When parents don't agree?

September 18, 2007 at 05:00 PM · Mom's style is to give them healthy food & sunshine, & let them decide what they want to do. Dad thinks parents have a right to expect certain things from their kids. He wants them to play an instrument, a sport, be in a club or group such as Scouts. (They choose what, but not whether.) He says his oldest would choose TV all day; not an option. I am working to stay out of it. Both at times say things to me, & I just nod & smile. The biggest difficulty for me is that when he is unavailable due to work, the kids don't practice. The eldest is old enough I deal with her directly on this, but the little ones need a parent to re-teach & supervise. I could decide to not teach them. Luckily I could fill the spots & do this as a sideline, not for groceries. But I'm reluctant, in part because I like the kids & think I'm getting somewhere with them (if slowly), & would not like to be the one who highlights the conflict to the parents. Thoughts? Sue

Replies (25)

September 18, 2007 at 05:53 PM · Wow Sue, what a pickle.

I tend to lean more toward the Dad's ideas. I believe is is right to expect specific work from children versus letting them do whatever they want. As he implies with the constant TV viewing observation, the nature of childhood is foolishness and children will not generally make good choices for the long term, if tempted by something more fun or easy in the short term.

Absolutely stay out of it between the parents. Since you don't need the money, you might consider working with the older child, as it sounds like you can reason with him. Then, as he shows progress, the family may galvanize around lessons for the others. You could simply say when the Dad's schedule frees up you will teach the young ones, or they need to be older to work independently at home. Nothing succeeds like success. If the older one progresses, there is a higher likelyhood the little ones will be swept along.

September 18, 2007 at 06:10 PM · Stay twenty miles away from the family situation. Treat it like a black box.

September 18, 2007 at 06:20 PM · Hey Sue, I have seen this before with a few of my students. Agreed with above: Stay out of the family political dynamics.

You could try a sit-down meeting with the kids and the Mom, show them how to fill out a practice chart, and lay down the law. Practice is every day, and Mom has to sit in on all the lessons. You could try this, but be prepared to fire up the waiting list (insert smiley face here).

I actually don't think it matters how many students you have. The respect should be the same, whether you have five students or two hundred students (perish the thought). Do you respect your students less just because you don't teach full time? Well, of course not. The numbers are irrelevant. In fact, you can be MORE picky!

Also, I don't understand how "healthy food and sunshine" means that the kids can't practice every day. Good luck!

September 18, 2007 at 08:10 PM · Tell the parents to try this tack. ;)

When the kids learn to play a piece--even if it's not grand, but clearly the result of lots and lots of practice--reward them. Tell them it's for being so impressive and entertaining. Find ways to suggest to them, without outright telling them, that people who can play music and such are placed on pedestals by those around them, and dinners out or trips to amusement parks, etc., are direct results of being so admired. Then, don't pressure them at ALL to practice or play. One thing we never get over as we get older is our tendency to love doing the things we don't actually have to, while hating to do the things over which we believe we have no choice.

If you don't have to do something, but to do it brings you great rewards, well...I think a little bribery painted as being a natural result of hard work will be just the motivation they're looking for.

I know this poses the danger of creating attention-and-fame-craving monsters, but such drive is exactly what causes people to become famous (at least, when they're actually able to become so), and I have yet to hear a parent say, "God, I hope my kid doesn't grow up to be wealthy and well-known!"

September 18, 2007 at 07:30 PM · I tend toward the dad's view of things too--in theory--but as a mom, I take strong exception to a family style in which dad sets the rules and then mom gets stuck implementing them, enforcing them, and taking the rap when they break down. The mom may be balking at implementing dad's rules here because, well, it's just too much for her to handle. Healthy food and sunshine are a lot of work in and of themselves, if you're trying to provide these on your own.

I have a number of problems with the writings of S. Suzuki, one major one being a chapter in _Ability Development_ where he illustrates a theoretical family involvement in kids' music. In his scenario, the mother attends all the kids' lessons and practice sessions while the father gets treated to a little family "concert" on the weekend. Other places in this book, Suzuki charmingly slams American mothers for being too selfishly absorbed in social activities and "shopping" to properly attend to their children's practicing.

Okay, rant off. All I'm saying is, do not unconsciously reinforce that kind of a dynamic, which is unfair to mothers and untenable for many families.

Sure, insist that an adult be present at lessons and supervise practice time, but include both parents in that discussion, not just the mother, and don't focus all your efforts on changing her behavior. Meet with both of them together and don't use one or the other of them as a go-between.

I think it may be likely that dad doesn't fully understand the time/effort costs in the trenches of what he wants. His expectations need to be backed up with some effort on his part, too. If he can't do any of the supervising or attend lessons himself, even on an occasional basis, something has to give--and what gives shouldn't automatically be mom. Perhaps a general lecture on expectations and time management, again aimed at *both* parents, would help.

But it may be that this family's priorities are incompatible with the kind of music study that you would like to have with their kids. In which case, I think you wouldn't have anything to feel guilty about if you decided you had to stop working with them.

September 18, 2007 at 08:21 PM · Sue:

The advice on staying out of the middle of the family dynamics is a good idea (unless you've had training in family counseling).

However, in your studio, you are the one in charge. The idea is that whatever is going on at home, in your studio you are on your own turf and you set the rules.

Based on that (and I don't know how practical or feasible this is), you could invite both parents to a lesson, JUST to 1) observe, and 2) see your method of working. They would have to sit and watch and listen. You would then be sure to do some things (in your own style) that support the mother's point of view and some that support the father's. If there is something in it for each of them, and with both of them there at the same time, maybe you can indirectly facilitate a cease-fire and a little bit of cooperation.


Anyway, tough situation. Good luck.

Cordially, Sandy

PS. A colleague of mine once described a family therapist as a referee in a game that has no rules.

September 18, 2007 at 08:14 PM · Though I like the dad's view, qualified by Karen's remarks, I think setting goals in the terms of a,b and c might stop them from realizing there is d, e and f as their life progresses. People must be self starting, and not fall into the Willy Lowman trap when things go wrong.

Also, children are in that early exploration phase up through about 10 at least, and just learning to put away their things is expansive enough I think.

If they 'love' something, they will stick with it over a lifetime. I'm still not sure about those 5 year-olds starting lessons and feel the most effective discipline, is a child's own discovery of discipline with plenty of genuine encouragement.

So, I'm outside the prodigy box in my thinking-yes. But concerning the parents, tolerating this frustrating triad of thought, I'd match my assertiveness to theirs for your own well being. "I'm a teacher and this is my view....--I cannot answer the great mysteries of the universe, and have had to find my way with my own children, and etc." If you have to show them contrasting views, charge them for a lesson.

I agree that you would not wish to get entangled in this, but if you just uh,huh, and mm,hmm, it may come off as not being genuine. So in that you have felt strong enough to ask, consider just showing a couple contrasting views for the parents; and, reserve your words with the other child because it will not be held in confidence--I'm sure.

Allan Greenspan says it succinctly: "...central planning does not work".

September 18, 2007 at 08:34 PM · Would it not just be simpler to say what you expect of your pupils irrespective of family dynamics.If you expect your pupils to practice everyday and have a parent present at every lesson just tell the both of them .That way they can decide if your teaching style is what they are looking for for their children.If one parent is not willing to tow the line then it probably will be impossible to teach the children as they will sense the conflict between their parents on this matter and play up to it.Children can be very clever.

September 18, 2007 at 11:38 PM · Greetings,

I agree with Janet. If you do anythign other than setting your own clear fair rules which students/parents can choose to follow or leave you are playing their games.

One thing I think I have leanrt the hard way over many years of getitng it wrong is as my healer/friend often says to me `Don`t take on other people`s #%&'`



September 19, 2007 at 03:32 AM · "Children can be very clever."

That is so true, and so misunderstood--Margaret Meade was duped as well--unfettered childhood indeed!

September 19, 2007 at 12:25 PM · Dear All, Thanks for insightful comments, perspective as parents, etc. I knew this was bigger than I had been thinking when I had it on my mind (again) as I woke up. A few add't. bits (if you are interested.)I have used assignment book & practice chart. They lose them. One or both parents are there, but the 2 not playing get wild quickly. Both parents go on the defensive if I set boundaries or suggest they bring books or.... This is not exactly a situation where Dad sets rules and expects Mom to make them happen. He takes charge of it when he is there, and says it won't happen if he is working. Don't know the emotional load of his resignation on her. Not touching that one! I think a part-time job and 3 kids are too much for her to handle. Lacks something needed in management skills. They used to drive the kids to school (missed bus), make daily "emergency" trips with forgotten items until teacher stepped in about letting the eldest sink or swim. Say what you expect (to parents and kids) is a great reminder.I taught plenty in school where there was no parent available ever, and they did OK. Sue

September 19, 2007 at 01:03 PM · so you are trying to teach the kids with parents who behave like kids:)

i hate to sound inconsiderate since i am a parent with kids.

but, you will probably end up getting ulcers if you try to convert the parents to your liking. the kids are probably not going to change because the parents set the direction. bottom line, you do what you can within your comfort zone. if within this chaotic family dynamic the kids can manage to find a little inner peace through the beauty of music, you have done the family good.

as long as they pay you for your time and effort, as long as you give your best prof guidance on violin, that is all...

the whole family should be grateful you can take their carp:)

September 19, 2007 at 01:06 PM · This calls for Shalom in the home rather than v.com ;)

September 19, 2007 at 02:50 PM · Really sounds like the parents themselves are pretty disorganised. It would be difficult to instill discipline in the kids if the parents do not set a good example.

For me, it is pretty much the other way round. I have 2 boys and the father's idea is that they spend more time outdoors. For me, the "stipulated" daily practice is mandatory - I even type out a practice plan and progress chart after every lesson. I sit through all lessons and practices, reteach (esp theory part) if necessary. Since Dad is busy with work most of the time, I manage the boys' music education. So, in reality there is not much of a confilct since I (the mommy) is the dominant voice in domestic affairs.

September 19, 2007 at 02:54 PM · Hey Sue,

They lose assignment books and practice charts. OK, fine, everybody loses stuff. Have they lost them more than once?

For me, "the 2 not playing get wild quickly. Both parents go on the defensive if I set boundaries or suggest they bring books or..." is a real deal-breaker. All kids get cagey, but still. If you think there is a chance of making this work, you might want to try to have a family meeting, put down behavior and practicing expectations in writing, and draw your line in the sand. Put the whole lot of them on notice.

I would also think about this: How many students did you turn away that could have filled these time slots? Students that practice, students that have lovely manners, students with parents that listen to you, keep you apprised of the student's life, and bring you chocolate...Good luck!!!

September 19, 2007 at 03:38 PM · The parents sound like they are doing what they can, and they have more issues than you can or should have to get involved with.

Since you said that you've taught kids in school who had no parent available and they did okay, what about, for this family, disconnecting from the parents? Just have them drop off the eldest one for his lesson, and take the younger ones away (because "they're not ready yet") and give the kid a lesson. How old is he? Put him in charge of his own practice log, etc., and leave mom and dad out of it. Let the other ones start lessons when they're old enough to be responsible for themselves.

My parents played almost no role in my musical education, which started when I was 7 in public school. They drove me to lessons and rehearsals (and dropped me off), and came to concerts to be in the audience, but that was it. They never sat in on any of my lessons, ever, nor did they supervise any of my practice time, ever. I kept a practice log, when I did, because my teacher told me to and told me how to do it. I'm probably not as good a violinist today as I would have been if I'd had the ideal involved music parent when I was a kid. But I didn't have that, and neither do these kids. And in spite of that I still turned out okay, and I still play the violin (and viola) at a pretty high level as an adult amateur. Perhaps in these kids' case too, the perfect (i.e. the expectations on the parents that they can't meet) is the enemy of the good.

September 19, 2007 at 03:53 PM · As a parent of 3 chidren, two of which are in violin lessons. I can relate to this thread.

At first I must say that each child is different and has a different musical view. My older daughter is very talented and my second daughter is too... when she wants to be :) and my young son needs to be in something or he will just sit on the couch and do nothing. I don't believe in labeling children as "the smart one" or "the musical one" or the "pretty one" like so many parents did when I was young. Do they still do that?

My kids know that when they go to each others lessons (different teachers) that out of respect for the teacher and sib that is in the lesson... they must be quiet and behave or I will yank them out of the room no questions asked and privileges taken away if the behavior is really bad. Of course this applies to scouts or sports as well. There is a time and place to be rowdy and loud.

There have been times when my kids don't practice all the time that the teacher wishes them too. I have two other kids that have needs too and of course "life" just happens.

We have started taping our lessons. That gives them something to play along with and remember advise the teacher gives.

I would try to stay out of it. If the kids are too rowdy during the lesson then something should be said.

September 19, 2007 at 08:57 PM · So Sue do you have at any one time one child having a lesson and four members of the family sitting in? or have I misunderstood.No way would I have unruly siblings sit in on a lesson and I dont usually have parents even for the very young ones.A lesson requires a great deal of concentration on the part of both student and teacher.Throw the rest out of the room!!!

September 20, 2007 at 12:14 AM · Hi,Janet, Good question, and thankfully not the scenerio that four sit while 1 plays. I teach afternoons & early evenings in a facility which is a pre-school during AM hours. there is a small room which I close off where I give the lessons. The outer room is pretty big, there's tempting stuff which belongs to the school, there's no sound barrier. The location works for everybody else, and it really works for me since it is convenient, clean, lighted parking, otherwise empty, and my rent is $5 an hour. Yes, that's the correct figure. Sue

September 20, 2007 at 05:09 AM · I've had kids in music lessons for years. It is important to me that all of my kids learn to play an instrument(s). With that in mind, it has always been my responsibility to get them to and from lessons, help them practice, etc. My husband does not have the time nor the patience.

I would think it a rare family when both parents are equally devoted to their children learning to play an instrument.

It is a big time commitment for me when I have three kids practicing after school and they play a combined six instruments. My youngest needs me to help her with both piano and violin. I really don't know how a very young child could succeed without a parent to guide them during practice. My youngest is seven and she would never be able to do her violin lesson on her own. With her piano lesson I help her the first couple of practices then she can usually go with it. I always listen to all of their practices and give them feedback IF they ask for it. I have learned to not be too critical or they do tend to resent you for it!

Sue, you are the best judge of whether the youngest children are practicing correctly, or at all. You could also explain to the parents that it is not a good use of their money to keep the youngest in lessons if the child is not practicing or making any real progress because he/she is simply too young to be trying to master the instrument solo.

September 20, 2007 at 04:22 AM · "I would think it a rare family when both parents are equally devoted to their children learning to play an instrument."

Being a fan of English novels--by accident, I'd sure have to agree on that one. That's why I don't have kids yet. Be grateful for our volunteer military--especially the navy. ;)

September 20, 2007 at 06:18 AM · Hi Sue,got the picture now,so you have one ear listening out for the siblings ranscking the toys in the next room.I once had a mother that allowed her children (whilst waiting for their brother to finish his violin lesson) to wander off unsupervised to another part of the building where I teach where they subsequently went fishing in an aquarium.For my own peace of mind and the safety of the next generation of fish I had to have a quiet word (actually more like the screaming abdabs) with her.

September 20, 2007 at 12:52 PM · Hi,again,Janet, Sorry for the fish and for you, but comic relief to hear another similar story. Big contrast to the mother of 5. When little R., age 5 and not playing an instrument yet went for the toys, Mom pulled her up short, with, "Those are not ours. You must ask Mrs.B. nicely what you might be allowed to use." Stopped little R. from interrupting a social conversation between us,too. Oh,yeah... Some parents should give lessons :) Sue

September 22, 2007 at 02:06 PM · Latest in this little saga. At the last lesson, Mom was clearly shocked when I said "See you next week." Dad had e-mailed to schedule weekly. Last term was every-other due to various stuff. So I sent a cordial, just-the-facts e-mail to both, saying either plan could work, both their perspectives valid to me, perhaps we could hold a conference to plan the term. Works/Doesn't? ... but feel better to do something more constructive than tiptoeing along on the fence. Sue

September 22, 2007 at 03:07 PM · I still have the jeebies because they've involved you in their dysfunctional intrigue. But, I'm not surprised either, having worked with the public for years.

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