When Our Kids Surprise Us

I keep thinking I know what the hardest part of parenting is, but then I find that every week, something harder comes along.  


This week, I’m feeling like the hardest thing about being a parent is accepting that we don’t always know who our kids are.  It sounds kind of like that old parenting no-no of “Don’t try to force your kids to be who they’re not.”  Like those dads who make their boys play football because they always dreamed of tossing a ball around with their sons, or the moms who force their kids to play instruments because they used to fantasize about being a part of the Partridge family. 


But I’m not talking, exactly, about that kind of a thing.  No, what I’m talking about, is when you think you know your kid, but then you find out that you really don’t.


Case in point: debate.  At my daughter’s school, the sixth graders are allowed to participate in the debate team.  I never did debate in school. I’m sure my high school had a debate team or club, but I don’t recall knowing anyone who was on it, or ever taking an interest in it.  But if there were ever a person who I thought would like debate, it would be my daughter.


For one thing, the kid has no fear about speaking in front of crowds.  She sings in front of the whole school without giving it a second thought, she performs in musicals, she gives speeches without so much as an uh or an um.  Second, she’s got a logical mind and if something doesn’t make sense, she can identify why.  And third, she loves to be right.  Loves it.  So when the email came around at the end of last year asking which kids would want to be on the debate team, I asked her if she’d be interested.   She didn’t really know what it was all about, but I assured her that she’d be a natural.  Yes, I emailed back.  The kid is interested.


We got a few emails over the summer pointing us towards videos about middle school debate, and letting us know about the workload that being on the debate team entailed (a lot).  It was suggested that if this didn’t sound appealing, now was the time to drop out.  But my daughter was at camp, so I couldn’t show her the videos of middle schoolers actually debating, and I figured that she would enjoy it so much that it wouldn’t even feel like work.  So I left her on the list.  But when she got home from the first day of debate practice last week, she was practically in tears.  She told me that it wasn’t at all what she thought it was, and that she didn’t know if it was worth all of that extra work.  


I was, I’ll admit, surprised. I thought for sure she was going to come home all pumped about the chance to defend why vending machines should be allowed in schools, or to argue against boxing as a legal sport.  It just seemed so her.