Reach out to divorced parent?


Henry Flurry said: Aug 27, 2014
Henry FlurryInstitute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Prescott, AZ
22 posts

I’m sure that this story is familiar to all of you:

  1. Young child starts piano
  2. Mom is enthusiastic, child progresses quickly, loves piano
  3. a year or two passes, and the parents separate
  4. Child spends roughly equal time between households
  5. Mom practices with the child 3 days a week (down from 6-7 days a week), Dad doesn’t even have a keyboard in the house
  6. Child slows in progress, loses their love for the instrument, Dad questions the cost, etc.
  7. Child eventually quits piano

I have a lovely Book 2 just-turned-six year old who just entered phase #5 shown above. I hate the idea of reaching phase 6 & 7 with this child.

It occurs to me that perhaps part of the problem is that the teacher does not reach out to Dad (or Mom if parental roles were reversed) and engage him more.

Has anybody out there done that before? What have you said? What was it like? What did you learn?

Henry Flurry

Barbara Stafford said: Aug 28, 2014
Barbara Stafford
Suzuki Association Member
Plano, TX
59 posts

I have not been involved in that situation. But, I think since you are recognizing you are in phase 5, I think it is good to reach out (first to the mom) with the idea of letting her know you need to get dad more involved in the Suzuki Triangle for fear of loosing momentum in the girl’s progress. The mom can only be part of the Suzuki triangle 3-4 days a week, so you need dad to be part of the Suzuki triangle the other 3-4 days. Maybe you could request he attend lessons on the weeks when he is watching the daughter. Talk to him because he might agree to something with you even if the wife thinks he won’t. You might have to adjust the lesson time for him on those weeks if he is working. And if the dad can’t quite handle doing the practice partner role as well as the mom can, just don’t ever let him know it, and don’t act disappointed in him. Even if he only brings the daughter to the lesson, and simply listens to her practice, that is better than not being involved at all and might keep the student progressing forward. Also, maybe there is an inexpensive and portable digital piano he can purchase that you can help him track down. Maybe a used instrument. I suppose, think about what effort you are willing to give to make it work out, and offer that up-front, but then back away and let it be their choice, and if the student does not continue or does not progress as rapidly, you did what you could.

Angela said: Aug 28, 2014
Angela Villanueva
Suzuki Association Member
Cello, Viola, Violin
Naples, FL
25 posts

I am actually in that same situation but in this case the divorced parent is myself. I got a divorce a year and a half ago and honestly my own kids only practice on the days when they are with me. It would be much more difficult to maintain that without me being a Suzuki teacher myself and being totally convinced of the value. Better to have somewhat of a Suzuki square. I echo Barbara’s comments. Something to consider is the fact that a Suzuki teacher may be one of the only stable figures in the child’s life right now during all these changes. It certainly was the case with my daughter’s viola teacher. Encouraging the parents to try to make everything in the environment as similar as possible is really healthy. My daughter is SO glad I didn’t let her quit. We have survived!

Angie Villanueva

Annie said: Aug 28, 2014
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
6 posts

I also include the “other” parent because these days many children of divorced parents spent equal time with each parent. I email both parents and make double reminders to put on the fridge at each home. The child’s pace may slow, but that is normal and understandable when their world is so shaken. A couple of years may be enough time to even back out.

Annie Young-Bridges, Private Violin/Viola
and Public School Strings Teacher
Covington, Louisiana

Heather Figi said: Aug 29, 2014
Heather FigiViolin
Eugene, OR
97 posts

Thank you for bringing up this sensitive reality that many of our students encounter. It can be very difficult to maintain the needed consistency for a healthy Suzuki teaching experience.

1st—Acknowledge the transition with space. As passionate as I am about the work we do and the relevance it has to creating the world we desire, I think when families are in transition it is just that—transition. Transitions deserve some space for order to find its way. Transitions even when they are exciting are stressful. The transition of a divorce is usually heartbreaking and emotional on top of the stress. I have seen some parents just try to stabilize a place to live and finances to feed themselves in this transition so can respect when music education needs to be placed on the back burner.

It may also be a time for us as teachers to remember some larger truths and share if appropriate with the families this affects:

  • No education is ever wasted

  • We look at this as a long term, 14 year investment (if a student starts at age 4.) Some years may not be as productive as other due to major life transitions

2nd- Have contact information for both parents clearly organized and include both parents in all communications. YES, reach out to make sure you are being as helpful as possible that communications are reaching both parents.

Sue Hunt said: Sep 1, 2014
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

It is all the more important to include both parents. Suzuki education is pretty intense and the non participating parent can often feel left out.

I think we could all take a note of what one of my colleagues does. She holds regular evenings for the parent that she doesn’t see regularly at lessons, to help them to enjoy being part of the group and to learn more about the philosophy and how they can do to help the learning process.

Eric Davenport said: Jan 5, 2016
Eric Davenport
Suzuki Association Member
14 posts

Sue, what a tremendous idea! Those left out parents, usually men, can have such an unseen impact on progress….

Alan Duncan said: Jan 6, 2016
Alan Duncan
Suzuki Association Member
60 posts

Just to be fair—based on personal experience -the roles of mother and father could be reversed in the scenario described. Granted, it’s not as common; and equally heart-breaking either way.

Meghan Coil said: Jan 8, 2016
Meghan Coil
Suzuki Association Member
Portland, OR
16 posts

I emphasize listening over practice in the home of the parent who does not attend lessons. That said, with a certain family I included both parents in parent education at the beginning so the child could practice at both houses, but even so I don’t think the one of the parents ever really “bought in” and I doubt listening or practice happens at that home.

I do have one co-parenting family who make a point of spending Friday nights all together. Part of what they do on Friday night is violin practice, which happens with both parents present so that Mom (who attends lessons) can explain the assignments to Dad (who doesn’t) and Dad sees how the child should practice them. Really a wonderful way to avoid putting the child in the middle. This was their own invention and might not work for parents who aren’t amicable, but it still might be worth mentioning. This child is still making great progress.

Gail said: Jan 9, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano
Belmont, NC
3 posts

I recently had a middle school girl begin who goes to both
Dads and moms each week. I suggested that they just keep the cello at Mom’s (primary person) and listen while at Dad’s.
Turned out great, and Dad has even helped her take it to his house a few times for some extra practice. :)

Gail Boyer/MAT//SAA I-X
Music Makers
[javascript protected email address]
Charlotte, NC violin

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