How not to confuse your own unfulfilled desires with theirs.
A few years ago, I was feeling desperate to get my kids started with music lessons. It suddenly seemed that I had missed the memo. Everywhere I looked, someone’s child was in the school band or preparing for a recital. I had even taken piano and flute lessons as a kid. How could I have completely missed the boat?!
The pressure started to really eat away at me and I began pestering my kids. “What do you guys think about music lessons?” I asked, feigning enthusiasm and attempting to hide my worry.
“I don’t want to take lessons,” they responded like a well-rehearsed choir.
Each day, my annoyance at them grew, and my desperation to convince them that studying music was important intensified. I tried repeatedly to get them on board, only to be met with more and more resistance.
“I’ve got it!” I thought to myself. “I’ll just focus on one child. This one I think I can get on board!”
“Hey, sweet boy,” I said to my son, a big smile on my face. “What do you think about learning guitar like your cousin? It’s such a cool instrument! Guitar is especially great because it brings people together. People who play guitar always have a way to make new friends easily …” I went on and on.
After several minutes of zero progress, I got mad. “Fine!” I stomped out the room. “Nevermind!”
“What was wrong with him?” I thought to myself.
And then, as if someone had thrown a bowl of ice water in my face, I woke up. This wasn’t about my kids. It was about me. It was about my insecurities as a parent — about confusion around what I “should” be doing, and ultimately about my own unfulfilled desires. How many parties and camping trips had I been to where I felt green with envy at that person who played the guitar as everyone gathered around?
The clouds began to part, and I gained some clarity. I realized that what I really wanted was to learn to play guitar myself. It had actually been buried somewhere down on my “things I’d like to accomplish in this lifetime” to-do list for quite a while.
So I laid off my kids and found myself a guitar teacher, and once a week I would sneak away from work for half an hour and indulge myself. In the evenings, I would practice. I was excited about my playing, and the sound of guitar in the house put me in a great mood.
One day, a good year into my lessons, I noticed one of my kids quietly sitting at the kitchen table, listening to my playing.
“I want to take guitar lessons,” he said, as if this were his own brilliant idea. And, in a way, it was.
“Great!” I responded, attempting to hide the over-the-moon excitement that had the potential to derail his interest. Better that I play a supporting role as he finds his own interests in life.
It’s a few years later now, and my son still plays guitar, while mine lies dusty in the corner of my bedroom. I know, though, that I’ll pick it up again someday. Maybe I’ll even ask my son for lessons.
This article was originally published in the East Bay Express newspaper in Oakland, CA.