Over the years I’ve found myself subtly discouraging our son from activities I didn’t know how to do or ones I didn’t like to do. I’m not proud of it. At first, I didn’t even realize I was doing it. It was easy to make excuses for things that were outside my comfort zone. I could fool myself, at least temporarily, into believing we didn’t try those things for justifiable reasons.
I told myself we can’t do everything, or we didn’t have the money, or there wasn’t enough time. Deep down I knew. I just didn’t want to put on my swimsuit and hit the hotel pool again because I was embarrassed. I couldn’t suck it up and force myself to make small talk at a season’s worth of baseball games. And there was always a reason “that” friend couldn’t come over.
When he became obsessed with fishing, I resisted. I didn’t just drag my feet, I dragged my whole body and soul. Sure I went fishing as a kid. I vaguely remembered casting and reeling in. We had a tackle box full of fishing gear and a couple of dusty fishing rods in the garage, but I didn’t know how to put a hook on the fishing line. Or a bobber. What if we actually caught something? How the hell would we get the poor fish off the hook? I feared the worst. It didn’t look good for the fish.
P persevered. He started Googling fish and fishing. He discovered he could learn almost everything he needed to know about the basics on YouTube. He sorted and organized his tackle box daily. Over the next few months, his enthusiasm didn’t wane. He wore me down. I reluctantly learned to support his interest. No one was more surprised than I; I found myself enjoying it as well.
Ways to support your child’s interest when you have no idea what you’re doing
If my son wasn’t so bullheaded, he wouldn’t be the fisherman he is today. But he also wouldn’t have become the fisherman he is today if my husband and I didn’t support his interest (though admittedly our effort was weak in the beginning).
Do you know how to do anything related to the activity they want to do? I remember vividly the day my mom showed us how to tie a hook, sitting in the sun on the edge of Lily Lake eager to just throw our lines in the water already. But I can’t remember how to tie a fishing line now. I did know how to dig up worms for bait. It’s pretty satisfying to plunge the shovel into dirt, turn your shovelful over, breaking it apart looking for unsuspecting worms. Digging next to a compost? Even more satisfying- worm heaven. And I knew where we cold fish, Lily Lake of course, and we always saw plenty of people fishing at Voyageur Park. We had a start.
I really didn’t know much more than how to put a worm on a hook when he first started fishing, but after many years working in a library, I did know how to research the heck out of anything. So I taught him how to look up and learn about what you don’t already know on the internet, at the library, and in books we have at home. We talked about reliable sources and how literally anyone can publish whatever they want on the internet. Using books, YouTube, and other sites on the internet, he learned about bait, tackle, licenses, invasive species, the fishing season…you name it he looked it up.
Connect with Family (and Friends)
It’s likely that someone in your family knows about your child’s interest. In our case, my dad spent a lot of his childhood fishing. He doesn’t fish anymore, doesn’t even have a fishing pole. For the most part he’s a silent observer, the two of them just spending quality time hanging out by the river or lake, but he is willing to help P when he needs it. Between my dad and family friends including him in their fishing outings and sharing their knowledge with him as they fished, P has a pretty solid fishing network.
A little R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Show them how to be respectful of other people doing the new activity. Like being respectful of sportsmen and women by speaking quietly (and not dancing wildly to your own special version of Bruno Mars songs), being aware of the space you and your gear take up, looking for others before casting, and politely acknowledging unsolicited fishing advice from seasoned experts. And of course, show respect for the natural world and how to be a good custodian of our planet. Being quick and gentle with the fish while removing the hook, being thoughtful about what hook you use, not chucking them like a football into the water when you’re done, all things P had to learn.
You don’t have to know how to do the thing or activity to teach your children persistence. Learning to fish has presented one opportunity after another to learn about sticking with it even when things get tough. We had lots of learning moments from tangled fishing line, digging deeper than deep to find worms to use for bait, and learning to set the hook when the fish nibbles on your worm. His biggest test of perseverance happened on our hike to a mountain lake at a staggering (literally) 12,000 feet. For flatlanders like us, the trail was tough- steep, rocky, and much longer than we anticipated. P wanted to give up, but he pushed through it because he knew the fish were waiting at the end of the trail.
None of those things came easily, and some of them still don’t, but we continued to reinforce that he could do it, stick with it, persevere. And he did.
Classes and Events
Chances are, somebody somewhere is teaching about whatever it is that your children are into. We took P to the annual fishing event at the Wildlife Sanctuary and fishing programs at Wisconsin State Parks. This summer we went to the Izaac Walton League’s event to learn how to fly fish. Once you start looking for opportunities you’ll probably find more than you can go to.
My favorite part of supporting P in his fishing endeavor is being there. If the kid could drive he’d be a totally self-sufficient fisherman. For now, I’m happy to drive him to the lake so he can fish his heart out. If I’m honest, I’m mostly there for first aid and it gives me plenty of time to catch up on my reading…and to think about how I can help him in his new passion- flying model airplanes. Stay tuned!