Blog | Dec 8

Quitting: Thoughts from a Teacher and Parent


By Dr. Kasia Sokol-Borup
December 8, 2021 (from Teach Better)


When my daughter was 5 we began learning the violin and piano. She was an early riser, and so doing 10 min of each did not seem like such a big deal before school every day. She joined the piano and the violin programs (Preparatory Division at the UofU). I was her violin teacher.

By about February it was obvious that piano was her preferred instrument. But we continued with the violin. There was a part of me, as a teacher, but mostly a parent who loves music, that was hurt from her not loving what I was giving her. I was teaching her, yes, but we enjoyed our time together, we played, we had fun! What went wrong? Then, somehow all our feelings got "confused", bunched up, and as a result practicing became a chore and much frustration was brought into the process. I give my children freedom in how they learn, when they learn (because this way they become life-long learners), but they also know when they need to keep on trying things because that is how our family does things.

We brush teeth and hair every morning, and so we practice every day....whether we want to or not.

By the end of the Academic year Sophia was done with the violin. She did not tell me that, but her body language did. I was hurt. A psychologist told me, at the time, to give it a rest for a couple of months, and then return to it, but gently. After a few weeks break gently meant: we play only what she wants to play, we stop before she is ready to stop.

Then, there came time to begin a new semester, and to get a bigger violin, because kids grow like flowers in the summer, with all the sunlight, good produce and fresh air...

One day, while driving, I said something about getting a new violin, and from the back of the car I heard silence, the kind of silence that is heavy, that says nothing and yet says it all. The next day I asked if she wanted to play the violin, to which she responded YES. But, that same psychologist told me weeks earlier that no matter what I teach my children, the most important is my RELATIONSHIP with them. RELATIONSHIP FIRST, she said. And when I heard that YES from my daughter, the kind that does not mean what it does mean, I knew I had to do BETTER. So, I asked again: "No, really, do you really want to continue to play the violin?". To which, this time, she responded:

"But YOU want me to play".

My friends, at this moment, I have tears welling in my eyes. And my daughter desperately does not want me to cry, so she now "wants to play". And what follows is a truly great parenting moment that I share with you today. This is what I said to her:

"Mommy wants you to play the violin. I do, because I love the violin and I love teaching it. You are my baby and so teaching you is the greatest gift to me. But, I do not want you to play for me. I want you to play for you. Mommy will now cry. Please allow me to have the tears and cry. But, my tears do not mean you do not get to be who you want to be. I will cry, and I will breathe, and I will get over it. Now, what do you want?"

My daughter looked at me, and said: " I do not want to play the violin any more".

And I said: "OK"

What followed is not what one would think. I did not feel like I failed because I let her quit, because I did not know how to push. I felt light and happy, for one reason: my daughter's face. It was filled with light, and a total overwhelm of a feeling which I can only describe as this: "I CANNOT BELIEVE I MATTER THIS MUCH!"

And, at this moment I knew we made the right decision. Not just because my relationship with my daughter was more important than the violin, but because when a child learns that what she feels is valid, and matters, that builds confidence. And confident children grow up to be humans who know how to work on things they care about. Adults who KNOW what they care about.

A year later Sophia picked up the violin again, for fun. She now plays in her school orchestra, and enjoys the instrument occasionally. I do not teach her, and try not to see her bow hand :-)

She still plays the piano and LOVES IT!

My friends, quitting has many faces. Quitting is at times choosing. It's a complicated process, I agonize every time, with each student or parent who teeter on the edge of "quitting". But, perhaps for some quitting is not falling, but allowing wings to spread and FLY in a different direction....



Dr. Kasia Sokol-Borup is on faculty at the University of Utah, where she teaches violin, chamber music and directs Strings Pedagogy activities. Additionally, Dr. Sokol-Borup serves as the director of the University of Utah Strings Preparatory Division and the President of the Chamber Music Society of SLC. Dr. Sokol-Borup plays part-time with Utah Symphony and Ballet West.

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