You all know it as well as I do. Sometimes, parenting is a crapshoot. No – scratch that – A LOT of times parenting feels like a crapshoot. We all make about 10,000 decisions for our kids every day (Mom, can I have a piece of cake? Mom, can I watch TV? Mom, can I go play in traffic?) and approximately 99 percent of the time, we’re at least a little uncertain whether the decision we made is the right one. Sometimes, it really doesn’t matter (a piece of cake here or there isn’t going to kill them or render them useless adults some day), but then there are the bigger decisions where we agonize over whether or not we are stinting their growth, negatively impacting their emotional maturity, or just basically screwing them up real good. Will they need counselling some day if I never let them play with little Billy? Will they be fat lazy adults if I don’t sign them up for soccer and hockey and gymnastics and swimming? Will their brains turn to mush if I let them watch too much TV? Will their boredom at school turn them into trouble-makers if I don’t find a more challenging (read: expensive) private school where they are more intellectually stimulated?

One of the biggies for us is whether or not to let them drop out of some activity. We’ve faced it a couple of times already. Nikki developed a phobia at ballet lessons a few years ago and wanted to quit, but I made her suffer through until the end of the session because I didn’t want her to think she could drop out of everything that scared her. Julie, on the other hand, didn’t mind going to running club but didn’t want to run in the track meets. I let her skip them, ’cause I’m not sure competition is really necessary anyway and at least she was getting the exercise.

The latest issue I agonized over was piano lessons. Towards the end of last year, just after we’d finally gotten a real piano moved into our living room, Nikki asked if she could quit piano. When I probed for a reason, it came out that she was afraid of her piano teacher. She said that every Thursday, when she knew she had a lesson in the evening, she would worry herself sick at school all day. She practiced diligently – mostly because she lived in terror of making a mistake and having her teacher reprimand her.

So… what to do? I knew that the piano teacher wasn’t a horrible ogre and I was pretty sure Nikki was exaggerating when she said she “yelled” at her. At the same time, though, she was an older woman, with a fairly strict approach, who didn’t like it if students wasted her time with a lack of commitment. Should I force Nikki to confront her fears and stick with it? Or was it more important that she enjoy music and practice for the joy of it rather than the fear?

This time around, I think we made the right decision. We switched piano teachers. I found a new one through a friend who sends her kids there. This one is young and hip and fun and says it’s important to enjoy music. Tonight, after the lesson, Nikki told me she was glad we switched. She said she’d only thought about her lesson once today, and didn’t worry about it. We have to drive a little further, but if it means that music is a pleasure instead of a duty, then I’m willing to do it. The girls are both more musically inclined than me, but Nikki in particular has always had music running through her veins. Even now, I can hear the sounds of the music drifting from her room as she falls asleep with it on. I think she started singing even before she could talk.

Whew! Every once in awhile, in this crapshoot, we play our cards right. I only wish I were more certain more of the time. Because with this decision behind me, I know I’ll be faced with another one tomorrow that will throw me into another cycle of doubt and agonizing.

PLEASE tell me I’m not the only one who hasn’t figured out how to do this parenting thing right. Or perhaps I missed that day when they were offering the “how to be a perfect parent in ten easy steps” workshop? If you were there, can you give me your notes?

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