Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Best Parenting Advice: Sorry Teacher I Don't Work For You


Parents are forever giving needed and unneeded advice to their children: we always remember Polonius’ advice to Laertes:

"Give your thoughts to yourself,

And don’t act without thinking. . . 

Listen to what every man says, but speak to few.

Take each man's opinion, but reserve your judgment”

 But when I was a young mother  I too was very fortunate "to listen" to an experienced mother and a teacher and to "take her opinion". Her advice proved crucial to my relationship with my daughters and to the wellbeing of my whole family.

My two daughters grew up in Iowa City where my husband was a young professor at the university of Iowa. It was his first job out of graduate school and we moved there when my older daughter was a baby.  When she was about two and a half we were looking for a preschool for her. Since in Iowa City all the public preschools took children only at the age of three she went to a private preschool which was part of a music school.  This special preschool met 3 times a week for two hours and did a lot of music activities with the children. The teacher asked us if our child would like to learn an instrument.  In the preschool they taught the children to play violin/ cello/ piano in the Suzuki method at a very early age. Since her older cousin played the violin my daughter asked to play that instrument.

That is how, without noticing, we entered the very competitive world of music through a tiny back door.  The two major principles of the Suzuki method are that the child learns to play by ear and that she never practices on her own. One parent has to be the teacher at home, and since my poor husband was tone deaf I was that parent.  Thus for years I practiced the violin and the cello with my daughters. We got up every day at 6 am so that they could practice before going to school and would be free (I wrote about chores at my post Between Chores and Personal Freedom) once they got back home.

What started as a childhood activity became a major  part of our life when my daughters became a little older and the teachers started to put more pressure to practice longer and harder.  Then one day I was talking with another mother who was older and experienced. She had four daughters who played musical instruments.  Here is her advice:

 “Practice at home with your girls,

 but be careful not to side with their teacher.

You have to live with your daughters

and not with their teacher.

Love your girls and don't push them,

thus you'll enjoy a happy and healthy family life”.

This sounds like an easy and logical advice and I really wanted to implement it. But as a young mother I found that it was a challenge to “to reserve my judgment”. The desire to help the girls realize their potential made it hard for me to resist the teachers and not to push. But whenever I forgot myself my husband was there to make sure that I heeded the advice of the other mother.  He reminded me that I “worked with my daughters and not for their teachers” .

With age my daughters started to practice on their own and they assumed responsibility for their music education. And today, thanks to that advice, music is still a happy part of my daughters’ life.

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