One major realization that I have discovered recently, is how much I burden myself with my attitudes and the pressure I place on myself, usually around rules and obligations that don’t really matter in the long run. Phew, it’s a bit crazy, because a part of me thought that I was nailing this, but I suppose we have such entrenched conditioning and patterns that they can take time to be untangled.
Then I realized something else; I put my kids through the same kind of burden that I put myself through!
Like any parent, I want my kids to be ‘successful’ but what does that mean? I think we sometimes get so bogged down into making sure their extra curriculum activities are extending them that we forget about the joy. Case in point, my nine year old Lucas, who is musical, and loves playing drums and guitar.
Because we want to ‘do the right thing’ and develop this, we have invested in guitar and drum lessons for him. But both Geoff and I find ourselves having a go at him for not doing his practice! What we want him to do are the exercises he has been prescribed, and I have to admit that some of them are pretty bloody boring!
This is a kid who, when everyone else at the end of term guitar concert is playing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ bashes out ‘Back in Black’ by AC/DC or Black Sabbath's Iron Man. He also loves experimenting with his electric guitar, and amp, and creating some pretty crazy noises. We purchased electric drums for him and his brother, and he is also fascinated with the sounds he can create on them.
When I was a child, I went through around 11 years of piano teaching, and studiously worked my way through the Trinity College of Music grading system. It was pretty brutal really, every year you went the grueling process of the examination, where the examiners were extremely intimidating and quite frankly rude. Poor Josie had to put up with me practicing religiously for an hour a day and I managed to do pretty well, being awarded top person in my grade in Dunedin a number of times.
But the tragedy is, no one told me that the main thing about learning a musical instrument was to be able to enjoy creating the music!
As crazy as it sounds, I just didn’t catch on to that, and put myself through the practice because it was ‘something I had to do’. In fact it was even worse than that, by the time I got to the exam, I pretty much hated the pieces I was practising, I was so sick of them! Fast forward to today, and I hardly ever touch the piano. If I do, I have been trained so technically, that I need sheet music to play. It is so inspiring for me to see people play any instrument by ear, be spontaneous, and most of all enjoy the process!
Here I am, doing my best, unintentionally to get Lucas to feel the same way about music! I find myself barking at him to do his practice, when all he wants to do is play ‘his own stuff’. What is driving this (and this shows how sinister this need to be a good girl is) is me wanting him to please the teacher, and not feel like Lucas is wasting his time. Additionally we are spending ‘good money’ (!) on his lessons, so we want to get the most out of it.
Argggggghhhhh!!! Say’s who? Firstly, why worry about the teacher? Yes, I am sure they like kids who do their practice, but how many do? The other day Lucas had a guitar play date, and one of the girls in his group didn’t know one of the songs. She told me very matter of factly that her life is very busy with hip hop, tennis, and two other extra curricular activities, so she simply didn't have time to practise.
Secondly, why can’t we just let Lucas be, and play his own stuff, when he wants to? I have been reading Grit by Angela Duckworth recently, where she shares the importance of a combination of passion and persistence to become a master, and I like her views on teaching persistence by being a demanding but supportive parent, but how far do we go? Maybe it is just a gentle suggestion to go play the guitar, or even better go have some fun with him, for example looking at a Youtube tutorial (something he loves) and bashing out a tune. Last night he played me a jaw dropping song that he had composed himself, and we agreed it would be a great idea to book a recording session at the brilliant Studio 38 once he feels it is at recording quality.
I love the cartoon at the top of this blog which I think beautifully summarises how we have a tendency to teach our very different kids in the same way, rather than letting them find their own way (within reason!).
Our family has been working with an amazing clinical psychologist for over a year, to work through some probably not too out of the ordinary family dynamics. I thought that this would be a great thing to talk about at our session, how we expect our boys to be successful. Let’s face it, they are six and nine, so not at an age where they need to be worrying about guitar concerts, exams or careers.
At the session with our clinical psychologist, we discussed at length, the possibility of just ‘letting our kids be’. Let’s view life at this age as play, fun and exploration; to experiment with life, and bash away at a number of different things. But most importantly, let’s not contaminate them with our own attitudes of life being a burden!
I swear the psychologist was close to doing a little dance as we agreed on this strategy! He claims he constantly sees parents applying so much pressure on their little darlings that they simply forget how to be kids. Homework is another big part of this. Thankfully our (very progressive) school has chosen a more liberal approach to homework, suggesting that we select from a number of options to tick the homework box each night. At a recent student led conference, we agreed that Lucas searching online for facts and figures about Air New Zealand planes (a current obsession!) not only satisfies the need to practise reading, but hones his skills on internet research! Isn’t that a great way to set him up for the future?
Going even further (and this does challenge some deep rooted beliefs), aren't we obsessing too much on how our kids are performing academically at school? Lucas might not have the patience to go to university to embark on some kind of degree (if he chooses to that's fabulous), but I wouldn’t be surprised if he managed to set up a business. Already at his age, he demonstrates way more hustle than his mum, as evidenced in the way he behaves at the local car boot sale. For me, supporting him to run a stall for three hours a month provides him with better skills for his future than a few hours on mathletics! It’s already pretty lucrative, he can make around $100 in this time, which beats other options of chores. I am so proud of the way he engages with the car boot sale attendees, his uncanny ability to spot quality goods to buy and he can drive quite a bargain.
Imagine how much this embeds his values of worth? Helps him learn how to talk with strangers? These are applicable skills for his future. I shudder to think about the years I invested learning about principles like row echalon matrices or Cartesian planes which have provided me with absolutely no practical value in my life what so ever!
So here’s a bit of an experiment I am practicing with my kids… I am going to allow them to go where their energy is, whilst providing them with the requisite boundaries and guidance to keep them safe and able to engage powerfully and respectfully with the social constructs of this world. For them to allow their experiences to be joyous and loving, as much as they can! To be unapologetically them! To learn the way that works for them, and not to try and make them an elephant when they are a goldfish. A big ask, and one I may very well slip up on from time to time, as it's certainly not the easiest option, but setting the intention is a great start. I would love to hear your thoughts on any similar experiments you are conducting on your kids!!