, we don't know the full extent of everything that happened. There were long discussions with tears and we could tell he was really torn. We stood back, and let time take it's course. No classes at all for 4 months. Absolutely refused to go, so we backed way off and helped him focus on other things. Fast forward to now, and he is auditioning for summer intensives. It is not an easy road for sure. There are so many factors that play into it.

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The other day in the car my DD14 told my husband and that she is the protagonist in her life. I have no idea what the context of the statement was—she may have just been marveling at the fact that every random stranger has a whole life story. It made me think, though, about how my focus shifted when I got married and had kids. I think as parents we view our family as an ensemble cast, but our kids don’t necessarily see things that way, which I consider a good thing. They will grow up and leave us and need to be the protagonists in their lives—figuring out what they want and how to navigate things. My job is just to be a good, strong, supporting character. For this daughter, who is hyper-focused, that sometimes means reminding her to give herself a break.  My older daughter is the opposite, and while I do push her to focus, I also let her fail and suffer the consequences. It’s more important to me that she learns to be a functioning adult than that she gets into the best college. If that means community college for two years before transferring to a university, that’s fine by me.  It will save money and she will get there be she wants to put in the work, not because I’m shoving her from behind the whole way. 

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Oh my goodness. This is so timely. DS is moving into professional life and my role has had several re-writes recently. While no longer officially a teenager, I still see some of the lethargy, shyness and procrastination. So frustrating!! I am a total Type A personality. Lists. Focus. Do it! He is not. Anyways I guess you can see how that (doesn't) work for us. After a couple emotional discussions we have finally settled some boundaries. Luckily he has acknowledged he still needs managing and doesn't get mad at me. I have reluctantly agreed to let him miss deadlines and small opportunities. Brutal. 

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I've learned those brutal lessons these past 2 years my DD has been out of the house as well, Thyme.   I think it may be a universal parent thing, although perhaps (like all things ballet) accelerated and slightly magnified.

I'm currently quietly watching a non-ballet-parent friend of mine cling ferociously to the idea that "the mom's role is to help" by reviewing her kid's admittedly complicated class schedule and "making sure" her kid has all the classes needed for her college graduation requirements.   While I recognize that this friend of mine believes her daughter's college guidance counselor is not as "hands on" as s/he could be, her daughter is a junior at college and I will admit to raising my eyebrows at my friend's choice to "help," but not maliciously (maybe just jealously).  I can see myself trying to help as long and as often as I could, but I've set some boundaries for myself and my DD that I think are helpful to our relationship and growth.  

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This is why I love this board- it makes me feel less alone! DD is my only pre-pro dancer but I have three kids and she is the middle child. Every one of them has different parenting needs - I joke about how I hear the same thing in parent teacher conferences year after year (all different reflections of their unique personalities). DD’s is “She is so bright! We only wish she would speak up in class and share what she is thinking.” DS19’s was “He gets all of his work done but he is very disruptive in class.” And DS14’s is “He could stretch himself more. He tends to rest on his laurels.” 

Noodles,  thank you! You are absolutely right that the drive must be internal. These darn horses! 

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Derin's Mom

Such a difficult task... pushing versus letting go

Especially in teenage years.

As a mother you are aware of what she/he should be doing to make things better but that is their body and "they know it better than us" for the time being. And to a degree they are right, it is their body and they know what they need.

If you push too much it bounces back, if you do not, you get tense it disrupts your relationship with her cause you tend to swallow things...

And though the inner drive is the key sometimes the kids get so mixed up they cannot find that inner strength. Then again it is mamma who gives a hand. We tend to get professional help these days cause that communication is more neutral compared to the one she has with us.

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I agree, Derin'sMom.  I've often thought that every family and teenager would benefit from professional help! 

I do know that with my DD, I called in a "life coach" to help her through a particularly difficult time, mainly because I found myself wanting to cross boundaries I had laid down previously, and I was no longer sure about what my role should be, honestly. 

Hiring a professional benefited my relationship with DD and increased my DD's own confidence in herself.  I was so grateful to have a neutral party look at her behaviors/choices and discuss with her whether the likely consequences of those choices were where she truly wanted to go.  I felt my DD could be much more honest and forthright with a 3rd party, and not worry about hurting my feelings, disappointing me, or trying to please me.  In my opinion, it was money well spent.

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