IT broke my heart but this is why I let my children stop piano lessons. Making decisions for our children is 90% of this parenting gig. Making decisions to have them immunised (always yes), which kindy to send them to, which school, what foods to feed them, and so on. We make myriad decisions every day on behalf of our kids. Today I made the decision to allow my children to stop piano lessons after two years of dedicated study. I’ve shed some tears over this decision because I’m so very sad about it and a part of me thinks it’s the wrong call, but here’s why I did it.
We’ve been studying piano in the Suzuki method through a wonderful, wonderful teacher, whom I love like a mother. She’s nurturing and warm, while at the same time being strict and disciplined.
Remember Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother? A first person account of a Chinese American mother who sacrificed her relationship with her daughters to make sure they learned a classical instrument (piano and violin) to concert standard. When I read that I fell in love with her tenacity, or perhaps her capacity to push her children that hard, with scant regard for the consequences of their relationship. I admired her ability to create a goal and focus on that end result, letting no obstacle get in her way.
But I also agreed with her fundamental philosophy – you can’t give something up until you are good at it and you know fully what you are giving up. You must master it to then be able to make an informed decision. I’m totally on board with that.
So when I enrolled my children in piano classes I was determined to push them onward for years and, if they expressed a desire to quit when they hit high school, well, no problem. They’d be proficient by then and able to make an informed decision.
I also believe that to raise children to have self-discipline and the ability to work hard and stick at something, they need to be shown what that looks like. They need to understand that it takes daily practice and sacrifice to become good at something. It’s a valuable life skill and they’ll go far if they master self-discipline combined with a good work ethic.
Another driving force was a worldly understanding of basic chemistry – chicks dig musicians. I’ve been at plenty of parties where friends of mine (shout out to the adorable Marty Worrall and Scotty Aplin) have sat down at an old piano in the corner and started belting out some great tunes that got everyone singing along. Those guys are the cool guys in the room.
And so, at a nine-year-old friend’s birthday party recently, when my son lifted the lid on the old upright piano in the corner and started playing a few tunes and everyone rushed over to hear him play, my heart swelled with pride and a little smug voice in my head said, “Told you so!”.
At the Christmas concert every year, my three prepare a piece each and play it for the whole Suzuki family. Those concerts were a highlight for me because I could see how far they’d come. My children were playing complicated pieces, two hands, and doing it pretty much flawlessly. Mostly. And Finley thrived in the spotlight! He loved it. In our first year concert, at the end the MC asked if anyone would like to come up and play a second piece and he did – and leaped off the stage at the end with some Liberace pizzazz! It was a joy to watch.
But truth be told, those moments were few and far between in the two years we’ve been studying. And in between those moments are the daily fights getting the three of them to sit down and do their practice. Daily. Fights.
I tried every reward system under the sun and they would work for a little while before petering out. In the end I was using brute force. “Sit there and do your practice!” I would yell. “Back straight, feet flat, wrists up!”. They were miserable, I was miserable.
Today, when my daughter achieved proficiency in a small part of a larger piece, I congratulated her and she said she wanted to go get a drink, or brush her hair or something, can’t remember what. And, disgusted she didn’t want to sit and finish the piece, I said, “Go on then, bugger off”. The tone was dismissive and hurtful. And she burst into tears.
This is not how I speak to my children. This is not the mother I want to be.
In that moment I realised it was time to give piano a break. I am not a tiger mother and I won’t raise perfect piano-playing children. And that’s the heart of the issue, and really, that is why I let my children quit piano lessons.
Maybe after a break, they’ll come back to it. But if they do, it will be because they want to and not because I want them to. It needs to be their dream, not mine.
In the meantime, I have asked their teacher to consider taking me on as a student and perhaps if I realise my dream, it won’t matter to me as much that they don’t play.
What do you think?
Was I right to let them quit? Or have I failed as a parent? Have you got/had dreams for your kids that they stubbornly refuse to take on as their own? What happened when you let them quit?