When my daughter was 6 years old, my mother offered to buy her a horse.
“Absolutely not.” I said.
“But she loves horses,” my mom insisted. “They’re her passion.”
“Forget it.” I huffed. And sadly, I did everything in my power to discourage my daughter from even thinking about life as an equestrian. I was scared of horses, and I didn’t like riding them. They weren’t my cup of tea.
Luckily, my mother grand-parented my daughter in the way that I should have parented her. And I’m not talking about spoiling a grandkid by buying her a horse. I’m talking about championing her passion.
From the time my daughter was about two, we knew she had a unique affinity for horses. There was a special twinkle in her eye, and I swear it was in the shape of a horse. As a first-time parent, I didn’t see the value in this.
Thankfully, my mother did. Not long after my staunch objection to the horse idea, my mom introduced me to the world of trainers and tack and large-animal vets and lead ropes and lunge lines—things that had never before been part of my vocabulary. All because she wanted to fan the fire in my daughter’s belly.
Now, after eight years of hauling my daughter back-and-forth to riding lessons and horse shows and Interscholastic Equestrian Association competitions, I owe my mother a giant thank-you. Because as painfully inconvenient—and expensive—as the process has been at times, it has taught my 14-year-old some of life’s most valuable lessons. Here are a few:
1. My daughter’s passion has taught her to be independent. To become an equestrian was her dream, not mine. This is her thing. She will soon be in charge of her own life, and will be making decisions for herself. The independence she’s gained from identifying and pursuing her passion for horses is invaluable. It’s built a confidence in her soul that I could never place there.
2. Her passion has taught my daughter to persevere. If you love something, you don’t easily give up on it. We’ve been through overseas moves, broken bones from nasty falls, and last place finishes (or no place finishes) in horse shows and, still, the fire burns inside of my daughter. Her passion sustains her desire to continue riding. I hope this concept will carry over into other aspects of her life as well.
3. Her passion requires self-control. Success in the equestrian world certainly requires self-control. Maintaining composure under pressure is the entire point of competing in a hunter-jumper show. Imagine yourself on a 1,000-pound animal that spooks for no reason—as you’re heading over a jump—and then tries to buck you off. This is the ultimate test of keeping your cool under extremely stressful circumstances. The self-control she has learned from riding is something I also hope she can apply to real life, no matter what it may bring.
4. My daughter has learned to cope with tough things by leaning on her passion. After suffering through my divorce and the death of my mother (a particularly difficult time), my daughter channeled her grief into riding. On the bad days, she’d go out to the barn and remember what made her feel good again—riding horses. I pray that she will continue to turn to this passion whenever life gets hard, instead of choosing destructive things like drugs and alcohol.
If your child has a passion, he or she has a gift. As parents, we should encourage our children to identify and develop these gifts, even if we can’t truly relate to them. We’re wired to want our kids to follow our dreams, and not their own. But the value attained from supporting them in what they love to do can be immeasurable.
Please understand one thing. I’m not advocating that you risk bankruptcy (or take other extreme measures) to support your child’s love of anything. I’m simply suggesting that by cultivating the passions that come from within our children—and not from us as parents—we’re raising strong, independent kids who will likely persevere and, hopefully, learn self-control and healthy coping skills along the way.