As a piano teacher I meet all kinds of students, families, parents.
Fortunately, I have mostly a lot of simply normal parents in the studio: parents who are supportive, who are realistic when it comes to their children’s potential – they want the best for their children and? but? realize that it takes quite a bit of hard work to realize that potential. They know that lessons can’t always be fun; they are understanding when I have a less-than-glorious day, they keep me updated on what’s going on in their children’s lives because they know that it may affect the children at the lesson, they share with me their parenting challenges and triumphs, etc.
Every once in a while though, a different kind of mom waltzes into the studio: I call her “the delusional mom”. This kind if mother is exuberantly and loudly cheerful, so much so that it seems like there is no cheer left for her child who comes across as somewhere between completely bland and just very quiet, withdrawn. These children do not thrive in my studio, they kind of put up with the fact that they have to be here, but there is no enthusiasm, no desire to learn or improve, regardless of how enthusiastic (or not) *I* am. They don’t argue with me and my requests but are quietly defiant, passive-aggressive. There’s hardly any communication from the child to me; my questions or suggestions are answered with as few mono-syllabic words as they can get away with. Everything – body language, lack of desire to communicate, lack of effort at the piano – everything screams avoidance and “I am here because mom makes me.”
And that’s where the “delusional” comes in: mom is in complete denial that her child is not enjoying the lessons – it is truly stunning. Mom gushes how wonderful everything is, how much her child likes the lessons, all while the child slumps, or rolls their eyes, or otherwise, without words, says, “You’re kidding, right?!”
During the lessons she’ll give an enthusiastic thumbs-up to her child for even the most dreadfully half-hearted attempt at playing a song, and she’ll exclaim, “You are doing sooo GREAT!”
I’ll be the first to praise a student for trying – anything. I praise profusely for giving it your best effort, even if the result is not perfect (yet), maybe especially when the result is not perfect yet. But I am also very specific with what I ask a student to do: for instance, focus on fluency (ignore everything else), or find a tempo slow enough where you can play every note correctly (but ignore dynamics, fluency, beautiful tone, etc.) – and then I praise the student for trying to focus on that one thing at the expense of everything else. When they complain that they didn’t play everything correctly, I say, “Of course not, but that wasn’t the goal, was it. You focused on dynamics, and your dynamics were beautiful. Play it again, and this time see if you can keep the dynamics as beautiful, AND keep a steady tempo!” – or whatever else is on the list.
Maybe I am the delusional one because I *thought* I had educated the parents on how I teach and how we work at the lesson. These moms seem perfectly content – and act over the moon – when their child kind of plays most of the right notes for the fourth lesson in a row, without any regard for details – details we’ve been working on for the last three lessons. They don’t listen when we work on healthy technique, or fluency, or dynamics, or anything else that would elevate the child’s playing above the bare minimum of kind of trying to hit the right notes.
Maybe these moms think that they *have* to be overly and outspokenly enthusiastic, loudly cheering, to lift the child out of their unenthusiastic hole. Except it doesn’t work. The children do NOT become more enthusiastic, involved, motivated, over time.
I guess one of the things that bother me so much about the delusional mom is how low she sets the bar. If I were the child, I’d feel insulted when mom gushingly praises me for shit. I just can’t believe that anyone – and these are educated women – would think that their child is capable of so little. ?
I wish I knew how to deal with this kind of family. When I mention the child’s lack of enthusiasm and motivation to the mom, her jaw drops, “What do you mean? She LOVES her lessons!!” I can point out what I mean but mom will immediately make some sort of excuse, and laughingly explain away why the child “always” slumps or acts disinterested or doesn’t talk much or whatever.
I wonder how these children do in a regular classroom setting.