At my job I come in contact with a lot of parents. All of them definitely want what’s best for their kids, and they’re doing the best they can, just like I would be. But. I do have an inner backseat parent. I’m not proud of it, but it’s really easy to judge them for all the ways they are self-evidently fucking up their kids. Each situation is unique and each family is unique, but there are some trends:
- The overbooked. These parents can only sign up for piano if we have an opening on Tuesdays at 6:15. Church youth group goes till 6:00, you see, and cooking class is at 7. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are karate (we’re working towards the brown belt), and Thursdays we have math tutoring. Not for low grades–just to get ahead. Saturdays are totally out because of the traveling soccer team. When the kids do finally show up for music they’re dead tired and usually wearing the uniform for the previous or next activity. Soccer cleats are BAD for piano pedals.
- The absentminded. These parents space on registration deadlines, payment deadlines, lesson times and locations, and even their teachers’ names. Their kids miss out on a lot because the parent is chronically behind the 8-ball.
- The overly involved. These parents insist on being allowed to attend classes along with their middle and high school age kids “because it’s such a joy to watch her learn.” They want to stay in the dorms with their kids during the summer camps. They want to know the names, ages, and schools attended of any other kids their child may be potentially interacting with.
- The overly ambitious. These parents all have gifted 2- and 3-year-olds. These precocious kids simply must be allowed into the Suzuki violin program (which starts at age 4…for good reason). Their kids’ gifts and love for music absolutely must be nurtured immediately with violin lessons, not the age-appropriate toddler classes we also offer. There is no time to waste. We don’t let these folks into the Suzuki program; the violin will still be there when their child turns 4, and the lessons tend to go a lot better for everyone when they wait. Some of these parents later thank us; others flounce away in a huff.
Like I said above, it’s easy to judge, particularly after 30 minutes on the phone with an angry mom (it’s rarely the dads who call me), but I do always remember that they’re doing the best they can, just like I would be. Probably most of these people are great parents who love their kids and are doing right by them, and it is absolutely not my place to judge them. Now, on matters of pedagogy (like the no violin lessons for 3-year-olds thing), I don’t hesitate to tell them what is likely to work better, but most of the issues above aren’t really about music instruction and it’s none of my goddamn business how they choose to run their lives.
There are a lot of ways to live. Maybe the overbooked kid thrives on structure. Maybe the absent-minded parent is dealing with something a lot more important than piano lessons and is prioritizing the best they can. Maybe the overprotective parent is afraid their kid will eat the wrong thing and trigger their scary, scary allergy. And definitely the overly ambitious are calling me out of love and pride in their toddler, whom they see as uniquely gifted.
So it’s really not my place to judge, and I do my best to meet all parents where they are, and give them answers and information that can help them make good choices for their kids (“good choices” being here defined as choices that result in the kids having positive feelings about the performing arts–because they’re not getting it in school, and it will stay with them for the rest of their lives even if they don’t keep up their practicing).