Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Tough Decisions

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.  NoNo 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.

*******



13 comments:

  1. That is a tough one indeed. I have zero experience here, of course, since mine is a mere five years old. But by proxy, I've watched this with so many, myself included(on the kid end). My Grandfather had sort of a theory - let the kid make the choice, even if you know they may regret it or fail or get hurt. Why? Then they own the choice and they (hopefully) learn from the result. Even if the parent has the perspective of knowing experience, is it really fair to just expect them to follow our lead because we know how it will turn out? Part of growing up is learning how to pick ourselves up so I think we probably have to let them get hurt every now and then. And of course, we'll be there to help them get back on their feet or perhaps even to sneak in a little "told you so" if the situation warrants. :) I know that one of the things I appreciate and respect most about my parents and grandparents is that they let me - all of us - be our own person and learn our own lessons. Did they guide, help, advise, console, etc.? You betcha. But they also tried to give us the room we needed to figure it out for ourselves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your perspective. You had great parents who allowed you to make your own decisions and that is probably why you're a strong, intelligent, confident person today. By far, at this point in parenting, the hardest thing I have come to realize is when to adjust my parenting skills to my children's ages and levels of need. I don't want to be the mom doing her college student's laundry every weekend, but it is so hard to let them take over the things they are able to handle. Including decisions like this one.

      Delete
  2. I am of the belief that we need to let children make their own mistakes, and what we perceive to be erroneous decisions (unless of course those decisions are plain stupid or criminal, like drugs and the like). All we can do is teach them right and wrong, good values and to pursue what they love, and know when to nip in the bud what they're not passionate about.

    And, if it makes you feel better, I quit piano lessons at 17 after over 10 years. It certainly didn't help my (non)path to concert pianist, but it never snuffed out my ability to bang out a decent tune. It's like learning to ride a bicycle, you don't forget. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, you are a pianist in my book after taking it for ten years. I agree with you - we have to sit back and hope that we taught our kids enough for them to make the right choices. It is still so hard!

      Delete
    2. Alison, I also took piano lessons after 10 years and quit around 17 or 18. :)

      Delete
  3. I think you said it perfectly with, "Because ultimately, my child is living his life, not mine." He doesn't want to be a rock star. Good for him for standing up for what he believes is right for his life. You have raised a young man who is willing to stand up for himself. That is a gold star for parenting to go on your forehead, especially if he expressed himself in a (more or less) respectful manner.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. He is a strong-willed child; he never worries about pleasing us. I always knew it would benefit him as an adult. It is never easy when he asserts himself to ME, his dear and loving mother, in a way that goes against what I deem to be best for him. :)

      Delete
  4. I HATED piano lessons. I repeat (and in C Minor) HATED piano lessons. If he is that talented, try to push a little harder on the piano or find a new teacher? If he resists, keep throwing instruments at him until he finds one he loves (sax, guitar, drums, bassoon, pan flute, whatever). Maybe his resistance isn't about anything other than boredom with the piano. He can find the right instrument and avoid that mob hit when he's in his 30's.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He definitely doesn't love the piano and isn't really interested in traditional instruments; most of his favorite music is created by a computer, so his resistance to the piano makes sense. Maybe I will put a pan flute under his pillow and see what happens.

      Delete
  5. Yes, this is probably true:

    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.

    Hee hee :-) Personally, I think your son is smart to eschew Liberace. But I would be heartbroken too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Liberace might not be the perfect role model, but how about Chris Martin, or Elton John, or Billy Joel? Those guys seem okay. I'm still holding out hope that he misses the lessons and wants to take them again.

      Delete
  6. I am just on the cusp of this in our house. Eddie is four and we are letting him choose what sorts of extracurricular things he wants to do. He talks all about all the things he wants to do, but as I watch him and realize what I see that he is good at, it gets harder and harder for me to hear him talking about choosing other stuff.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was easier to make all their decisions, wasn't it? I might have been a bit more busy back then, but at least I wasn't so wistful about their choices.

      Delete