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Friday, January 29, 2016

I Don't Have to Like You

by Paula E. Bird

“I have to love you. I don’t have to like you.”

What would you think about a parent who said that to their child? How do you think the child would feel upon hearing that? What does the phrase tell you about the parent-child relationship?

Recently I was challenged to come up with a theme for my life and work, sort of like a thesis statement. I thought about the importance to the world of my choice of professions – teaching and music – and about what change I wanted to see in the world because of the work that I do, and that is when this memory came to me.

Yes, this statement is one of my childhood memories. I had a very complicated relationship with my mother. She was a fine primary education teacher and won many awards for her wonderful work. However, by the time she was home with my sister and me, she was tired. What energy she might have left at the end of a long teaching day was spent keeping the household running smoothly. We all pitched in with assigned chores, so the burden was not entirely hers. Still, she was the one in charge of this “master plan,” and I am sure she was exhausted performing things perfectly in this area. We had a very well run home. It was clean, on schedule, and well maintained. Even annual chores such as spring cleaning or replacing storm windows with summertime screens were kept up with a regular routine. My mother helped my father further his education (two masters degrees and one doctorate) and even typed his dissertation during her spare time (was there any?).

My mother did many other things for my sister and me as well. She provided us with opportunities to study music (piano and violin), and she came to every performance and concert of my entire childhood – every single one. She listened to every practice session when I was too young to have taken ownership of my own practicing. We may not have had the warmest relationship, but she was always there for me. She insisted that music education was extremely important, and she drove us to the finest teachers and made sure that we were prepared for lessons and recitals. She was quick to correct anyone who lessened our practicing effort by their praising our talent. “The girls work very hard at practicing for this performance,” she would tell them. I never came away from a performance with the belief that it came easy because I was blessed with some sort of innate ability.

I was not an easy child to raise. I pushed the status quo with curiosity and determination. Every time I needed to step confidently in a positive direction that relied on courage, I had my role model in my mother. Of course she loved me; I do not doubt that. With all the trouble she spent to provide a home that was rich in learning opportunities  and the necessary steps to develop goal-achieving discipline, I know in my bones that she did all that she did for our family and our home out of love for us. The more I have studied and considered Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy about the impact of the environment on a child’s ability to learn or a parent’s ability to be an effective home teacher, the more I realize how difficult I made things for my mother. My mother was a strong, stubborn only child herself, and I cannot imagine a better choice to hang in there with a child like I was.

When my mother would state that she loved me but did not like me, I understood exactly what she meant. I felt that too. Family is what we are given. Usually we have no say in the family we receive. However, having just written that, I will go on to then state that the relationship we build, nurture, and sustain is something we make a choice about. We have the power to choose what kind of parent-child or any type of relationship we allow to enter into our lives. How we respond, how we relate, and how we connect with our language, our touch, and even our thoughts are entirely within our purview of choice and attitude. What may not be the greatest relationship today does not need to be static; every moment can bring another possibility of joy and connection and love.

“I have to love you. I don’t have to like you.”

It is the second part of the statement that I want to see change in the world, because through my study of Dr. Suzuki’s work and philosophy, I have learned that this part of the statement can be successfully changed. Each and every parent and child that enters my studio has the potential to have a loving, happy, and satisfying relationship with one other. This pleasant state of affairs may not be the way the parent-child relationship initially is when I first meet this family, but the potential for the relationship to be the ultimate expression of love and togetherness is there. The relationship may be just the seed or kernel with a very hard shell casing, but nevertheless the seed is there. It needs nurturing. My role as the trained teacher is to enter into the Suzuki Triangle partnership and guide everyone toward the ultimate goal of love. The title of Dr. Suzuki’s book tells much: “Nurtured by Love.”

Dr. Suzuki wanted to develop fine human beings who would be productive community members with beautiful hearts. I want this too. I have wanted to share this vision from the moment that I first read Dr. Suzuki’s book. I want to change the world -- one child, one family, one community at a time.

I challenge you to ask yourself these important and life-affecting questions as well because of the hidden treasure you will reveal:

·      What is really important to you?
·      Does your life and work center around a particular theme?
·      What is the change that you want to see in the world because of your efforts?

I hope you will share your vision with me.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

 © 2016 by Paula E. Bird


  1. Perhaps this alternative: "I have to love you; I choose to like you too!"

  2. I love the focus you place on not only helping students become musicians, but also developing great family relationships. I am slowly discovering that as I get to know my students' families, I know the student better. There is so much more to music than simply lessons and learning. Thank you!

    1. Thanks again, Gregory. I spend a lot of time thinking about this subject, because I have noticed that the student's success seems so closely related to the relationship (close or otherwise) to the parents. Sad to see so many parents not give more when they have such a great power too affect their children.

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