I made a lame joke to the piano teacher that my son’s decision to not continue with his lessons is dashing my dreams of him being the next Liberace, but inside I felt like a failure. The kid can plunk out nearly any song he hears on a keyboard. He taught himself the Axel F intro when he was seven and banged out Viva la Vida after a month of lessons. He is indifferent to the clarinet yet he sits second chair in the band. He matches pitch with every singer on the radio but the suggestion of performing elicits eye rolls and adamant shakes of the head. What kind of loser parent raises a musically talented kid to not love music?
I tried to reassure myself that he is not making the decision to smoke cigarettes or sell his body for heroin or trade state secrets for amnesty. He is deciding not to take piano lessons this year. He can always decide to return to it. He will probably not be a rock star, nor write a symphony, nor start a jazz band. He will be okay.
But still. I am certain he will regret it.
I fatalistically consider that his decision to eschew piano lessons will lead to a path littered with obstacles: failing grades, underage drinking citations, teen parenthood, and dropping out of college. This will lead to homelessness, drug addiction, severe mental illness, and worse. His life will be marked by crime and end as a mob target, probably.
This is not the life I envision for my child. How can I let him make this terrible decision?
When children are little, no is frustratingly one of the first words they learn and decisions that they make. They learn the power of no early, and they use it often. Eat your veggies. No. It's bedtime. No. Give me a hug. No. No breaks a parent’s heart, instills flashes of anger and irritation, and dampens a happy moment. Their decisions are swift and unfiltered, snappy declarations that cut us to the core while amusing a whole roomful of adults tickled by a toddler’s sass.
As children mature, we manage their decisions with our own knowing rationality and become sensible adults who bolster a smaller-than-most child’s decision to play basketball with reassurance and projected confidence in his strengths (“You are the fastest runner on the team, honey!”). We turn a budding film director’s decision to spend all her birthday money on a camera that is used only to make numerous versions of the same movie using only stuffed animals as actors into an opportunity for encouragement (“I love how they all have such different voices!”). In short, we support our children's decisions, as long as those decisions seem like they could pave the way for healthy future decisions that lead to success and money and fulfillment, but mostly success and money. Mostly money.
How does a parent sanction what we think is the wrong decision? Barring the morally wrong and/or dangerous, when we consider that their decisions impact the future, how can we stand by and let them make the wrong choices? How hard do we bite our tongues and let them make decisions that we are certain will derail their lives, at least put them off the track that we have been pushing them along?
We worry, stealthily try to guide their thought processes to realign, pray for wisdom and a change of heart.
Or we relax, and let our children make the tough decisions, even if we think they are the wrong ones.
After all, we must consider who they are becoming and trust that we’ve taught them well.
Because ultimately, my child is living his life, not mine.
And probably not Liberace’s.