I have always assumed that most people appreciate passion.
Lately, though, I am finding that only certain categories of passion receive generally positive accolades, particularly when the passionate person is a child. Children who are passionate about organized team sports are typically applauded for their efforts, as are children who dive into the arts or who are obsessed with studying for spelling bees. These passions are clear and efficient. Even if a parent is not looking to encourage their child to be a professional athlete or actor, they can see the value in the discipline involved and its potential for future endeavors.
A child who works tirelessly, hours a day, perfecting an airwalk grab on a skateboard, however, might not be seen in the same positive light. Or how about the child who reads scads and scads of comic books during every spare moment? For some reason, the discipline involved in these pursuits is not always given the same value as that of the aforementioned activities. There are stereotypes attached to these passions that can get in the way of a child’s fulfillment if the parents are not on board (pun obviously intended).
What about passions that are not all that common. One of my youngest’s closest friends spends most of her time imitating animals. Actually, she spends her time trying to become animals. Try and find a “Becoming Animals Bee” or a “Gallops Like a Horse Competition”. Or even just an article or blog post about this passion. They are just not out there.
A passion like hers is outside of the mainstream so most people do not know what to do with it (Luckily, her parents are very supportive).
And then there are the passions with a different kind of stereotype attached.
In my case, I have a daughter who is passionate about medicine. I used to attach my own set of stereotypes to her passion, assuming she is passionate about all science, for example. She is not. She likes chemistry well enough, but she is not passionate about it. Animal science is mildly interesting to her if it comes up, but she never seeks out the topic. For her, the passion is fully concentrated in medicine. It is what she chooses to play, to study, to watch, to read about, and to discuss. At least in private. She is now at the age where she has figured out that her passion is not always socially acceptable so she is beginning to hide it in public.
Here’s the other problem with her passion: because of the associations people make regarding doctors, the assumption is that a passion like this marks her as an all-around brilliant, above average child. And most people don’t want to hear about children like that. It is sometimes difficult for me to seek advice from people regarding her passion because my inquiries are frequently regarded as bragging. Or people want to lump her into a certain category (I confess that I have been guilty of that as well) and assume that she is exceptional in every subject.
The thing is, she is above average when it comes to medicine because very few six year olds hold her level of passion for medicine — just as her friend has a remarkable, above-average gallop — because she practices all the time — and her other six year old friends don’t. This is what happens with passions. Still, her reading is at the level considered normal for a first grader. She actually has friends reading more difficult books than what she can currently read. She would probably be considered behind when it comes to writing, as she writes a large percentage of her letters backwards. Violin? Squeeky. Math? Pretty good. Athletics? She tries. She’s just a normal child in these areas that are a part of her life, but not the absolute loves of her life.
Last week, though, when Margaret, our favorite pre-med student, came for their visit, she brought several MRI’s and X-rays. My youngest accurately diagnosed the patients from the pictures. She noted and named the blood clot in the brain MRI. She even stunned Margaret by noting that there was indeed nothing wrong with the foot with which Margaret tried to trick her by asking, “What is broken in this X-ray?”
I am stunned that her passion has led to this. I am impressed by her medical knowledge. I am still trying to figure out how she knew what was wrong in each picture.
But she is still a normal child, just as the child who defies gravity ollying off a ramp (I am hoping I got the lingo right) and the child who loves spelling so much as to win all the bees are normal children.
I think that all children (and, by extension, adults) would be better served were we to eliminate judgements regarding our children’s chosen passions. A child who spends their time immersed in the game of chess is no different than a child who can recite every character from the Harry Potter books or a child who can jump on a pogo stick for hours. All are drawn to their passions for deeply personal, highly respectable reasons and it is not our place to pile peripheral expectations on them, nor is it our place to categorize their experiences or stereotype their personalities.
It is our job, as parents and adults, to celebrate our children’s choices, offer as many opportunities as possible for further fulfillment, and support each other as we strive to better understand them.