As Children Find Their Way...With Apologies to Cheerleaders Everywhere

As a middle school and early high school student, I desperately wanted to be a cheerleader. I tried out at least four times, and each time felt the crushing disappointment so familiar to the adolescent heart. During the summer between 9th and 10th grades, I practiced diligently with my big strong male partner, Glenn Babus. He made the squad. I did not.

 I got to participate in recreational cheerleading (hint - I am the tall one in the middle) but at some point...

I got to participate in recreational cheerleading (hint - I am the tall one in the middle) but at some point...

 I made peace with the fact that I was better on the softball field.

I made peace with the fact that I was better on the softball field.

When one of our daughters started participating in gymnastics at a young age, one of her big brothers said, “Mom, you know that gymnastics is a pipeline to becoming a cheerleader.” I don’t think that was his particular desire for his little sister, though years later, he said, “Mom, let her do whatever she wants to do.”

 She started young

She started young

There are stereotypes about cheerleaders. Sometimes they prove to be true and other times, not at all. Several of my best friends through the years at one time jumped up and down and cheered on her team. They are all lovely and compassionate women.

Our oldest daughter is in the process of visiting high schools and figuring out where she will land next year. We recently visited the place she is most likely to attend. I have heard specific “mean girl” stories about one or two cheerleaders who represent this particular institution. Though our girl claims to be focused on academic matters, the possible desire to try out for cheerleading also comes up as we discuss different places she may attend. She is tiny and flexible and is a solid tumbler.

 She has been thrown up into the air by big brothers for years.

She has been thrown up into the air by big brothers for years.

I have some mom friends who seem to believe that in smaller or more faith-based schools, the cheerleader climate is different. In my experience, pecking orders abound in large and small, secular and sacred spaces. I also have witnessed that we of faith sometimes kid ourselves by throwing the "God's will" card when in fact it may just be "my will." 

Deep in my heart, I have multiple reasons that I would prefer for my daughter to choose a path other than cheerleader. They range from concussion fear for a child who has already experienced one in quite a dramatic way to queen bees and wannabes concerns to personal preferences around all of the many activity options in high school. But when I cut through all of my fears, desires, and perspectives, the bottom line is that I want her to choose her own path and her own passions. Even if they make me squirm…

I remember when one of our sons was choosing his college. He had great interest in an institution that on the surface represented some values that I do not share. From my perspective, it projected a glittering image full of glitz and gimmicks to attract its students. At a certain point, my husband said to me, “OK. He is getting closer and closer to choosing this college. Are you going to throw a veto card?” My reply was, “no.”  I am so very glad that I did not.

He did go to this place, and it offered him several great opportunities: tremendous internships, small classes, and profound relationships. And as he experienced the part of that school that concerned me most, he made up his own mind. He decided that he too did not value that particular aspect of this place. I imagine that if I had thrown my veto card and insisted he choose another pathway, I would have interfered with his very own learning and maturing process. Today as I was running this story by him, he said, “Tough decision for a 17 year old, but I think it was the right one, just for different reasons than I would have ever thought.” There was no reason at all for Mom to step in and try to influence his decision.

I am doing my best to take the lessons I have learned as a mom into this next phase with our daughters. It is time for them to make choices and experience the natural benefits as well as consequences of their decisions. My husband and I will offer coaching and guidance and support all along the way. Whether or not my daughter tries out to be a cheerleader will ultimately be up to her. Either way, I will walk alongside her.

I would love to hear your stories of when you considered interfering with the choice of someone you love but refrained. Or of a time when you did and wish you hadn’t. Our children and those we love have so much to teach us.