We have an interesting dance in our family when it comes to music practicing. I do not require the kids to practice every day. I expect daily practice since I believe it is part of a respectful relationship with a teacher who is teaching with the expectation of regular work at home. My kids know that I would never make them practise, or punish them for not doing so. But they also know that if they weren't to practise, I'd sit down with them to try to figure out what we could change to make it work better for them. I'd treat not-practising as a problem to be solved collaboratively. And if we tried to solve it repeatedly and couldn't, I'd suggest that maybe they should at least take a break from lessons.
The bottom line is that they love taking lessons, and their musical instrument study is such a fundamental part of who they are and of many of the relationships they have with others that I don't think they'd ever want to give it up. They really need to practise not because I expect it, or because their teachers expect it, but because they expect it of themselves. They begin to feel awful about their lessons if they haven't done what they think they should have to prepare. And they don't like to feel awful about their lessons.
The net result of all this is that they like me to prod them into practising if they're having trouble getting started. They expect these prods and while they like to moan and complain a bit, their protests don't amount to more than some transition-resistance that they need to express verbally before buckling down to work.
Tonight came after a long day and a late supper and all four kids were putting off starting their practising. I could hear them chatting in the living room, enjoying each other's company while they all procrastinated. I imagined myself walking into the room and giving them the prod they expected. I knew they really didn't feel like practising, none of them. Even Fiona, riding high from yesterday's note-reading break-through, was feeling lousy with a head cold and suffering the effects of an unusually early start to the day. I knew that if I went in and prodded them they would all moan and complain and then practise, but that tonight their heart wasn't really going to be in it. They'd merely go through the motions. I thought about it for a while, listening to the four of them chatting together happily. There they were, all in the same boat together, procrastinating, waiting for me to show up and play the heavy.
I got up and went into the living room.
"Guess what day it is?" I asked.
"I dunno. What?" they replied.
"It's Surprise Half-Practising Day!" I announced. The idea had just popped into my head.
"Yay!" they all exclaimed, and ran off to practise half as long as usual.
Sometimes as a parent I manage to pull off something that strikes just the right balance. I lucked into one of those instances tonight.