Like many other little girls, I spent a brief moment of my childhood enveloped in the world of tutus and ballet shoes. I recall the early days of joyfully jumping over fake puddles and not worrying about technique or having any real skill. Then, I started taking classes with a serious instructor, a strict disciplinary with a thick Russian accent and no time for foolishness.
That wasn’t me. I had no desire to train hard and suffer through endless criticism. I also wasn’t all that good, which may be why when I said I wanted to quit, my parents didn’t put up a fight. And, when the teacher questioned my decision, and wondered why my mom wasn’t forcing me to continue, my mom just shrugged it off.
I went on to attempt many activities from gymnastics to ice skating to piano. Some lasted a few years, others barely a few weeks. My skills in each varies from decent to not terrible, but no matter how well I did, I was never pushed to continue if I wanted to stop.
I am so appreciative of my parents for not pressuring me to keep doing something I didn’t love. I had to prove nothing to no one. I could just be a kid.
I always thought I would model this example as a parent. I would let my children try many things, and be OK if they wanted to stop. I wouldn’t be a “tiger mom” pushing my kids to succeed at all costs.
Yet, I find myself close to doing exactly that.
My five-year-old has been studying piano for more than a year. His instructor, who works with kids and adults, was not quick to accept my then four-year-old as a student, but after one lesson, it was clear my son had a bit of skill to work with.
As the lessons progressed, my son’s abilities grew stronger. While I could never get the hang of figuring out which key went with each note, my son can read music almost seamlessly. He understands how music is all about timing and holding notes for just the right amount of time. I wouldn’t call him a musical genius, but for his age, he definitely has talent. And if I had any inkling my child was being “babied,” I was reassured after witnessing another student, a high schooler, reviewing songs my son had already mastered.
I don’t know if my son realizes, or cares, how talented he is at playing piano. He often groans before we head out for lessons, and I have to prod him to practice. After a grueling day at school, I understand how hard it is for him to stay awake, let alone focus on his lesson.
My son never said he wanted to stop playing, but there are days when I wonder if he has had enough. If I just quit bringing him to lessons, I wonder if he would even miss them. I know my life would be a lot simpler and filled with slightly less whining, and $100 more a month in my pocket, but would it cost more in the loss of my son’s musical future?
I know lots of you are probably rolling your eyes, and thinking I’m just another mom who thinks they birthed the next Mozart. I get it, it is annoying how parents these days seem to think everything their kid does is amazing. I am not that parent. I have no illusions about my children’s abilities. For instance, my eldest tried soccer for a bit, and after the last lesson ended in a huge tantrum over having to “share” his ball, I wasn’t rushing to sign him up again, and I knew he wasn’t the next David Beckham.
I believe every child has something special that needs to be nurtured. The trouble is knowing when it goes from nurturing to smothering. If I push to hard, will my son grow to resent me and despise music? Will the pressure become to great, and cause him to lose confidence in himself?
As I mentioned, my son has never insisted he quit. Once in a while, if he had a tough time getting through a lesson, I’ll tell him it is OK to stop. Admittedly, this is often more about me not wanting to deal with his whining then it is about his true feelings. I need to be more attuned to his feelings and what he wants, and I know he keeps playing largely because of me. Will his love for music grow large enough to sustain his desire to continue?
My son’s lessons are pay as you go, so I can stop taking him at any moment. It also means I have no easy way out, such as the end of a season or a final concert. There is no goal my son is working toward or expectations to be met, other than to keep honing his skills. Every week is another opportunity for him to consider quitting and for me to remind him of his talent.
I push my son to stick with piano, because I believe he has some real ability to nurture. I find myself pushing my son academically, even in areas that need improvement. When he was struggling to meet the demands of kindergarten, I worked with him to catch up, often coaxing him to read one more book or practice writing one more letter. I push because I know he is a smart kid who can do well if he puts the effort into his work. And yes, I realize how intense that sounds, and how kids should just be kids.
Kids should be kids, and kids should have plenty of time to play, explore and learn on their own. For those reasons, I don’t over-schedule my children, they get plenty of outdoor time and periods of boredom. At the same time, I do believe children need guidance, and yes sometimes some nudging in the right direction.
I’m a parent who pushes her kids. I just hope I don’t push too hard.
This post originally appeared on Maybe I'll Shower Today.