The Successful Passing of the Baton

The Olympics have been over for several weeks now, but I am still mulling over some life lessons. One of the events I love to watch is track and field. While watching the relay races, I was struck with how much talk there was about passing the baton successfully. I guess it’s no wonder. Some pretty high profile teams have been disqualified due to problems passing the baton. The American team has certainly had their fair share of problems with this.

It seems simple. You simply need to pass the baton to your teammate. However, if you let go too soon, your teammate drops it. If you fail to pass it off soon enough, you are out of the safety zone. Both options disqualify you from the race. 

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I couldn’t help but think how motherhood is a lot like that. We must successfully pass the baton to our children so that they can carry on their adult lives. Leaders must know how to pass the baton off.

A good leader doesn’t pass the baton too soon.

If you let go of that baton too quickly, it will fall to the ground. Both of you will have to stop, pick up the pieces, and try again. When you pass off a baton too soon, the person receiving it ends up feeling like a failure. They might even start to believe that they are not capable of the job when in reality they simply were not adequately prepared.

It also leaves you, as the leader, agreeing, that, yes indeed, no one else can do this quite as well as me. I may as well just keep things in my hands and grasp. That is not a safe place for any leader, or mother, to be in.

A good leader doesn’t hold on to the baton too long.

Similarly, though, a good leader does not hold on to that baton for too long. It eventually has to be passed on. It will be passed on. Our children will grow up and become adults. If you are hanging on with all your might, unwilling to let go, it is impossible for the pass off to be smooth.

Our children will yank, and pull, and eventually, by force, grasp the baton and take off. The force of their pull will send you reeling back in disillusionment. And it will leave the child with more than a few unsteady steps as he desperately tries to regain his footing for a solid run.

A good leader practices.

In order for this passing of the baton to happen smoothly, it has to be practiced. A leader of a company or church will not suddenly pass the responsibility of an important job off to someone with little warning or preparation. That would be doing it too soon. But he still must pass the baton.

It is in doing it countless times that both the person passing the baton and the person receiving the baton are adequately prepared for the big race. The leader passes the baton on and steps away. The job gets done. A successful pass.

As mothers we can’t wait until our children reach adulthood to suddenly pass the baton. Some moms wipe their hands of all responsibility when their children reach a certain age. If they haven’t been prepared, though, the baton will get dropped. Feelings of failure abound. Other moms are hanging on so tightly that the child is forced to yank to pull free.

A successful, smooth passing of the baton is practiced over and over throughout a child’s growing up years. It is when the child starts to dress himself without your help. When the 12 year-old fixes a pancake breakfast for the family without you stepping in every few minutes with your instructions. It is when you consider your teenagers opinions as legitimate contributions to the discussion at hand.

These little successful baton passes are setting the stage for the big one. It is setting the stage for that moment when you will pass it on for good, and stand back with a smile on your face as your child takes off with the baton firmly in hand. Your pace gracefully slowing, as he gently grasps the baton and gradually increases his pace.

Learning how to pass the baton, neither too soon nor too late, is an art that must be rehearsed. Because both the giver and receiver need lots of practice.

Motherhood is leadership. A good leader knows exactly when to pass the baton.


  1. I think this is so important for us think about even when our kiddos are still tiny. There are little ways we can pass practice passing the baton even in their early years – encouraging and celebrating their independence as they learn new skills and slowly pull away from needing us.

  2. Great analogy. It is a very important truth.

  3. Great analogy. I pray for the wisdom to know when and how to pass it on so they can run the race before them well. Love this post, Johanna.

  4. Awesome analogy! I think I do this on a daily basis with the little things that my kiddo is now starting to do. I have to balance helping him with letting him do things on his own too. You don’t want to baby them forever but also don’t want them frustrated because they’re not ready to do it on their own yet.

    • Exactly. I think that is the balance we all have to discern. Knowing it is a balance is half the battle though!

  5. I love this analogy. When and how you pass the baton depends on who you are passing it to – and mothers need practice just as children do. Beautifully put.

  6. It takes a lot of wisdom to know when and how…and of course each child is different. It keeps us depending on the Lord.

    • So much wisdom. Yep…praying daily for that!

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  7. Elizabeth Kane says:

    Yes! This is a great comparison. And it’s difficult for moms and kids to know exactly *when* the exchange should take place because each one is a little bit different from the rest. I think learning to trust yourself in those moments has a lot to do with making the trade off go as smoothly as it can – even when you’re afraid of letting go.

  8. Good article. At 65 I’m arriving at the “release the baton” zone, and trying to overpower feeling with good sense and wisdom.

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