where wildly different is perfectly normal
THAT parent
THAT parent

THAT parent

If you have taught youth sports or band or anything involving youngun+activity, you know THAT parent. The one who has a less than healthy interest in their precious snookums’ participation in the activity (think Toddlers and Tiaras, but with less mascara and overall creepiness). Making the kid play an instrument because it would be good for him/her, or because aforementioned parent was first chair accordion, or for another line on the college application. I used to see it all the time, both as a band director and as a flute teacher, and I always swore I’d never be like that. To this day I haven’t crossed that line, continuing to parent more in the flavor of “benign neglect.”

I’m struggling mightily, folks.

Tonight is the school’s band/orchestra Dog and Pony Show, where the teacher introduces the instruments to 4th and 5th graders and gets them enrolled. In Colorado, instrumental music often doesn’t begin until 6th grade (don’t even get me started on why that is a bad idea), so we missed out last year. I have done enough of these intro to instruments meetings to do them in my sleep, and tonight I probably will. It’ll be the only way I’ll be at an instrumental introduction this year.

A flat-out refuses to play an instrument.

This hurts a lot more than I thought it would. Between the two of us, Tom and I have 14 years of higher education in music. We both taught band, both count our years playing as some of the best of our lives…for God’s sake, we met at band camp. Yes, please, make the jokes. So to have a child who could play three partials on a trumpet at age three refuse to join band is another twist of the knife that particular child inserted into my heart years ago. It’s doubly painful because he is a natural musician, and it ain’t mama talkin’ here, it’s the music teacher. He can sing on pitch, he can keep perfect rhythm, and he’s been able to do that for years. But he refuses. Won’t even discuss it.

He is in no extra-curricular activities. While a lot of kids are painfully over scheduled, he is woefully under scheduled. He is in nothing beyond Cub Scouts, and that is non-negotiable. Say what you will about their policies, and I’ll politely listen, but it’s good for him and he’s not dropping. Period. But no sports, no clubs, no music, no nuttin’. He briefly mentioned last week that he was considering running for Student Council and I nearly dislocated my jaw when it hit the floor and bounced several times. Haven’t heard a peep about it since.

I used to take A to Mommy & Me classes, or to various activities. He would go a few times and then refuse to go ever again…and if you think I was just caving in to keep the peace, you’re absolutely right. He is The Most Stubborn Child On The Planet and in a battle of wills I had to let it go. Eating and sleeping and school and behavior and things of those sort were the hills I was willing to die on, not dropping running club or karate. Eventually I quit taking him or offering to sign him up for something. Easier on both my psyche and wallet.


He’s getting to the age where friends are where the activities are, and with a new school, I worry about his lack of involvement. It’ll create a few dozen new grey hairs next year when he’s in middle school (ohsweetbabyJesusonrollerbladesmiddleschool!). I want to push him past his comfort zone and make him do something, but I’m not sure I have the intestinal fortitude for the follow through. It’s one thing to sign the kid up for band, it’s something entirely different to enforce daily practice (I believe if you’re eating, you’re practicing…you may skip any day you’re puking in a bucket). And battles need to be saved for homework and school projects.

Sigh…I don’t know.

So I’m going to let band go. And it hurts, so very much. If, however, he hops off the bus in a few minutes saying he changed his mind because his new friend is signing up for band…well, I’ll have him in the car and over to the demo before the words can dissipate over his head.

But I won’t be THAT parent.


If you’re here from yesterday’s 2e Newsletter link, welcome! You have no idea my shock when I discovered they’d linked here. I think I may have squealed, I certainly sat with my jaw dropped, and I am honored they linked up.


  1. /ei

    Oh I’m so glad the 2E newsletter linked to you yesterday, because I feel like maybe you live in my head. Sort of anyway. I’m not a music teacher but I was involved in musical theatre my whole life…the kids’ father was “in a band” when I met him. And they don’t care at all about music (the vocal music part of it makes me want to die a little bit-my brother is an opera singer for cryin’ out loud). My little one loves theatre and art though, so I guess I just have to accept that. The older one…AV club awaits.

    1. Jen

      I hear that a lot, that I live in people’s heads. LOL! We all seem to live similar lives, but never say what we really want to say.
      My youngest, now 7, played violin for about a year when he was 4. HE wanted it, not me. Sadly, he had a miserably poor teacher and quit. I’m afraid he won’t return.
      Oh, and A would kill to be in an AV club right now. LOL

  2. I went through the same thing with Stud Muffin. It KILLED me. He did agree to let me sign him up for drum lessons one summer, but then promptly decided to quit after 4 measly lessons. He didn’t like that the teacher actually expected him to practice! The nerve, right?

    It still makes me sad that he never wanted to learn an instrument. His best friend plays a guitar and has formed a band, and has been begging Stud to at least be the lead singer. He still won’t do it. Grrrr…

  3. Not sure I’d pick an instrument either, with personal and family histories like those, and with your insistance that if he can eat he can play. That would be a LOT of pressure.

    My parents were HUGE American history people – degrees, jobs, books, you name it, and I HATED it. I put up with it in early elementary, then just balked, and wouldn’t talk history AT ALL. Turned out I fell in love with ancient and medieval history. Maybe your son will start composing in a few years, or pick up a guitar in college, or find that his partner LOVES to be serenaded. If music is in his bones, it WILL come out, eventually!

    Can I offer some cognitive restructuing on the no extracurricular thing? Maybe he’s unschooling himself. Obviously he’s doing *something* mentally during those “down” hours every day. Especially if you just moved, he might be exploring his new environment, thinking about how he’d like to interact with it. Or he might be planning a novel, or something. Give him time – he’s at the last real age when he can actually HAVE some.

    1. Jen

      I think I butchered a very innocent quote by Suzuki, which was essentially “practice on the days you eat.” He was saying that practicing an instrument should be as natural and daily as eating, not withholding food to make a kid practice. The “puke in a bucket” part was from MY band director; he used it to keep his middle schoolers focused during contest time. I really mangled both pretty badly. For the record, I’d never withhold food from either of my kids, especially A. He is terribly underweight, to the point we’re seeking further medical assistance. Right now it’s the opposite; I’m trying to shove food into him as he protests. Sigh…
      You know, I think if *I* had the patience, A would probably be home schooled, and unschooled at that. He balks at others’ agendas (or studies or homework) being thrust upon him, but if it’s HIS idea get out of his way. When he gets home, he likes to Lego (yes, I made it a verb), to attempt to play Wii before homework (which will NEVER EVER happen again after this evening’s fireworks), and change the settings on my computer to see my brain melt out my ears. I’ve given him so much time over the last several years, not scheduling him with things so he’d HAVE the time to be creative on his own terms. But I also think he needs to start learning to do things on others’ terms as well.
      Not really a good answer any way ya look at it.

  4. My son (gifted/Asperger’s) has NEVER been interested in doing anything even remotely extracurricular, and he has just started high school (ohsweetbabyJesusonrollerbladesHIGHschool!). For him, his world is divided into SCHOOL and NOT SCHOOL (I’m sure you can see the problem with HOMEWORK already. =), and he uses the NOT SCHOOL time to decompress. I struggle routinely with not forcing him to join clubs or pick up a hobby that doesn’t involve a controller, and he’s just too old for his mom to arrange play dates! Maybe we both suffer from PTSD from all those therapies I dragged him to when he was little…

    1. Jen

      Wow. That sounds eerily familiar, even down to the controller. I’ve often thought A knocks on the door of Aspie but I’ve never pushed it.
      And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I had a touch of PTSD…I was so wound today after school I was convinced I was having a heart attack. A little rest drained the cortisol and I felt better, but this is no way to live!

  5. Middle school, oddly enough, saved him/us. I’ll tell you about it sometime. (I’ve blogged about it off and on for a couple of years, but since I blog for my own therapy, I doubt the POSITIVES of those years come through. =)

  6. Anele

    My now 9 y.o. daughter was like your son– really did not want structured activities at all. EVERYTHING had to be on her terms, and this is not the way structured activities are! Even at the age of 2, she changed her name and insisted we call her that . . .roleplaying games at 3 involved her feeding me lines (which I refused to do much of the time, and she never gave up). By 4 she was reading on her own and refused to be read to, just for fun. In school she knew what was expected, so she only did the minimum required. She asked a lot “why do I have to do this?” questions to me– this is when she was 6.

    So, I pulled her out of school (she was 6 and had skipped to 2nd grade). We unschooled for the next three years. I did not push. I saw that the more I pushed, the more she resisted. So, I backed off completely. Nothing academic was required, except for a few days here and there when I panicked about math.

    Instead, I just threw things in her path. She let me start to read with her . . .first, only books she picked, then, we took turns. Now I find books for her, based on her interests, and she appreciates my efforts. (Sometimes actually likes what I pick, too!)

    She did not like the physical act of writing (was OK with dictating), but since I was often not available (I have 3 younger children), she started typing on her own– haikus, stories, plays, blogs, etc.

    Whenever I brought up a math problem, she would clam up. Then, over time, SHE started to bring them up (always applied to daily life). First she would make me answer, and I did . . .then, eventually, she took over to figure things out.

    This year, she decided to go back to school. GUESS WHAT? NOW she wants someone to direct her. I am not saying she is happy with everything required and still questions (though follows) the rules/procedures of school, but she sees the value of the big picture. I think the fact that she had so much freedom (inc. whether or not to go to school) helped remove the resistance factor.

    We put her back into 4th grade instead of continuing to skip. Wondered if all those years of freedom would mean she was unprepared for school. Nope! She has spent so much time reading and exploring her interests that she is ahead. And, get this– she, the girl who used to hate math, was the ONLY student in her class who knew what Fibonacci numbers were, because she read about them in a novelish sort of book (“The Number Devil) a few years ago. Yes, unschooling works! If are financially able to unschool your son for awhile . . .GO FOR IT.

    PS She joined band!

    1. Jen

      I have thought about unschooling for awhile now, and while I’m pretty sure it would be great for A, I’m also pretty sure it wouldn’t be great for ME. I suspect A would follow a very similar path as your daughter, I just don’t know if I have it in me to do it. We will see how the next few months proceed. How he copes with school plus how I’m able to be employed with pretty much decide it.

  7. For us band is a during-school activity and those not in band or strings have a study hall time. If you have it similar, what if he joins the band but you don’t expect him to practice at home. Just don’t bring it up. Let the band teacher talk him into any practice. Judging from my son’s peers, that’s all half of them are doing anyway. I must be in the minority requiring actual practice at home. My rule, for my kid who walks home with a heavy sax, is that if he brings it home he needs to use it. If he decides to leave it there sometimes that’s ok. Not always, but sometimes. The band teacher does check to see what instruments weren’t taken home.

    1. Jen

      Your program is the exception, even though that’s all *I* knew, as a student and as a teacher. Now band (at least to the best of my knowledge) is after school. But you know what he’s been doing for the last four hours here, on a Saturday? Designing and building a Lego boom box. It fulfills him and I have to remember that.

  8. Heather

    You’ve said your son has no interest in joining band…but would kill to be in an A/V club. Maybe a videocam wiil turn out to be the “instrument” he has a passion for. My husband has a fantastic singing voice, and we both know the basics of several instruments that are available for our kids, should the feel so inspired. We adore many kinds of music. But, when he began college, one of hubs’ roommates introduced him to a computer…and there is where hubs’ many other talents find their best use. We go see live music, we find family places to karaoke for fun, and our children love it when Daddy sings to them. Even if your son isn’t interested in formal music, it will probably hold a cherished place in his life, long-term. In the meantime, if there is no school A/V club, is there a not-school one? Maybe through 4-H?

    1. Jen

      He was the video guy for his old school’s morning announcements and blossomed in that role. He LOVED running the camera and giving the GO sign to the announcers when they went live. He’s always playing with iMovie and Podcapture on my computer. I have to find him some sort of club locally that supports that. There’s a place here that combines Lego with stop motion camera; the only reason he’s not signed up is cost. 🙁

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