“Stop playing guitar! Do your homework!”
My mom obviously didn’t understand. At fifteen years old I just wanted to rock. Not science, not math, not history. Rock.
I, of course, kept playing. My fingers almost knew the notes to the picking pattern of the intro to U2’s current single, “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”
“Now!” She yanked the cord out of my electric guitar. Gave me the stink eye. Pointed towards the pile of books on my desk.
After buying me a bargain bin electric guitar the year before, the tables had turned. What was supposed to have been a hobby soon turned into an obsession. Fueled by early eighties rock heroes like Journey, Styx, Billy Idol and a ton of other fledgling Mtv era artists, I was soon chasing the dream. I wanted to be that kid in “Juke Box Hero.” The ‘rents were not pleased.
This is not a new story. Parents around the world have been known to crush, limit, divert and/ or squash their kids’ creativity at an early age. Not cool.
I get it, though. The primary job of any parent is to do what they can to keep their kids safe. Fair enough. In the modern world that might mean pointing the young ones towards a sustainable career. Ya know, one with health insurance. One with an employer who respects her employees. One who won’t toss you to the curb to cut costs at a moment’s notice.
It makes sense, in a way.
Parents, and everyone, know what they know, and that’s generally as far as it goes. So if your parents have had some level of success and security with that health insurance job, of course they’re going to point you in that direction. But here’s the rub.
What’s good for them is not necessarily good for you.
Although intellectually a third grader can understand this concept, most adults can’t quite figure it out on the emotional level. Don’t believe me? Check out any TV news show with the fired up talking heads. Or ask your friend for some advice. They’ll almost always give you an answer based on their experience.
So when your parents yank out the guitar cord at fifteen, or yank the college funding at twenty (because you’re not taking pre-med classes), or nod their heads with disapproval when you still have a roommate at thirty, just remember that they’re basing their judgements on their experience. And that experience essentially translates into their ideas about the way they believe life should be lived.
What worked for them isn’t necessarily going to work for you. What they value isn’t necessarily what you value. For some, money is the big thing. For others it’s playing guitar. Or writing poetry, or painting. Or just having the time to chill out in a world gone crazy.
Wanting the approval of our parents is built into our psyches. From day one we need them to survive, so it’s no wonder that even as adults it feels like a kick in the pants when our mommas don’t light up at our creations, our choices, or our realities.
We don’t need to fight it. Instead, we could accept their perspective. Try to understand it. Then make our own choices.
Yeah, the fifteen year old wannabe rock star should probably work on those Venn diagrams before she spends another hour bleeding into the guitar. But the twenty year old better pick his own major, or he’s gonna be in for a pile of debt (in more ways than one.)
Many years ago my mom had a college roommate who turned out to be a career artist. Thirty years after they shared a space on campus my mom talked to her on the phone. Her roommate’s career had seen immense success and dismal disappointment.
Mom asked her why she would endure this? Why keep going? Why push forward through so much uncertainty?
“It hurts my heart if I’m not creative. It’s who I am. It’s what I need to do.”
Soon after my mom asked me if that’s what it’s like for me. I nodded.
She knew that I had also lived amazing creative adventures. And crashed into desperate times when the world was just not cooperating.
Finally, decades after she yanked out that guitar cord, she began to understand what it was like to burn with creativity. To need to explore and play and create. To make stuff.
These days my mom is my biggest fan.