Letting them fail


First published on Huffington Post Canada (Parentdish), December 9, 2014

My kid came home from school the other day and announced that she was auditioning for the school’s chamber choir. I stifled my surprise (I hope) and gulped, “Great!”

She sings in the school choir — the one that anyone can join — and she loves it. Her little voice soars with all the others and she proudly sang at the school assembly just last month. But my precious daughter does not have a good ear. An unkind (but accurate) label for her might be tone-deaf. Without the piano accompaniment and the voices of her fellow choristers to keep her on track, her pitch can vary widely. (Naturally, I blame her father and he accepts all genetic responsibility.)

We’ve never told our kid that she can’t sing. Scratch that — she can sing; she just can’t sing on-key without support. She loves singing and I’ve been delighted that she’s in the choir because I know that musicianship can be taught. Her pitch has improved and she rocked her first piano recital this past weekend. So the kid has skills, but perfect pitch isn’t one of them.

When she decided to try out for the chamber choir I was uncertain how to react. My first thought was that she’s not chamber choir material. This is the smaller and, dare I say, more elite choir made up of the best singers from the senior grades. They get to do cool stuff like sing the national anthem at a baseball game. Indeed, missing school to participate in that event appears to be my daughter’s primary motivation for auditioning.

choir concert

My first reaction was to protect her. Maybe I could gently tell her she’s not a good enough singer to be in the chamber choir. We could abort the audition and with it, any further risk of disappointment. Mama bear wanted to protect her young.

My second reaction was to help her not fail. We could practice! I could train her to sing on key before Thursday! Tiger mama would not accept failure.

Helicopter mama wanted to control the audition process. Snow-plow mama wanted to eliminate chamber choir altogether and find clear a problem-free path for her kid.

But deep down I’m not really a mama-bear/tiger/helicopter or snow-plow parent. All I wanted was to ensure that my precious child didn’t go through the heart-wrenching experience of scanning a list for her name and having it not appear. The down-side, I quickly realized, is that my precious child wouldn’t go through the heart-wrenching experience of scanning a list for her name and having it not appear.

So I wised up. I’ve tried out for teams and not made it. I’ve auditioned for parts I didn’t get. I don’t remember my parents being involved or even aware of these experiences at all.

Yes, she should audition. Yes, she should feel nervous and scared and still go for it. Yes, she should have to wait until the list is posted to find out how she did. She should feel the elation of seeing her name on that list or the disappointment of it being absent. She should feel the mix of being sad for herself while being happy for a friend, or proud of herself while sharing a friend’s disappointment. All of things should be felt by a nine-year-old child and none of them should be mediated by her mother.

So all I did was nod my head and tell her it was great to try something new. I wished her luck. And whatever happens I’m already very proud.

Epilogue: She will not be in the chamber choir this year. She is taking this in stride. She can try again next year. She still loves to sing.


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