A Personal Parent Story

Being a mom of five kids was not easy.  Somehow they survived their mother’s love of musical theatre and a wide range of musical styles…they taught me so much about how to be a better mom.  

When my children were young I observed them and other children as we attempted to engage them in activities that might become interests and skills.  I learned that at this young age, they may think they know what they’re interested in, but more times than not, they may not know what they are interested in until they experience it.  

My best friend that I grew up with in Hollywood wanted to grow up to be the mother of an OSMOND family.  And she actually did.  She had 8 children!  And they got up at 4 AM and practiced their piano and violins from 18 months old.  At first they got a lot of criticism from their peers.  Then over the years, we watched these kids totally blow the roof off on the stages at Branson and all over the world, and now each of them pursuing careers in the music industry in Nashville.  

Did they know what they wanted when they were 18 months old?  Nope.  Do any of them resent the fact that their parents guided their lives into music without allowing them to choose what they wanted to be or do in life?  Nope.  They are one of the happiest families I’ve ever known.  They have had their sadness and joys, as everyone does.  But they love being together, performing together and they are very close to each other.  It is the music that has kept them together.

Now that’s an extreme. Not every parent could do that.  I don’t think I could.  

But what I did learn, even with my own family is:  You’re the parent.  You know your child better than anyone else.  As a teacher, I’ve seen parents give up too soon on their children.  Or they bounce from one thing to the next without giving it time to mature.  Or they think that kids need to be born with talent and they don’t know how to find the help to develop the talent that’s merely latent in most of us. 

As Winston Churchill once said, “Never give in.”  That’s what my kids taught me. 

My daughter was ready to quit piano at age 7 because her teacher required 3 hours of practice daily (she taught in the Juilliard piano prodigy program, although I would not call my daughter a “prodigy.”  She was just a real kid that practiced hard.)  

She got frustrated because she was stuck and couldn’t play the passage of music right.  She cried and slammed her hands on the piano and stomped away.  I tried to talk to her with no success.  “I quit!  It’s boring! It’s too hard! I don’t like it! I can’t do it!” Door slam.

I let her cool down and then she was feeling better, we talked it through.  I shared my experience that anything in life that wasn’t hard or frustrating at times wasn’t really worth it.  Nothing of value comes easily to most people.  

So I persisted in helping her feel confident when she was frustrated.  She knew she could come to me and I would be there for her.  When she got through the tough stuff, her dad and I let her know how much we respected her commitment to hard work.  And when she got good enough to start performing and competing, we watched as piano, singing, and dancing all became the love of her life.  

At age 12, she was Stamford Connecticut Symphony’s Young Performer of the Year and at age 15, she performed four times on stage at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City.  She performed on stage for Miss America at Planet Hollywood at age 16.  She was seriously just a regular kid, but we had to give her guidance and help her stay the course along the journey. 

It was the same with two of my four boys. I more or less “dragged” them to the first classes for the Texas Boys Choir at age 7 and 8.  They seriously hated it.  But I persisted in a firm, but kind, way explaining that they would soon find the fun in all of it as soon as they started performing.  They might contest the “kind” definition, but they learned they had to WORK to get ready for that performance.  

And, then it happened.  They saw the joy in the performance, and it became a part of their lives.  They were able to record on the Columbia label with that world-renowned choir.  Although they have families of their own, to this day they stay in touch with Texas Boys Choir friends on Facebook. 

Those are great odds, 3 out of 5, actually, especially when you consider it was “mom” trying to managing it. Now, I guarantee you, I was NOT a perfect parent.  In fact, you may not want to ask my kids about that.  They will most likely agree that I made EVERY mistake in the book!  Life happens.  No one gives us a parenting book that always works.  We learn by trial and error, typically.

Case in point: What about the other two boys that didn’t pursue music?  Well, one was 11 by the time I found the boys choir in Dallas.  I literally did try to drag him out the door. That didn’t work.  He was just too big for me to drag him!!!  (Piano lessons were enough.)  Bad memory.

As the years have gone by, just so you know, the other boy did hang in with piano lessons for a while, but in Connecticut there was sadly no Texas Boys Choir. The Juilliard piano teacher approached me with great sensitivity to explain that she had tried everything, and well, he just was not cut out for piano lessons.   And that could be the case with some children, but we won’t know it until it’s tried. 

However, both of those boys, now grown and successfully on their own, have expressed some regret that they gave me such a hard time about music – singing and piano – in their younger years.  

It was challenging teaching my own daughter to sing, and hard on her to be in the musical theatre performing groups or shows I produced or directed because I  had to be fair and not play favorites, which means the solos often went to others.  

I was blown away when I asked my children what they remember most about their childhoods in our family.  Unanimously they all said “MUSIC!”  Yes, they have vivid memories of their nagging, prodding mother and the sometimes raucous family rehearsals when no one cooperated, but overall, they said it’s a positive memory that they now appreciate.

So I’m well aware that this age range, 10-13, is a time when your children will have more opinions about what they want to do or not.  Age 6-9 is different. They typically haven’t yet experienced enough to really know what they want.  Age 14-18+ is a time when they typically know what the love and what they don’t. Some may be slower to that conclusion, especially if they are on the shy side.  Which I was as a child. 

Heaven knows, my mother was extremely worried that her youngest child would never get over it.  So after piano lessons, that scared the heck out of me because the big Russian concert pianist that came to my home each week had a habit of leaning her arm on the keyboard cover as she pointed out the notes to me, which had the effect of slamming the cover on my hands without warning.  I survived.  No serious PTSD.  But then came the big Metropolitan Opera singer.  Age 82.  Still breaking glass.  She literally scared the SHY out of me.  And suddenly it all clicked.  I ended up as the Senior Class Soloist for the Hollywood High School graduation in the Hollywood Bowl, no less.  Changed my life.  So I was slow to come to my own level of confidence or to even know what I loved.  And I learned to love singing.  Thank you, Mom, for never giving in when I made it hard.  

Regardless the age, I encourage you to share anything here that I’ve just shared with you, if it will help.  As a teacher and director, I’m willing to go the distance, if you and your child are! I will do everything I can to provide a positive and rewarding experience, with opportunities to have fun with friends on and off stage.  

Most of all, when they are on stage, they will be helping someone in the audience to be happy in their sadness or to inspire those who are struggling to be better people.  

This is the message and the purpose of The Youth Ambassadors.  As they do this for others, they will feel it themselves.

So I just want to affirm you as a parent.  You are wonderful to be seeking out great experiences for your child.  I hope the Youth Ambassadors can be part of it!