Learning to let our children take charge of their personal paths as they grow into young adults can be hard on us parents


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While we never held onto the notion that our son, Owen, would become a professional baseball player, we did think that because of his love for the game, he would play through high school.

From the time he could walk and talk, Owen was singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and running bases at any field we ever passed. We would take his plastic tee ball set camping with us, and he would practice pitching by throwing rocks into a lake. As he got older, he played recreational ball, switching to a competitive baseball club when he was 7. 

We supported him in any way we could. We never missed his games, even if Colorado weather tried to scare us off. However, when high school rolled around, he told us that he didn’t want to play baseball anymore but would try out for the tennis team. It was hard for us to understand why he didn’t want to play. My mind went to bad places: Did someone hurt him? Did something bad happen? 

Because this was such a sharp turn in his life, we questioned him about his reasoning. His answer was simply that it wasn’t fun anymore. But we wanted to make sure he was making his decision on his own and not just fear of the unknown, so we asked him about this repeatedly.

Owen mistook our repeated questions as us being disappointed in him. His eyes would well up when telling us he was sure and he didn’t want to disappoint us. My husband and I reassured him every single time we had the discussion that he was not disappointing us. Eventually, we listened to him and realized baseball was now a part of our family’s past, and tennis was a new passion for us to support.


Check out our tips on supporting your teen in exploring their interests and passions

The first week of his freshman year, he tried out for tennis. Not only did he make the team, he made varsity and even went to State! He was one of only five freshmen at the state competition. And as with baseball, both my husband and I made sure to attend every single match, and travel with him to State. We are so proud of him!

Looking back, it’s funny that Owen’s choice to focus on a new sport took us by surprise. So many kids change interests as they grow into their own. We had seen many of our friends’ children take charge of their high school careers, whether it was trying new sports, clubs, or academic pathways. 

Friends even told us how hard it was on them, as parents, when these choices were made. None were ever disappointed in their kids’ choice to stop cheerleading or playing soccer, but just surprised.  How we react when we are surprised is what affects how our children feel.

Here are a few things I learned: 

  1. React with interest rather than shock or alarm. I may have come across as alarmed in my initial reaction, making my son feel as though I was disappointed in his choice. Reacting with interest demonstrates that you respect their decision and the thought process that went into making it. 
  2. Support their decision. Once we understood that he had really thought about leaving baseball and wanted to try tennis, we were all on board. We figured out when tennis tryouts were and made sure he had time to attend practices and feel good about going to tryouts. We learned how the schedule worked and how games were played. We met new families, made new friends, and made sure he made every tournament on time and ready to play.  
  3. Continue to help expand their possibilities. We knew Owen would need additional opportunities if he wanted to grow as a tennis player. So we worked together as a family to figure that out. We learned how other kids trained and who we needed to include in Owen’s off-season development. We arranged for him to train twice a week with a coach he had worked with in the past. This has been great for him. We have seen a tremendous amount of skill and strategy development this year. We also found a multi-school tennis team for him to play on this summer, which will give him an opportunity to put his new knowledge and skill to the test and make more friends that he will encounter as opponents next season.

Letting Your Teen Lead:

This may be one of the hardest things to do as a parent, but learning to let your teen take the lead in their decision-making process is very important to their development. It’s also important for building a strong connection with them, according to research. Here are some suggestions that may help you  “hold it loosely” with your teen:

Respect them—

Take them seriously and treat them fairly when it comes to making decisions, particularly decisions for themselves.

Work with them—

Work with them to solve problems and reach common goals. For example, if they have a low grade, work with them to develop a plan instead of stepping in and taking charge right away.

Include them—

Involve them in decisions, especially ones that directly affect them. Ask them what classes they want to take or what clubs they want to participate in.

Let them take the lead—

Create opportunities for them to take action and lead whenever possible. Try letting them choose what’s for dinner or what to watch on TV. Make sure they know their voice is valued and heard. 

Jennie Heineman

Jennie is a medically retired Process Improvement Consultant and is now a full-time mom living with a chronic lung disease, Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension.