I would guess that at about age 11, kids start to figure out what they really love. They’ve done the sampling thing and you start to see something rise to the top. They also think they know everything, which means that you are no longer going to directly teach them squat. You become a facilitator of their lives. You chaperone to events and practices and you answer homework questions when they pop up. Sometimes you are lucky enough to help them understand a challenging concept, but all in all, they don’t want you for much.
Hormones start kicking in during these years too, and so good luck finding any way of guiding them through life. They are on their own path, they know people smarter than you, so stay out of the way. “You’re not funny, dad”. This is a time that really tests your sociological skills in parenting. I call it “Connecting” because you are just looking for ways to build a bridge to the things in their life that get them excited.
For Haley, this meant I had to learn about horses. Now I don’t know much, but I know some. What I can do is listen to her talk and generally ask an intelligent question here or there. For me, horse shows are great because everyone has dogs, and I can talk bassett-speak to them. And the bigger shows have tractors. Tractors are cool. I try to understand as much as I can and by embracing the community, they take pity on me and give me lessons. Finding parallels to the horse world, let me enjoy the experience at the same time that Haley did: It didn’t matter that it was for a different reason. Special hat tip to Lucy, Miranda and especially Julie for helping me understand leads and diagonals (which I learned are not wire cutters) and ABC.
With Taylor, soccer was a little easier to understand…there is a lot more commentary and content out there. Talking about a game, positioning and what the coach was asking her on the sidelines, was a lot easier. We were always driving all over creation for a practice or a game. I took particular pride in embarrassing Tay from the sideline when I would try to get in a workout. Hell yes I brought my sprinting parachute! I even threw a boulder around once. Her team got a kick out of that. Exercising at the same time that they did, let me razz them on their lack of intensity for working out and warming up. And they felt comfortable giving it back to me. It broke the tension. I was able to build a bridge based on the simplicity of athletics.
Building a bridge is not easy. I would guess that the most successful and empathetic politicians are ones who are close with their kids at this age. You have to find common ground with someone whose interests are completely different than yours. You might even disagree with the very notion of what they love (why can’t you use your hands to touch the ball, and isn’t that mean to sit on the back of an animal?) Regardless of your opinions, you find a way to break through the wall they create – because clearly you don’t know anything – and find a connection to their heart. In my case, you might even come to love something new too. Kids are great, they help you see the world in a whole new way, sometimes they even change what you believe.