“I don’t like the piano,” my son says to me as we sit around the kitchen table.
“Why not?” I ask, ladling hot soup into bowls.
“I don’t know,” he says, looking down at his hands. “I just don’t.”
I sit down at my place. No one says anything. The soup is too hot to eat so we swirl our spoons around our bowls in a contemplative sort of way and think about the problem of piano lessons.
It’s unusual for Jonathan to be negative about anything. He’s the most agreeable, enthusiastic child I’ve ever met. He loves everything.
Just not piano.
“Your cousins play the piano,” I offer, thinking perhaps he’s gotten it into his head that piano playing is for girls. “Even Alex.” Alex walks on water. It’s underhanded of me to use him as an example in this situation, but I’m desperate. “They’re quite good.”
“I know,” he sulks. I’m pretty sure I can see tears in the corners of his eyes.
“It’s fun, Jonathan!” Faith adds. She has been dying to start lessons again since we moved, and now that I’ve found a teacher for her, she has been practicing her scales day and night just so she’s ready for her first lesson.
But Jonathan has never taken lessons. He’s never so much as laid a finger on our keyboard, and yet he’s decided he hates it.
I do not know what to do. When my husband comes home, I accost him with the question. We wrestle with the pros and cons because there are no easy answers. Every child is so different, and each set of circumstances brings new points to consider.
In what situations do you make your child do something he does not want to do?
I know my son will benefit from musical training. I’m fairly confident he will love it once he starts. I think about where his talents and his disposition and I am certain he’ll be quite good at the piano, although I don’t expect the child to become some sort of maestro. One year of lessons is all I want from him at this point. Just one year.
But my goodness, the very suggestion is causing trauma in the boy’s life. I see the tears in his eyes when we talk about it and they cut my heart. Am I doing the right thing? Am I loving my son by stretching him beyond his comfort zone and introducing him to a skill he’ll have for the rest of his life, or am I causing him to despair? Am I bending him in a direction he is not naturally inclined to go for his own good, or mine?
I second-guess my decision until my husband takes me by the shoulders and says simply, “Make him do it. It’ll be good for him.”
I think about that long into the night, after my husband has fallen asleep and the red numbers on the alarm clock tick through the midnight minutes. “It will be good for him…” If only my brown-eyed boy would see it that way.
The next morning, I search for the piano teacher’s phone number while the kids chatter over breakfast. I do not like making phone calls. If the entire world could be operated by e-mail, I’d be a happy girl. I can talk in front of a thousand people, but put me on the phone and I’m a mess.
That’s when it occurs to me: we all have to do things we do not want to do. A hundred times a day, in big and small ways, I have to discipline myself to do the things that would not be my first choice if left to my own devices. The world does not operate around my desires.
Neither should a childhood.
My son, who loves everything and everybody, rarely has an opportunity to learn how to handle a difficult or challenging situation, one that he would not choose on his own. He always gets to do exactly what he wants, and he always wants to do exactly what he is asked.
He might not understand it now, but challenge is a gift for him.
In this unwanted circumstance, he gets to learn how to try with integrity, how to control his attitude despite the situation, and how to look for the good when all he sees are reasons to complain.
It’s not about piano.
It’s about life.
I am reminded that I am not raising children. I am raising adults. I want to raise adults who understand that often in life, they will be required to give their best to something they do not love. They are slaves, not masters, and most days are filled with the stuff of servitude: cleaning bathrooms, making lunches, wiping noses, answering to a boss.
Too often, I parent my children as if they are going to become sovereigns. It’s easy, in this fast-food life, to give them exactly what they want and nothing they don’t.
I do them a disservice when I do not require more of them than what they are inclined to give. Life simply is not like that, and life will not go well for them if I have raised them to believe their needs and wants are all that matters. I will have failed if they grow up believing they are Boss of Everything.
I should be parenting my children to be servants, good and faithful, because that is who they were made to be. As I parent my son through this season of piano lessons, that will be my aim: to teach him to work at it with his whole heart, whether he likes it or not, because he is first and foremost a servant, not a sovereign.
“It will be good for him,” my husband said. As I dial the piano teacher to schedule my son’s first lesson, I am confident he is right.