Deciding what he will be when he grows up

I have a friend who is a concert violinist. I grew up with her, and her entire life was violin. She has often mentioned how difficult it was to sacrifice what she did to get to where she is, but she also attributes all her successes to her mother. I can only imagine the time and money spent in special lessons and transportation to the state competitions, all of which, to my knowledge, my friend would win. My friend insists that she is glad her mother did it all. Now my friend and I are all grown up, and have kids of our own. Last month I attended a mini-concert, if you will, of her daughter playing every variation of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" imaginable. For those of you who are familiar with Suzuki method of teaching music, you know how many variations there are, and I had to sit through about 10 minutes of music. Her daugther is 3 years old, only 6 months older than Jacob. Jacob does not play an instrument. At all. The closest he comes is banging different notes on the piano as hard as he can while singing, "Doe, a Deer" at the top of his lungs. I left my friend's house, feeling like a failure that her child was so much more advanced than mine, and was so as a direct result of mothering intervention. Worried that I wasn't doing enough to ensure my child's excellence at something, I started thinking about what Jacob could do well, and how I could help him excel at that. The answer was clear: swimming. Jacob loves to swim, and can do it fairly well for a kid his age. I started asking people about swim teams, competitions, etc. His swim teacher said that I should wait until he's at least 4 to start him as a competitive swimmer, just because then he would be closer to the other kid's sizes. But then I starting thinking about it, andI'm really not sure that it's my responsibility to make sure that Jacob becomes an Olympic swimmer, just as I'm not sure that it's my friend's responsibility to make sure her 3 year old becomes a concert violist. And yet it is clear that those people who demonstrate excellence in certain things have their parent's dedication and direct involvement to thank for it. At what point do we intervene to make our children great, and when do we just let kids be kids? Am I stunting my son's growth because I let him play with his toys all morning, baked cookies with him in the afternoon, and am currently letting him play on his bike outside while I blog? No culture or music or learning today--just kid stuff. We are, however, going swimming later. You know, just to keep Jacob's skills up :).


Blogger annegb said...

Because I failed music, I wanted my kids to be musical. I made them all take lessons, starting at the age of 8. The boys lasted a couple of years, didn't do too bad, but not their thing. My stepdaughter spent over a year at the piano, and then one day as we were having yet another fight about practice, I asked her to show me middle C (even I knew that). She couldn't. Some people just aren't meant for music. She's artistic, funny, and talented in other ways.

My baby girl bothered me until I let her take lessons and never looked back. It was her thing. I say be careful as you watch for what entrances them and give them all the encouragement you can, not push, encourage.

This from the woman who did it all wrong the first time.

6/21/2005 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger Julie M. Smith said...

For every concert pianist or Olympic swimmer, there are ten thousand familes that had more stress, financial problems, relationship conflicts, and squandered chidhood time because the parent(s) pushed an activity on a child.

6/21/2005 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger The Wiz said...

I feel your pain. I want my children to do soccer, gymnastics, swimming, muscial instruments, (at least 2), singing, ballet, karate, ice skating, and art, to name the things off the top of my head. They mostly want to play Barbies.

So for now, we're just doing swimming and gymnastics, and seeing if they continue to ask for the other things. I will push the music thing on them at first, just because it's so good for them. If they hate it immensely, we'll renegotiate.

I'm big on kid time, but I'm so scared that I'll get to the judgment and God'll say, "Why didn't you develop their talents?" And all I'll be able to say is "Because I was blogging."

6/21/2005 04:56:00 PM  
Blogger Mrs. M said...

Heather, you're doing a fine job of being a mom and letting him be a kid. Those are good and happy things that he is doing. I think a lot of kids are over-scheduled these days.

On a related side note, I'm a Suzuki violin teacher and thought you might be interested to read this blurb from my introductory studio materials:

"The Suzuki approach deals with much more than teaching a child how to play an instrument. It seeks to develop the whole child, to help unfold the child’s natural potential to learn and become a good and happy person. The purpose of Suzuki training is not to produce great artists, but to to produce great people and to help every child to discover the joy of making music. (This is not to say that Suzuki has not produced great artists! One example is Martin Chalifour, the concert master of the LA Philharmonic.) Through the Suzuki growing process, children thrive in a total environment of support; they develop confidence and self-esteem, determination to try difficult things, self-discipline and concentration, as well as a lasting enjoyment of music, and the sensitivity and skill for making music."

6/21/2005 06:14:00 PM  
Blogger lchan said...

It's an interesting question. If your main goal is for your child to excel in something, then you better start now ((pressure)). But if your main goal is for your child to be happy, then just do what you're doing and take it as it comes.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with kids that are devoting a lot of time to one thing - if they enjoy it and are happy with it, great. If it's for the parent's ego, then it seems like a a waste.

My girls are in ballet. The older they get the more intense it gets. If they keep up with it, in high school they'll be expected to practice 15-25 hours a week. That's a lot, but it will be their decision.

I do still worry about it from time to time, because my oldest has already put so much into it. It's great to see her learn new things and master them, but I do worry about keeping things balanced as she gets older.

6/21/2005 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

I have two succesful and contradictory models. So no sure advice here.

My mother had all her children, boys and girls, take piano lessons from age eight through at least middle school and usually high school. Boys and girls could all play hymns. I love being able to sight read and play the piano. Bless you Mom.

I tried the idea of piano on my daughter Sarah. She couldn't get the concept. She wanted to dance to the music, and you definitely couldn't do that while playing. So she became a dancer. Never looked back. I hauled her to dance lessons from the time she was 3 or 4. She graduated as a dance major and now teaches dance.

But my exhaustion left me not quite ready for Nate. Tried soccer. And then just loved him being a nerd. Which he definitely excels at being.

Can't give you any advice. I'm a bundle of successes and failures.

6/21/2005 10:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Mary said...

My sister and I did suzuki violin all through our childhood/adolescence. Like your friend's daughter, we started with the squeaky "Twinkles" and went on to play more challenging things. Our mom pushed us to practice, but didn't push us to "excell" if you will. Maybe that's a blessing, or maybe it is what kept us from being concert violinists. We did, however, have lots of fun as kids playing and being creative and working and doing all sorts of stuff and I think we all turned out okay. A few years ago, one of our sisters got married and asked us to play at her wedding. My sister and I had the best time practicing and goofing around on our violins and even though we definitely weren't terribly polished, it was still great and I think we're happy with our talents, mediocre as they may be. I think it sounds like you are doing a great job of raising your boy to be an all around good kid who feels loved and secure. Woudln't you take that over anything else?

6/21/2005 10:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Susan M said...

I read somewhere that the Williams sisters' (the tennis players, Venus and Serena) father, when they were small, saw a woman's tennis match on tv and found out how much the winners make per match (I think it was $22K), and went out and put all his daughters in tennis lessons.

But I think Tiger Woods' dad had the right idea. He started Tiger on golf as soon as he could walk. Do you kno w why golf is the game to get your kids into? It's a sport with longevity. You don't blow out a knee or lose your stamina. You can play till you're 70. Think about the money and success he's already earned, at his age, and how long of a career he still has ahead of him!

But I'm a lazy mom who never got her kids involved in anything.

6/22/2005 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger Melissa said...

I think we're too often caught up in the "success" of things. You don't have to be a concert violinist (or pianist) to enjoy playing an instrument. And I think the enjoyment and appreciation I've gained from playing is worth the stress my mother went through to get me to that point.

Becuase, I think, not every kid will immediatly get there. But, it's (usually) worth it in the end if you get them to commit to something until they succeed at it. (BTW, I like Suzuki, but honestly, if you're going to learn one instrument, play the piano. It's much more versatile than any others. No, I'm not biased. :)

That being said, there was a time when my oldest wanted to be an Olympic gymnast and I decided that there was no way I was going to put in the money, time, and effort it would take for her to realize that dream. Perhaps that makes me selfish, I don't know.

6/22/2005 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa M. said...

My philosophy is, help your kids define what intrest they have, and then cultivate it. Support them, and encourage them. What ever the intrest is.

That doesn't mean that they shouldn't learn outside their desire. Meaning, if they are really good at soccer, then that doesn't mean that they don't have to take piano lessons...I think that the more you expose your children too, the better off in the long term they are. But, that doesn't mean you have to have fourty lessons a week.

Those are my thoughts.

I through out my child/adolesence I took at one time or another: piano, organ, accordian, violin, track, swimming,sanchronized swimming, gymnastics, ballet, tap, jazz, caligraphy, ceramics, and so forth.

My Mom was terrified of water, and couldn't swim. Since we had a pool, and there was a public pool with in walking distance, she insisted that we learn to swim. I don't remember NOT knowing how to swim. Because swim team was cheaper than lessons, from the time I was 4, I was on the swim team (the fee's were cover with a season family pass) I can remember trying out for the swim team. (You had to swim one lap with out stopping). So that was *my* nitch.

I was decent. I still to this day swim. I wasn't an olympian, but I did spend a majority of my time (even in college) swimming.

The other things I did, helped me become more of a well rounded person, and add to my list of things, I know a little bit about...*chuckle*

Heather, loving your kids is the most important thing. You are doing JUST fine. *Smile* Good luck to you.

6/22/2005 01:03:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

My 7 year old daughter's first piano lesson was yesterday! $7 per half hour lesson from a 17 year old in our ward. She's been teaching for 2 years and other parents & kids love her.
So I'm excited. Even paying for someone right at this moment to tune and fix the sticky keys.
With having THREE kids, I know I have to pace activities for
a) affordability- If I'm spending $100 for one kids, once the third kid is older will I be able to afford $300/month for all three? Probably not. So, I can't do that.
b) my time - if lessons and baseball practices are 2, 3, or more times a week, can I actually chauffeur 3 kids to all those activities?
c) child's interest & temperament - my older child is more active, more motivated and thrives with structure, my middle needs more downtime and isn't nearly as interested in going to a group type lesson (let alone private). We made it through baseball, but now I think he needs some off time.

So, with these things in mind, I didn't start my kids in expensive activities at age 3. I waited first grade for sports. I waited until now for piano. That way I don't have to start the younger kids super early either, and so hopefully we can afford for them to have some lessons in sports, dance, music, art, etc.
My biggest issue at the moment is ALL the possibilities with my 7 year old daughter. She is interested in EVERYTHING, and is pretty well rounded. No obvious talent in one area, except math, and that doesn't lend itself to after school lessons at this time. So with so many choices (baseball, soccer, basketball, volleyball, ballet, gymnastics, piano, swimming, art) how am I supposed to choose???? She will happily to anything and everything. Our city rec centers have some great programs that are affordable.
So we're kind of making our way through lots of things, testing them out. But then I think, oh no, she'll be a jack of all trades and master of none.

6/22/2005 02:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Can Jacob swim without water wings or other floatation devices? If so, that's pretty advanced. How did he get started? My son -- who is pretty close in age to Jacob, I think -- absolutely loves the water, and is in the pool several times a week, but only with water wings (or noodles, or inflated rings). Is he ready to swim for real?


6/22/2005 08:23:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


Yes, Jacob can swim without water wings or any flotation device. In fact, I can let him swim without even getting in the water with him, although I do try not to socialize with other moms too much so I can watch him like a hawk the whole time.

We started taking lessons when Jacob was 18 months old, mainly because he loves the water and we didn't have much else to do in Little Rock. He took to the water really well, and could swim underwater and was diving off the diving board by the time he was 2 and a half. He couldn't come up for air on his own, though, so we always had to be within arm's reach. Now he's figured out how to come up for air, so I let him swim around on his own. He's not strong enough to swim across the whole pool unassisted, though, so when he's in the deep end, I need to again be within arm's reach.

And we go swimming every day. He gets really grumpy if we don't.

6/23/2005 08:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay Heather, you've inspired me. I'm going to sign my three year old up for lessons. He loves the water, but doesn't like going under. I think I'll need professional help to get him to lose the water wings. One of our problems is that our pool is a lap pool, with no shallow end.


6/23/2005 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


It could be kind of tough to teach your kids on your own if you can't stand in the pool while they learn. I think having a parent in the pool helps at first, because the kids like to jump to you, and it makes them feel more secure. Jacob's first swim lessons were Mommy and Me classes, and I was the first one to dunk him under the water, not a stranger. Also, I could always tell him how many times we were going to go under, or if we were done going under, etc, and I think he trusted me more than he would have trusted an unknown teacher. Now, of course, he doesn't care what I'm doing, just as long as he can swim.

Interestingly, though, when his teacher now takes the kids over to the deep end to work on diving, something Jacob basically already knows how to do, he won't do it, because, he says, "Mommy told me not to." I did tell him he wasn't allowed to dive in the shallow end (we had a very scary incident when he dove into water 1 and a half foot deep), and no amount of encouragement on the teacher's part will make him dive into 12 feet of water. He'll gladly jump, but not dive. Go figure.

6/23/2005 05:00:00 PM  
Blogger The Wiz said...

My daughter would not go under the water either, for a long time, and it took a professional to do it. Now we prouldy shows off putting her whole head under water, but it was a long time before she would ever do it. Of course, I have water issues of my own, so I would not feel comfortable with saying, "Ok, now I'm going to dunk you." I just couldn't do it.

6/23/2005 06:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should clarify -- our pool has a shallow end, but at the shallowest it's 3 and a half feet, so the little guy can't touch the bottom. He does jump to me off the side of the pool, but he also seems to suck in water when he goes under, so he hates it. Hopefully with professional help he'll catch on quickly. Or maybe I'll just start dunking him this weekend and see how that goes...


6/23/2005 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger jbn said...

In my experience, having taught many children of both ages, a 3-year-old who starts a string instrument and a 5 or 6-year-old who starts a string instrument are both at about the same level at age 7. I say you wait a few years, enjoy your cookie-baking olympic swimmer, and then start Jacob on the violin (or cello if you have any taste at all) and they'll be playing the same piece within a year or two. You do know that it is a race to the finish to see which kid learns more notes first before he's an adult... You will find that in learning an instrument w/a child, the joy is all in the learning just like anything else. If it's for any other reason, don't do it.

6/25/2005 02:21:00 AM  
Anonymous JKS said...

If Jacob is already an amazing swimmer, he has natural talent and you have provided opportunity for him to learn/explore/pursue that talent. In fact, you take him swimming almost every day????

6/25/2005 03:45:00 AM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


WE have a pool in our community that is free to residents, so it's easy to take him swimming. And yes, we go pretty much every day.


Thanks for the comments about kids ending up at the same place at 7. That makes me feel like I've got a couple more years before I've completely blown Jacob's chances at a decent musical education!

6/25/2005 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

Sorry, that double capitalized "WE" was a typo--I didn't mean to be so emphatic!

6/25/2005 11:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So my boy's first swim lesson was today. He's been excited about it all weekend. Even on the way to the pool he was jittery with anticipation. But as soon as he got to the pool and saw the other kids, he decided that he was too "shy" to get into the pool. So he sat there for 30 minutes, watching the other kids and scorning the teacher's attempt to convince him to get in the pool. We'll see how it goes tomorrow.


6/27/2005 09:08:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


One of the hardest things to do is to get a kid comfortable in the water, and they have to, above all, trust the person they are getting into the water with. And if you violate that trust, it takes a long time to get it back. One time I dunked Jacob after I told him I wouldn't do it anymore (the teacher wanted to try a different way of going under), and he was, rightfully so, absolutely furious. He got out of the pool, and wouldn't come back in. The next lesson, he refused to get in until I promised that we wouldn't do any dunking at all, and when his face came even close to the water, he would scream and flail and cling to me like a little monkey. It took about 2 more weeks for me to gain his trust.

Bottom line: You just can't push it with something as scary as swimming. You just have to give them lots of opportunities to keep trying and get in there on their own terms.

6/28/2005 12:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize that no one is interested, but just to update: On Day 3 and 4 of swimming lessons, my little guy got with the program, did everything the teacher asked, and even dunked his head in the water by his own choice. (Our teacher is of the "only when he's ready" variety). He's not close to actually swimming, but it's progress. Thanks for your tips, Heather!


7/01/2005 02:50:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


I care, I'm interested! Congrats--sounds like your little one is well on his way to water fun. Soon the problem will be getting him OUT of the water!

7/04/2005 01:39:00 AM  

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