THE BLOG
01/25/2016 02:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

'My Husband And I Fight Over My Kid's Suzuki Piano Lessons'

Reader Suzuki Stress writes,

I am a highly-sensitive person (HSP). I feel like this aspect of myself makes me a pretty good wife and mom -- I am hyper-attuned to the feelings and moods of my husband and two kids. But this hyper-awareness causes me a great deal of stress and is a source of conflict, especially between myself and my husband.

For example, my husband, who is musically gifted, practices piano with our two children who partake in the Suzuki method (a Suzuki teacher holds a lesson weekly and parent teaches child at home the rest of the days.) This method is wonderful but has set up a dynamic where my husband spends a good part of practice time being incredibly frustrated with what he feels is an uncooperative child, and I feel is a child needing more sensitivity and playfulness rather than a firm hand.

When one of the kids has a meltdown mid-practice session or even prior to practice starting, I find myself running interference to ease the impending firestorm from my husband losing his patience. His go-to decree is "Forget it! Just quit piano!" But the thing is, my kids want to play piano and they have made huge strides under this method.

So, what do I do? Biting my tongue and staying out of it is almost impossible. I feel protective of my kids' feelings but I also feel responsible for mitigating my husband's frustrations over uncooperative kids. I want it all to go smoothly and for everyone to be happy!

Dear SS,

I know the Suzuki method, because when I, an HSP like you, was looking for something for my HSP kid to do musically, I read about it.  Then I just about dropped dead laughing, picturing the absolute horror of me trying to give my kid six day a week piano lessons.  LOL, I am dying just thinking about the travesty that would make of my relationship with my child, and the resentment on both sides.

Your husband may be musically gifted, but that doesn't mean he's a good piano teacher.  And nobody is going to be at their best as a teacher with THEIR OWN KID.  Maybe not nobody, but 90% of people.  And check this out, only about 3% of people homeschool!  So maybe it's even fewer people who feel confident that they can teach their own kid without wanting to stab their eye(s) out with a fork.

Like I bet your kids are, my kids are so much better behaved with teachers than with me.  They idolize them.  After I picked myself off the floor from my paroxysm of hysterical laughter following my Suzuki research, I googled "guitar teacher for kid" and now this guy Jake comes to our house every week to teach our daughter guitar, and my daughter loves him.

Here's how it goes with Jake:

Her: [playing]

Him: Awesome!  Now maybe try it like this for a sec.

Here's how it went when I tried to practice with her:

Her: [playing]

Me: NO NO NO NO OH MY GOD STOP IS THAT WHAT I SAID TO DO??  DO YOU NOT HEAR THAT ISN'T THE BEAT?? OH MY GOD WE CAN NEVER DO THIS AGAIN TOGETHER NOT EVEN ONE MORE TIME.

Then I went back to doing something easier, like marital therapy with highly conflictual spouses on the precipice of divorce.

So basically here is the lesson:
  1. If you YOURSELF want to teach your kids piano using this method, go for it. (Corollary: listening to music played poorly is like eating broken glass for an HSP, so watch out.)
  2. Tell your gifted husband to go compose your children a symphony and stay out of their lessons because I for one don't even know how he lasted this long with his own kids and with you up his butt criticizing his methods, even if his methods suck. No offense to either of you because I am sure I would be far worse.
Oh, I almost forgot: do your kids even want to play piano?  I heard a lot about what you want and what your husband wants, and you did state that they want to, but actions speak louder than words. To me, having a tantrum before or during piano may mean that the kid doesn't want to play piano OR that he is conscious that he ends up resenting Daddy during lessons, OR that Daddy is mad at him during lessons, OR that Mommy and Daddy fight over the lessons, so he is very intelligently deciding to avoid lessons.  You are not raising a fool.

Or maybe your kids tell you they love the piano just because you're so into the piano, and dad is so good at piano, but in reality, deep down, they hate the piano!  Use your HSP nature to suss this out, without allowing your own biases to impact what you uncover. Say something like, "Hey, if you could spend the $50 a week we pay for piano on any other type of activity in the world, what would it be?"  And if the answer isn't piano lessons, don't make them do it anymore.  At the very least, explore all possible other options for musical involvement, like a regular piano teacher who comes to your house and has no DNA in common with your kids.

Here is how practicing guitar went in my house:

Me: it's time to practice.

My kid: No.

Me: Okay, well, I'm not paying for lessons if you don't want to practice, that's silly.  So if you say no three times in a week to practicing, then I cancel lessons with Jake.  Do you still want to see Jake?

My kid: Yes.

Me: Here's the chart, if you get three check marks a week, I cancel Jake.

We have zero check marks, because lessons with Jake are super fun, and Mommy has mentioned numerous times that Jake is not cheap, so my kid knows that Jake is valuable (your kids' Daddy, on the other hand, isn't even getting paid for this endeavor, except in bitterness and anger.)

In case you think I'm saying this will "work" with all kids and make them do stuff they would otherwise not like, here's how dance class went with my second kid:

My kid: I don't want to go to dance.

Me: Why?

My kid: It's loud (note: both these kids are HSP's like me) and cold.

Me: Okay, no recital if you don't do class, you know.

My kid: Okay.

Me: Look, let's try it next week, if you say no after that, it's no.

My kid: Okay.

Guess what, she doesn't do dance anymore.  Sucks for me, because she dances around the house, she would have been super cute at the recital, I thought she would really like it, I bought all the damn dance gear, even a bag with a tutu on it, and I have to bring her sister to class anyway at the same time, so it's even stupider that she just sits outside with me and her brother.  For reasons both selfish and unselfish, I would prefer she does it. But she doesn't want to, and you know what, it's one less thing for her to complain about in therapy as an adult!

Another aside:  I have never met a spouse of an HSP who considers the HSP "hyperattunement" to be a positive anywhere after about the second year (read: day) of dating.  You may want to explore whether you and your super stressed, I mean, hyperattuned attitude make your husband and your kids want to grind up Prozac into your food.  Because, my friend, I am like you, and I am sure we could stand to chill the F out about most things.

Good luck, and till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Any Method That Involves A Kid Crying During It Is Probably Not Ideal.

This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.