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March 20, 2012

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Good post. I am also going to write a blog post about this...I enjoyed reading your post and I like your take on the issue. Thanks.

I started playing piano when I was 3 and was the strange kid who loved to practice. By the time high school rolled around I was also an athlete (lettering in basketball, volleyball, and softball) so needless to say my free-time for just being a kid was limited. I went to college on a partial scholarship for volleyball and got a little money from the music department as well. However, like Maresi said I still racked up about $50k in loans at that private institution and also only used my education for 1 year after college. I realized in college that I didn't have the drive to be a professional musician and I soon realized after I started teaching that I hated teaching piano.

My husband & I were recently talking about how we've gotten to where we are. I mentioned that I felt music (I also played clarinet) & sports were my constants growing up in a military family that moved all the time. I think if we had only lived in a few places while growing up then I probably would have quit piano before college. But by that point there was all the pressure from my mom about music being "my passion". In reality she loved having the gifted kid who people said was "so good." I can't tell you the number of times I had to play for people at her request just because a piano was there. Ugh...not great memories.

After not playing piano for more than a decade we just recently (like 4 months ago) bid on a piano during an estate auction. For $150 we now have a very serviceable piano sitting in our family room, which I'll upgrade later if necessary. But this piano is perfect for letting my 2 year old explore the instrument. If I want to go and play Mozart...it's in tune & gets the job done. I have always found playing to have a calming effect & I like being able to sit down and play, for myself, when the mood strikes.

Kristen - it's not like you've slammed the door on music or the violin for her. You are probably keeping her from hating the violin - and potential music - in the future. You're a good mom and if she wants to explore the instrument again I'm sure you'll know where to find that wooden thing in a box.

I read Tiger Mom's book and couldn't agree with her method at all, even though I agree with her underlying principle of not giving up so quickly. My mom was forced to do things, so of course when she had her kids, she let us quit anything. I quit piano, even though I loved it with all my heart, because I didn't want to go to the school store and purchase the next year's piano book. Hell, I quit ballet because some kid told me there were scary elves living in the giant tree located in the school's quad.

So I wish my mom had been more on my butt about those types of things, namely that you don't quit because of elves.

I plan to push my two-year-old to the point of being challenged, but when it comes to tears, that's when I would draw the line. When the relationship is at stake, it doesn't seem worth it.

One year for Christmas all I asked for was to quit violin lessons and playing. I was so bad at it and no one would admit it but me.

YAYYYYYYY! I think you did absolutely the right thing. There's quitting when something's hard, and then there's quitting something you don't love. Giving yr daughter the opportunity to learn the difference is HUGE.

As adults, how many of us labor under others' expectations for too long, achieving things we're good at but that don't reflect or feed us? How many of us must approach a crisis in order to get ourselves to follow our true paths?

Isn't it better to show kids that putting one thing down to make room for something else is a GOOD thing? If they regret the choice later, that's all part of the learning! If they don't, well, then there's room for her to pursue something she loves. In my book that's a WIN WIN.

And what about the incredible deepening that just took place in your relationship with your daughter...your show of trust in her ability to know herself? That, right there, is like pouring fertilizer on a kid's self-esteem.

There are things for which we must insist on compliance -- kindness, responsibility. But I don't think violin is one of them.

(A funny "guess what": my daughter just started violin lessons. Fiddle, actually. When I asked her "why fiddle?" she replied "because it just feels right." We'll see where it goes.)

(Also, she began fiddle lessons after struggling to continue with ballet and tae kwon do, both of which she used to LOVE. But the love faded. Lots of discussion about doing something even when it's hard, etc., but it became clear that she just didn't want to do it anymore. After months of trying to "rekindle the passion," we -- she, her Dad and I -- decided to quit and open ourselves to something new. She led the way. A couple months of digging around in the back yard after school, then, around December she said "you know? I've always wanted to learn the fiddle.")

I kinda wish my parents would have pushed me to do something more seriously as a kid. I tend to blame them for my being a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none. But on the other hand, I have mostly fond memories of childhood.

I struggled with this with my daughter (same age) and piano. She's actually decent at it...but her heart was not there. I was OK with her not practicing...but her teacher was not.

Life is too short. If she has natural talent and wants to pick it up again when she's ten, then fine.

I don't necessarily think you're teaching her to quit. I think she worked at it, but her heart wasn't in it. In life, talent isn't enough. You have to have the drive...have to actually desire it.

Talent without the drive isn't enough.

This is really touching. Your experience feels very similar to mine as a child/teen who was "gifted" at the piano... but played it because i felt like I HAD to, because I was expected to, not because I wanted to, and who had to give up other things I liked MORE...

My daughter now plays the piano, and she's got an incredible ear and a developing talent, and it takes every ounce of my self-control to keep allowing her to practice when SHE wants to, to not stand behind her correcting when she plays, but instead, to only come to her aid when she ASKS. I want her to ENJOY playing, to LOVE playing, to WANT to play. Never to feel like she HAS to. Because music is a gift. It gets inside you and sets you apart from other people, but you have to want it.
((hugs)) to you for letting her step away, and for letting YOURSELF step away. You never know, she might want to come back to it one day, on her own terms.

I think you make an excellent point regarding the atmosphere surrounding your practice of the violin (that may extend to Quinlan and certainly applies to many of us in our own music education).

My history with my harp is one that's fraught with fear and pressure, along with enjoyment. It's complicated, as they say about relationships. I haven't played since 1995. If my parents ever choose to ship it to me, I hope to summon up the enjoyment and play it. But if not, I have other joys in my life.

My girls have a piano teacher whom they adore. The atmosphere is positive, at lessons and at home, and the relationship is a good one. I hope it continues as such, but only if they want it for themselves.

I played classical piano as a kid (from ages 5-17), even going to a high school for the arts on that ticket, and then quit after I graduated. My daughter (now 8) started lessons about a year ago and I see the same frustration in her that I felt - being good at it but not necessarily wanting to HAVE to practice. She has recently expressed a desire to stop lessons, and I'm all for it. My hope is that she will still play for fun, and we can enjoy it together, just for fun.

Oh, didn't feel a hand slap at all Josette. And I love all your suggestions. I really do.

I think it's really that so much of this, so much of parenting has so much to do with our own shit. Not just in regards to music, but in general. I'm overwhelmed and exhausted. Devoid of the creativity in which you speak at this juncture.

And perhaps in letting her quit, it's letting me off the hook a little, though clearly I feel guilty about that even.

Clearly my feelings about it have most to do with me and less to do with her.

"But there's a huge difference between learning the love and appreciation of music, and getting a formal music education on a specific instrument."

Exactly. I hope I didn't come across as a "slap hands". :-) You just sounded a bit torn (as all good thinker parent do over these kinds of questions) and wanted to give you support from both sides. My middle child is very social and the goal of clarinet = high school band really appeals to her much more over violin. She's also my bluegrass princess and some focused "noodling" on the violin will allow her to participate in our hootenannies. My eldest daughter just does tutored lessons with a very cool high school student. But she does talk about wanting to participate in musical theater, so if she wanted to take some voice lessons and musical theater classes, that works, too. Again, you just sounded torn and a bit sad even in your final decision.

Even with the activities my kids do love, we face burnout and wanting to quit...that's when I think it's important to teach kids their own "out of the box" thinking skills on how to change up their goals or know when to slow down vs. push through, when to take a break and balance their lives/time more so they don't also lose the activities they actually do enjoy when they hit challenges.

Thanks Christine - I should mention. That joy Laurel has - I have, with singing and playing guitar.

So, it's there. I think much of my issues have to do with the violin itself.

But good lessons to learn overall as well. If you're both crying over something, is it really worth it?

I'd venture to say that there's just no simple right or wrong on this one. As you know, like a good Asian kid, I also played violin for 20+ years. My mom and I had a huge fight in 5th grade because I wanted to quit. She wouldn't let me and not long afterwards (once I started private lessons and started seeing the rewards) I loved it.

However, like you, I haven't picked it up in a long time and I don't miss it at all.

Laurel asked a couple of years ago to play (probably because of my history) and I gently suggested we wait a bit. She gets very frustrated when she isn't good at something quickly and violin in particular is such an exacting instrument. Instead, she started noodling around with piano, which has brought her a lot of joy.

At some point maybe we'll get to lessons (again, she has asked about it, but I haven't gotten around to looking), but she seems happy with just goofing around with it.

I think you have to follow your instinct and you've done the best you can -- and the good news is, music will always be there for Q if she wishes to return to it.

I definitely value music education, Josette. I don't think I could ever deny that of my children, regardless of my own personal issues.

But there's a huge difference between learning the love and appreciation of music, and getting a formal music education on a specific instrument.

I got the latter, and I think right now, she's getting the latter.

You're right. There are so many other creative ways to go about it -- and to help foster a love of music + provide kids with an actual music education. I never got that. Do I think it's possible? Absolutely.

I think both are amazing -- and I'll encourage her to do both. I'll encourage all my kids to do both because I truly value music and its role in our lives.

But in my own personal experience, sometimes too much of the formal education drowns out the love and appreciation of something, which I think overall, especially in life, is much more valuable.

She put two years of time in, and so I'm comfortable with letting it go. But that doesn't rule out music altogether. It just rules out violin. For now.

You are a good mom.

I take a different tack. Music in our house is a non-negotiable, the same as learning to read, math, science, and some sort of physical activity (dance, sports, martial arts, gym, etc.) However, I try to be realistic about it in that once kids begin to approach an elite level, you just can't force that kind of work and time expectation needed to maintain skill and progress.

My eldest daughter is a high level competitive figure skater who practices 15-19 hours a week on ice and 3-6 hours of off ice training. However, she does it because she wants to do it. I can't force that level of training or commitment. Now, once I sign an ice contract or pay for a competition, then yes, she needs to work hard even on the days she doesn't feel like it. But ultimately, if she told me "I'm done", then I'd still require that she maintain some sort of "physical learning", whether she wanted to go to Zumba or try martial arts, etc. I do require that my kids at least try something for a few months or weeks to really get a feel and see if they like something (maybe after a few trial lessons.) But then if they want to switch, they can.

With music, my middle child played violin for two years and decided she wants to try clarinet. That's fine. We draw up a contract, borrow an instrument for a while, commit for 3 months and see how it goes.

I just honestly think that music education is so important, but still, I have to keep it in perspective. Some things we've done to keep it fun was to ditch the classical lessons and find a local teen good on the instrument and just have tutoring sessions once a week. They "play" more while they are playing, and keeping practices shorter helps, too. Adjusting goals and keeping kids involved in setting the goals helps. Instead of getting through an entire book by the end of the year, just learning a few songs. Or maybe learning how to play a Lady Gaga song on violin could mix things up. Another thing you could try (if she wants to not give it up completely) is finding her a practice buddy - another kid her age to get together and maybe have a lesson with a teen tutor and then meet two or three times to practice together. Keep it low-key and no stress. Another idea (we did this with violin) was to take some bluegrass fiddling lessons for a while.

Again, if she just wants to quit and has had enough - and you have had enough, too - that's perfectly fine. But if part of her is sad about not learning to play music in some capacity, these are just a few ideas to get around the burnout.

I let my kids quit piano lessons after a month. I never remembered to make them practice and they didn't want to. It is ME who wants piano lessons but I can't justify the cost, or time, to myself.

It's okay. Honestly. Music should definitely come from a place of love and if it isn't there, you can't force it.

My music teacher mom still doesn't understand and this said it better than I could. My creativity comes out in other ways than music now, and I like that so much better. I'm just not enough of a perfectionist for classical music.

My music-teacher dad never stood over me with a timer, but playing various instruments was all I thought I could do. I spent 4 strenuous, arduous years & $100K on a music-ed degree. I taught for one year. ONE, that was all it took to realize I'd been lying to myself the whole time.

I finally sold my oboe 3 years ago, and bought a good DSLR. I've never, ever regretted it. I think my dad might still be disappointed, but like you said, it's just some pieces of wood and silver in a box, and that's okay.

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