1. Exposed me to lots.
This seems obvious but how will a child learn to love multiple activities if they’re not exposed to them? My mom was a strong advocate of enrolling us in camps and lessons whenever she could. We tried basketball, volleyball, ballet, hip-hop classes, tennis lessons, swimming lessons, bowling leagues, you name it. They did not pigeonhole my world. When I was in school, I would sometimes envy the girls who were great dancers because they had been on teams since they were two, whereas I wasn’t the master of anything requiring coordination. But as I grew older, I realized that my exposure to all these activities led me to having the skills and passion for more than one career area and has influenced my character in ways I never realized.
2. Taught me things that were their strengths.
My mom wrote poetry when she was younger, and I didn’t even know it until I was in middle school and showed her my writing. She brought out a couple of notebooks filled with her handwritten poems, and it inspired me to continue my writing. I started writing poetry, because I wanted to create music lyrics similar to Britney Spears’ love songs, but writing poetry led me to also writing essays and books.
On the other hand, my father was great with numbers. He helped me with my math homework when I didn’t understand fractions, and if he hadn’t shown me how to get through the obstacles in math during my early years, I may not have realized how much I loved Calculus later on. Parents who show their kids what they’re good at aren’t necessarily influencing them to do what they like but rather teaching them that people have different interests and strengths.
3. Encouraged me to lose my fear.
It wasn’t just organized activities that my parents encouraged me to try; often I had to try things that were not my favorite. My grandmother was a fine singer in her day, and my mom wanted to know if I had any talent so she would make me practice singing every week, despite my fear of singing in front of people and even though she was my only audience. I later joined my school choir, earned solos and competed with other schools, but I was no Christina Aguilera.
Meanwhile, my father taught me to drive even though I didn’t want to learn because I was scared. He also introduced me to salmon (now one of my favorite foods), when I was such a picky eater that I wouldn’t even try mac-and-cheese. Because of how my parents guided me to things I normally wouldn’t have thought to try, I have grown accustomed to taking risks in the hopes that they will lead to pleasant surprises.
4. Bribed me.
Some parents wouldn’t agree with bribing your children for anything, but my mom used to pay me and my siblings $20 for completing workbooks that were filled with everything we would be learning the upcoming year in school. For instance, if I was in 4th grade, I would do the 5th grade workbook that summer. The monetary incentive didn’t harm me in any way down the road either. I never got a dime for being on the honor roll or getting straight A’s, because I wanted to be a good student and pushed myself. I didn’t need money to be driven, but those extra workbooks each summer made me curious about things I hadn’t learned yet and definitely helped ease me into those topics once they came up in the classroom, which meant I could enjoy them more!
5. Had tons of books around.
I’m pretty sure our house had at least three sets of encyclopedias back in the day. My mom loved reading and research, so she collected many books. We had four or five bookshelves filled with textbooks, novels, dictionaries, and more by the time I got to high school. The Internet had become the main source of information by then, but I still frequented my mom’s books when I wanted something fun to read or wanted to learn about the legal classes she took at the community college.
6. Paid for lessons when I showed an interest.
My mom paid for violin lessons when I picked up the violin at age 9 and realized I loved it. For years, I played with school orchestras, but I was always grateful for the private lessons when my mom could afford them, because it helped me keep my skills sharp and work on things a teacher might not have time to practice with me individually. The better I became at the violin, the more motivated I was to excel. My mom also hired a private tutor to teach me algebra when I told her I liked math a lot so that my development wouldn’t be limited by the school’s curriculum for my age level.
7. Stopped lessons when I stopped showing an interest.
The same way that my mom listened to me when I said I wanted to learn more about a particular activity, she also listened when I said I was done. This was more monumental than some parents may recognize, but if you excessively push a kid to do something they dislike, it’s really just a waste of time, and they’ll end up hating it in the long run. Whereas, if you’re patient and listen, maybe they’ll actually try the activity later on in life. Sometimes it’s about timing. I was awful at basketball and embarrassed to play with others so that was only a short stint in my childhood and now I’m happy to play it with friends and family.
8. Played music all the time.
Whether it was at family gatherings, birthday parties, on a weekend morning, while doing the dishes or laundry, or in the car, my parents always had music playing. Maybe it’s part of my Hispanic culture, but whatever the case, it made me love music more and more the older I got. I’ll listen to almost anything and still sing whenever I can, even in public when I don’t realize it! I slept with the radio on for years, and I took piano lessons in college and now my toddler likes singing and dancing, too.
10. Made me keep a journal where my essays were proofread.
This might seem strange but my mom had a composition notebook she made me start when I was in kindergarten in which I had to write everything about my day. After I was done with my essay, she would proofread it and make me rewrite it, incorporating all of her edits. I compared my essays as I got older and realized that each time she corrected something, I internalized the new information and made sure to avoid the mistake next time. This is one of my earliest memories of learning to love language, syntax, and writing overall. When I started learning more rules in school, we stopped using the notebooks as a tool, but I kept a diary every single year from then on!
11. Didn’t label anything as a failure.
I was never good at tennis or basketball or volleyball, but my parents never considered it a failure. They just said that maybe it wasn’t for me, and onto the next thing I might want to try. They also didn’t compare me to kids that were good at things I wasn’t. I was young and this type of attitude made me feel like it was okay to not be great at everything, and consequentially, it gave me the ambition to try to discover where my potential was hiding without being discouraged by challenges in class or in activities.
12. Gave me plenty of time outdoors.
We had a giant backyard and I remember playing for hours with my siblings. I was never bored and it felt amazing to stay active and enjoy the games I made up with my brother and sister. In the summer, we often frequented the pool, and there were always BBQs, community center events, flea markets, and parks to go to (since I grew up in Florida) where my parents took us, because it was cheap but it gave us time to bond and be in the sun. I think that’s part of why I joined cross country, despite the heat. I was not the fastest runner, but the wind brushing against me as I ran downtown or in our neighborhood was a fabulous rush and reminded me of my childhood days spent outside.
13. Allowed me to juggle multiple activities.
It’s not just about letting your kids do multiple things; it’s also about letting them do multiple things at once. My parents never said I couldn’t learn tennis because I had to focus on the violin. Sometimes I had to choose between two things due to financial constraints, but in high school, I joined many clubs and sports and even participated in NJROTC while maintaining an excellent GPA, because I had so many years of learning how to juggle activities. This helped me be well rounded and fostered my interest in various activities. And I ended up being an engineer and professional writer, so I wasn’t spreading myself too thin. I was just improving my skills and enjoying life as much as I could, which any child can benefit from.