I’m a fairly laissez-faire parent. We don’t bathe every night. I don’t grill my kids on their spelling words. Bedtime can best be described as “flexible.” We don’t take extra classes or private lessons so they can excel in academics or athletics. Tiger Mom I am not. In fact, if there were an animal to label my parenting style, it would be more like a sloth than a tiger.
There are a few things that are non-negotiable for my kids however. Kindness is a big one. I expect them to try their hardest, and they need to finish what they started. They have to wear clean underwear and push their chair in after dinner. Also, my kids must — I repeat, must — take Spanish class and music lessons.
When I say that I’m making my kids take Spanish class and piano lessons, images of a perfectionist mom pushing her children to excel might come to mind. But, like I said, I’m pretty lax about most things. I am an average mom, with an average family, raising average kids. My motto can best be described as “good enough.”
So why am I forcing my kids to take piano and Spanish, even though they aren’t interested in either of these activities?
The simple reason is this: I want them to respect and appreciate music and foreign language, regardless of their ability to master them.
As parents, we make our kids do lots of things they don’t want to do. We make them brush their teeth (at least occasionally). We make them go to the dentist and the doctor. We make them study their geometry lessons and practice their spelling. We might make them go to a religious education class.
And we make them do these things not because we want them to become expert teeth-brushers or spelling bee champions, but simply because we know that these things are part of being a healthy, well-rounded, educated person in the world. For these same reasons, I am including music and foreign language in the mix. To me, these are just as important as learning chemistry symbols or mathematics skills.
I don’t care about whether my kids excel at piano or Spanish, or even if they are that good. I do, however, care very much about sending the message that music and cultural awareness are important to being a well-rounded human living in the world — as important as learning mathematics and literature. By simply playing music and practicing a foreign language, regardless of their ability, kids learn that these things matter. They are important. They are valuable.
As my children grow and their interests change, I have no doubt that the ways my husband and I express the importance of foreign language and music will change as well. In fact, there may come a time when, in order to maintain a love of music, we will need to let them step away from traditional lessons and find other ways to prioritize these things. But for now, while my children are young, music lessons and foreign language classes will stay on our list of non-negotiables.
It isn’t so much about whether they become a skilled musician or fluent in a foreign language as it is about sending the message that music and other languages are important. I don’t care if they ever learn to play anything more advanced than “Chopsticks,” or whether they play piano or drums or tuba. I care that they step outside their comfort zone, try something new, and learn to hear things in a different way. Similarly, I don’t care if they are fluent in Spanish or can barely conjugate a verb, or whether they study Spanish, Mandarin, or Arabic. I care that my children appreciate the vastness of the world, celebrate diversity, and develop a strong cultural awareness.
So while I might let them skip their teeth-brushing, dammit, they will be tickling those ivories y hablando en español.