Sunday, February 4, 2018

Giving Up on Dreams for our Kids

Last week, I made a difficult decision. I decided to pull all three of my kids out of piano lessons.  Now, this might not seem like a big deal, but it was to me. Music is important to me...has been throughout my life. I played piano as a child/teen/young adult, played for choirs, played other instruments in bands and orchestras, etc etc..  These days, I don't have much opportunity to play for myself, but when I do, it's a balm for my soul. Music always is for me. It's been a big deal in my life, and I worked really hard as a teen to do well with it.

I always imagined that this is something I'd pass on to my kids...not only for the sheer beauty of being able to create music, but also because I am a firm believer that a musical education enhances a child's neurological connections and abilities. There's a lot of research about that...I needn't bother getting into that here. When one has two kids rooted in a trauma past, there is something very appealing about employing a method that will create new and significant neuro connections to help them deal with their stuff. And for any child, learning music is such a worthwhile pursuit.

The kids have been in piano lessons for the past 3-5 years (depending on the child). We've had a wonderful piano teacher, and for the most part it has gone well. The kids have always complained a little about not wanting to practice, but overall, it's gone pretty well.

Until sometime last year.

I'm not sure what happened, but they began to fuss more and more about practicing, beginning sometime last spring. The boys, in particular, were not happy. Then, in summer and fall, as Seth began to seriously learn how to read, we noticed in him what has happened every time he's been learning something new: As his reading skills began to emerge, other areas of knowledge tanked. It's almost uncanny how regularly this has happened over the years. He was learning to read and print, and correspondingly, his ability to remember other things (such as musical knowledge, note names, etc) dwindled. This child who had previously known all of his treble and bass clef notes, could suddenly remember none of them. And I do mean none. Nothing. Nada. Zip. It was as if he'd never seen a page of notes before. I would have been super concerned by the severe memory glitches if we hadn't seen this happen over and over again over the past 6.5 years. The knowledge always comes back at some point, but how long it takes depends on the 'bigness' of the other things being learned. And learning how to read and print are huge areas of learning; I figured it was going to take months (maybe more) before his musical knowledge returned. Our piano teacher was great at working with this new thing over several months, in order to take the pressure off of remembering notes - Stephen had Seth creating his own music, by ear, and helped him record and amplify his simple compositions; he created games for Seth to keep him engaged; and so on.

But it's just proven too difficult.  Not just for Seth, but for the other two kids. They were all beginning to hate piano, to resist practicing so much that it became the number one thing that I dreaded every weekday. I was getting pretty frazzled and discouraged over the past several months and, sometime before Christmas, I began to wonder if I needed to pull the plug on lessons. It was increasingly difficult for me to manage practices and to contemplate pouring more money into ongoing lessons.

Finally, this past week, after six or eight weeks of contemplation, I advised our teacher that we were out, at least until fall, at which point I will re-evaluate.

It was a grief process for me to get to this point. I always assumed that my kids would grow up with music, would grow up to know how to read music, how to sing, how to play piano (and maybe an additional instrument, too). I just thought this would be the way it would be.

But at some point, we parents all know that our dreams for our kids need to be loosened in order that they can follow their own path. We can only place opportunity in front of them, not make them take advantage of it. It's hard for all of us at times, to let go of the things that we so hope our kids will take on and love to do. Hard, but necessary.

And so Monday will arrive tomorrow, as usual; but instead of heading out the door shortly past 11:00 to get to our lessons, we'll be at home for an extra two hours - likely doing some other form of school work. I know already that I'll love the extra time at home; we need more time at home to accomplish the school work that we are getting through.

But for now, maybe for the next few weeks, maybe in perpetuity, I'll just be a little sad on Mondays. While the kids will surely whoop and holler in their excitement about being free of practice time, I'll mourn the loss that they won't appreciate until years from now...if ever. Sometimes we just have to let go of some of the things that really matter and deal with the reality of what is. And that can be ok, too. I hope.


  1. You know Ruth, I was thinking that the most valuable thing you've given your kids is the freedom to choose - and what a gift that is. My son chose no more hockey after he said the coaches & parents killed the fun for him. Both of our kids got part-time jobs @ 14, and it's kept them busy. Now, at 16, he's really into learning graphic design online. He has his P.A.L. (firearms license for non-restricted firearms) - got it with his dad & best friend. He wants a law-enforcement future, and this is a step in that direction. He and his friend bought rifles, are strictly supervised, and love to be taken to the range to fire them. We have a family membership @ the Y, and the guys (father & son) go work out together. For us, this is the age where dad is very important; driving lessons have come into it, and it's a whole new world. Caleb has told me these are the 'apprentice years', and I am starting to get that.

    I also laughed really hard remembering my own piano lessons. My piano teacher said the words that were the kiss of death to my own lessons: 'You have natural talent.' In my childish brain, 'natural talent' = 'you don't have to practice'. So I didn't - I'm very literal, and always have been. What a waste of money!! I'm sure she was sucking up to my parents, because I'm the least musically inclined of all of my family - no sense of timing, tune or anything else. But what a funny outcome - I never practiced a note again!

    1. Thanks Cindy...loved reading your words! Made me laugh to think of your 'natural talent!'