I’ll never forget the day my daughter, then a sixth grader, came home from school with such excitement from learning about genetics in her science class. A friend recommended she read The Seven Daughters of Eve (not a children’s book) which she devoured, solidifying her desire to become a geneticist.
Over the next year or so, she’d talk to our friends about it. Her interest and her precociousness impressed these adults and I’m sure my daughter loved the adulation. As she talked about what she wanted to do when she grew up, I’d always let her know that she was free to change her mind- until one day when she asked me, “Do you not want me to be a geneticist?” Confused, I asked her what made her think that and she replied it was because I kept telling her that in fact, she didn’t have to be one.
Cut to last week. My now 23 year old daughter graduated with a Master’s Degree in Genetic Counseling and another Masters in Bioethics. During the (virtual) ceremony, there was a moment when I cried. I was overwhelmed by that 12 year old memory and how her passion, goals and determination – high school science research, an undergraduate major in biology, internships, and grad school- have led her to this place. And I am so proud!
Sometimes we may question our children’s ambitions or push them to fulfill them. Here are a few tips things to think about along the way:
1. Encourage your children to explore and learn new things –but allow them their current passion too. Let your child lead here. The joy for you comes in watching as your child’s interests and passions develop and evolve.
2. Never shoot down their dreams. This may sound obvious. What sort of parent would dismiss their child’s aspirations? While no parent would do this on purpose, you’d be surprised how many do this unintentionally. This includes saying things like “You’re too young to know what you want to be when you grow up!” Or “Everyone thinks they want to be an astronaut when they’re little,” or “Being an inventor takes a lot of creativity and there’s no guarantee you’ll be successful.” Even well-meaning advice can discourage them from pursuing what they’d been excited about.
3. Allow them to change their mind. Even if you’ve invested time and money in your child’s passion, and your child has been focused on this one thing, how great it is for them to recognize that it’s run its course. My daughter took up figure skating for a few years. She kept moving up levels, winning competitions, etc. But then she was done, and that was okay! I wanted to be a doctor until my senior year of high school and then pivoted to business and marketing. This is a gentle reminder to be supportive of the changes!