The Dirty Little Secret I Hope My Daughter Never Finds Out

My daughter is 11 now and already involved in the middle school years (since fifth grade is in the middle school here). We talked last week about what activities she’s going to do next year. Before the conversation was over, she had mentioned dance, softball, band, cheerleading, and gymnastics.

I said to her, “Well, you’re going to have to decide on one or two and do those. I mean, if you’re cheering at a game on Thursday night, you can’t also be at softball practice or a dance lesson. There will be overlap, and you can’t do it all well.”

Inside, I cringed, thinking, Do as I say, not as I did.

My husband turned to me and whispered, “She’s your daughter, alright.”

From as early as I can remember, I have been busy. Too busy. Involved and committed and overextended.

As an elementary child, I danced, took piano lessons, and was in Girl Scouts. In middle school, I added band to the mix. In high school, almost every afternoon and every weeknight were jam packed with activities. In addition to the aforementioned activities, I also become involved in a service club, student council, and drama. I was drawn to leadership positions, so I also committed more time and energy as an officer. Throw in a year of cheerleading and being an active member (and officer) of my church youth group, and you’ve got a good picture of my teen years. College was no different with leadership positions in my sorority and the campus TV station and part-time jobs and internships.

I’m happy to report my grades never suffered; but honestly, looking back, I’m not sure how I did it. Most evenings in high school (and later, college), I wouldn’t get home until at least 9 p.m. I’d start homework around 10 p.m. and was rarely in bed before midnight. I do remember that I was tired ALL the time.

So, my grades were fine, and I got a great scholarship to college. I was socialized and “well-rounded.” What’s the big deal? you may ask.

Well, I think doing all this activity firmly established patterns, which set me up for a lifetime of struggle.

A friend recently said to me, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” I couldn’t agree more—now. But at 10, 13, 18, and 22? I was convinced I could do everything.

And I wore myself out.

I think we children of the 70s and 80s—especially we girls—left our teeenage and college years believing that we could do anything (and everything) we desired. I remember my mother saying on numerous occasions, “When I was growing up, I could be one of three things: a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher.” (She chose teacher.) She was super-excited that her daughters had incredible opportunities for education, experience, and independence.

I really believe it was a generational thing. My parents and teachers (even college professors) subscribed to the belief that if I could do anything, I may as well do everything. Not once did any adult sit me down and say, “Where’s your passion? What ONE THING would you rather do more than anything else? Where do you most feel God’s pleasure?”

It’s been hard, believing that I could do all things well. Because I can’t. To this day, I struggle with distraction and unrealistic expectations for myself in all my roles.

I want to steer my daughter away from “everything” and help her focus on one or two things. I think it’s important to realize that God is a God of focus, completion, singularity, excellence, and uniqueness. Sure, he’s a “multi-tasker,” but he’s a perfect God.

I want to teach her that she will best glorify him when she identifies and uses those few skills, talents, and gifts he’s chosen uniquely for her. That’s when she’ll be most at peace, most productive, and most at ease.

Most of all I want her to know that she can do anything, but she can’t and shouldn’t do everything.

That’s a secret definitely worth sharing.

  • RodneyDBowen

    Great article, Mary! Your post is a wonderful reminder to keep my parenting focused and in check as my preschooler will soon begin to tip toe into the many years with activities ahead of us.

    Thank you for the question, “Where do you most feel God’s pleasure?”, which struck me as another great reminder personally. As I prayerfully pursue the future that appears to be filled with a world of options, I must remain focused on that which I am passionate about and which delivers such an awesome sense of God’s pleasure.

    Thank you!

    • Thank you, Rodney! Yes — it’s hard as a parent to help your child navigate these waters. Truly, there’s everything under the sun that’s available for extracurricular activities. But more than anything, I want my kids to really seek God’s leading on where and how to use their talents and skills.

      I’m not sure where I first heard that “God’s pleasure” question, but it has always resonated with me. And isn’t it true — when you are doing what you were meant to do and in your groove — you feel God’s pleasure, don’t you? 🙂