When I described my website content to my designer, he had a puzzle to solve: How do you cohesively represent a person who wishes to be promoted as a musician, early-childhood music specialist, song-writer, composer, piano teacher, music therapist and finally. . . FAMILY COACH???
This was an evocative question and I had to think about the answer:
Once upon a time I was so immersed in a career as a classical pianist that I did not want to have children of my own; Being a performer and college faculty member felt like enough. I recall trying to convince my family doctor that I would not regret it if I had my tubes tied. “You’ll never find a doctor who will do this for a 24 year old woman,” she said.
And thank goodness she wouldn’t! My life took an unexpected turn in 1998, when I was permanently injured in a car accident and I found myself no longer able to perform classical music. (A ligament tear in my wrist made it impossible to control my hand to play accurately and reach large spans or sit and play for hours on end). Teaching piano became less fulfilling without a performing life to balance it out.
For some time after the accident I felt lost and uninspired. . . suddenly this seemed a fitting time to have children of my own (yes I see the humour in that statement). Ironically, having kids brought meaning, focus and much activity to my life. I was a passionate mother, and I threw myself into researching how to become an ideal parent. I took on every behaviour challenge with the same ambition that I had put into my performing career and I felt fulfilled.
In the meantime, while my children were very small, I started an early-childhood music education business. I wanted to work daytime hours instead of a typical piano teacher after school and evening schedule, and this felt like the best way to contribute household income without establishing a new career. It was a challenging shift for my ego as I felt my own judgment, as a classically trained musician, that baby music classes are an easy and silly job. Still, as a kid at heart, I discovered that singing, playing, moving and writing playful curriculum was a natural fit for me.
I loved working with babies and toddlers! However, I was not prepared for the challenges that came with having parents in attendance during class. Almost immediately, my classes included children with behavioural issues who created disruptions that had impact on the other clients and were therefore significant enough to require me to intervene. In doing so I noticed that parents had conflicting views on discipline and structure for their children. New parents are often the most committed to providing their child with a perfect environment to thrive in. I was met with the challenge of navigating a parent’s tender ego while maintaining the positive learning atmosphere for the entire group.
In 2012-2013, I immersed myself in an extensive training program to become a fully qualified life coach to gather tools for the delicate practice of managing new parents. I learned many tools for listening and problem solving which proved highly useful in matters of interacting with my clients.
Although managing parent concerns and issues became easier, I noticed the messages I had to deliver become increasingly difficult:
- I had parents asking me to change curriculum beloved by the other students because their child didn’t like the song. “She’s afraid of the birdies song” – so I changed to a different song – “It’s still resting and jumping up and down!” she insisted. How was I to accommodate one child, compromising my tried and true curriculum that has been adored by the masses for years?
- I had a five year old child who was wholly unable to focus in my class in which I was the only adult . One day he removed every item of clothing on his body and proceeded to run around my classroom in circles. How do you stop a naked five year old without touching him? By then I had seen enough 4&5 year olds children in my classroom to feel I was out of integrity if I did not let this mother know her child may have significant behavioural issues. How do you gently suggest to a mother that her sweet little boy is beyond the spectrum of normal and needs assessment?
- I had a sweet child so innocently aggressive with her classmates that I began receiving legitimate complaints from other parents in the class. How do you tread carefully with one parent’s philosophy when it is impacting the quality of the rest of the group’s experience?
I took each issue on, as well as many others, accepting the challenges. Although there were difficult moments, I found the process quite rewarding. I enjoyed strategizing prior to dialling a parent phone number. I had successful results with my willingness to confront issues in a gentle yet direct manner. Plus I would be overcome my own nerves making these calls which would build my confidence.
In recent years, I have increased my role as a private piano teacher, something I embarked upon in my teens. I notice that my students are often looking for a supportive listener as much as, if not more than wanting to learn to play the piano. It is rare for kids to interact with adults that are not relatives in a one-on-one setting. Sometimes I have students who prefer to talk for the entire lesson as they are trying to process something difficult happening at home or at school: I have had students whose parents were divorcing, students with their own break-up challenges, students who were being bullied at school, students who were being diagnosed with LD’s, ADD, anxiety and/or depression, students on the autism spectrum, students who simply needed an ear, adult students dealing with ‘grown up issues’ such as divorce, retirement, panic attacks, aging parents, to name a few. I have had students who needed to cry with no explanation every week before they could commence the actual piano part of the lesson. This aspect of ‘teaching piano’ has been rewarding for me. Even more so, it feels more on track with the person I’ve become over the past 20 years.
Nowadays I am often interacting with students and their parents to encourage the most supportive environment I can for these families. I find this a fulfilling role and one in which I am sought out for. As a result I interact with families of all ages with many dimensions of challenges.
Not surprisingly, I now have parents who recognize the value of my contribution to their child’s support network who encourage me to talk to and support their child beyond teaching them piano.
Officially becoming a practicing family coach seemed to be the next logical step.
Still my web designer was right: how do you trace the path from a musical career to a mental/emotional support career? Initially I was as perplexed as he was. It was a synchronistic moment when he finally connected the dots for me. He presented me with a sketch in which I was in the middle with off-chutes as a pianist, composer, performer etc. He bounced his pencil from point to point: “this plus this plus this plus this has created. . . . THIS!” He triumphantly landed on the words “family coach.”
Suddenly it all made sense. I am a family coach “because” of my career as a musician, not “as well as” my career as a musician.