Our oldest daughter is what I would describe as musically gifted. I know, I know, all parents whose kids can plunk out “Twinkle, Twinkle” think their children are musically gifted. But really, this kid is freakishly musical. She’s one of those who can pick up any instrument and figure out how to play something on it within seconds. As a small child, she would pick out and sing harmonies to lullabies I sang without being taught how. She composed lovely two-handed pieces on our piano without ever having lessons.
At age 6, she decided she wanted to play violin like her best friend. After her first lesson, her teacher pulled me aside and said, “Wow. It’s like she was born with a bow in her hand. Seriously, I don’t see kids like this very often.” I’m telling you. Freakish.
So for six years, our daughter went to weekly violin lessons. We switched teachers early on when it was clear that the first wasn’t a great fit, and she loved the second teacher we chose. She enjoyed playing music, but never liked practicing. By her fifth year, despite having advanced quickly through the standard repertoire, violin was clearly becoming a drag for her. She totally resisted practice time. She wanted to play whenever she felt like it, not be stuck to a routine. It became a battle to get her to practice, even just at a bare minimum. She took some short breaks, but it was never enough. She was starting to hate it. She didn’t want to play anymore. She wanted to quit.
We tried talking her through what we considered natural 12-year-old feelings. We talked about how most adults regret quitting their instruments when they were kids. We talked about how repetition and technique were important skills, even though they weren’t always fun. We discussed how she was used to things coming easily to her, and now that she was at an advanced level, it required more effort. We tried to nurture her love of music, while also encouraging her toward the discipline it takes to develop advanced skills. We tried switching genres and letting her choose what she wanted to play. We tried everything.
She still wanted to quit. And because we could see that her love of music was waning, we let her. After hundreds of hours of work on her part and thousands of dollars invested on our part, we let her quit. No more lessons. No more hounding her to practice. We kept her violin since we had purchased it outright, and we hoped and prayed that she would pick it up again of her own accord. But we had no idea if we were making the right decision.
For a year, she almost never played at all. For another year, she played some Irish fiddle on her own and occasionally dusted off some of her classical pieces. Finally, three years after she stopped playing, she expressed what we had hoped she would eventually realize. “I kind of miss playing the violin,” she said one day. “I sort of wish I’d never quit.”
Now her reason for wanting to pick it up again wasn’t exactly what we thought it would be. At 15, she had started seriously thinking ahead to college, and she knew that she could have a real shot at a music scholarship. Alrighty then! We had moved across the country since she’d quit playing, so we found a new teacher, who we’ve now been with for a few months. Her teacher is amazing, our daughter is playing again, and though she still doesn’t love practicing, she is thriving.
It’s hard to know if we’re making the right decisions for our children, and even harder to know when it’s time to let them make big decisions for themselves. So many parents face similar situations, whether their kids do music, sports, or other activities. We had so many unanswerable questions at the time, most of them rooted in fear. How do you know if a kid is just going through a normal lull or if they really do need a break? What if we let her quit and she resented us for it later? What if she just needed to be pushed a little more? Would those six years have all been a waste of time and money if she never picked up the violin again?
Ultimately, we decided to trust her. We decided that our relationship with her and her relationship to music were more important than our pushing her to do something she was starting to hate. We decided that if she was ever going do anything more with music, it would have to come from her own desire and her own conviction. We decided to go completely hands-off, believing that if it was really something she was meant to do, she’d come back to it eventually. And she did.
Not all kids come back to something after they quit. Sometimes a break is forever, and that’s OK. We had to acknowledge that our daughter was making a big choice, and that she’d have to live with the consequences, whatever they might be. But I’m glad we left it up to her, and I’m glad that we left the door open for her to return to it if and when she was ready. Even if she hadn’t chosen to come back to it, I think that was the right way to handle it with her.
She recently played her first performance in four years, and unsurprisingly, she nailed it. She was happy and proud of how she played, and so were we. But we were even more happy and proud that she had taken responsibility for this aspect of her life, stepped away for as long as she needed to, and followed her inner voice when it said it was time to make music again.