On Children and Commitment

A couple of years ago I took Delphine to audition for the Toronto Children’s Chorus. It’s an excellent choir – or rather, family of choirs, because there are various choirs for different ages and skill levels. They do multiple concerts a year, make recordings, and the more senior choirs even go on international tours. They demand a high level of discipline on the part of the children and commitment on the part of the parents: they are expected to be at every performance and almost every rehearsal. In return they get to sing some amazing, challenging repertoire in a very accomplished choir.

The audition was successful, and Delphine was invited to join the TCC, but when I asked her whether she was interested she said she wasn’t. I was, honestly, a little relieved; I was conflicted as to whether the TCC was a good choice for us, and it was nice to have the decision taken out of my hands. Tonight I talked to someone who had been in the TCC from ages 11 to 16, and what she said confirmed our decision.

I asked her whether she had enjoyed being in the TCC, and she said, “Yeeeess…” while her body language said kinda. “…at the time.”

“So you enjoyed it when you were a kid but in retrospect it kind of sucked?” I asked, half-joking.

“Well, now I know what other activities were available.”

She wished she had done more different activities, rather than focusing all her time on choir. And indeed, if Delphine had joined the TCC I we wouldn’t have had the time or money to put her in any activities other than piano. And I’m just not ready to commit her to one interest at this stage in her life.

(Okay, let’s be honest, I’m not ready to commit me to one interest at this stage in my life, which is why I’m medium-good at a lot of things but expert at none. I’ve yet to decide if this is useful or not, but it’s certainly more fun. But the point is, if I can’t commit myself there’s no way I’m going to have whatever it takes to commit my kid.)

A while ago I read “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, by Amy Chua. There was a lot of food for thought in that book, but one thing that struck me was that she took two perfectly ordinary kids with no particular talent or affinity for music and made them both into prodigies – one on piano, one on violin – by sheer determination and hard work. That means that pretty much every kid out there could be brilliant at something – music, hockey, math, golf, ballet, … – if their parents decided to sink sufficient time and money into making them so. (Or, and this does happen occasionally, if the kid decided to commit to something and the parents supported them.)

But I just can’t do it. Obviously my laissez-faire parenting style will not accommodate 15-hour-a week Tiger Mom practice sessions, but even a commitment like the TCC, one that will crowd out art lessons and ballet and cooking class and hours of unstructured lying-around-with-a-book time, is too much for my kids. Looks like they’ll have to either pursue their own passion (and sell me on supporting it), or be pretty good at lots of things but not expert at anything. Either way, I’m sure they’ll find a way to make it work.

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