In the car as we were driving to music lessons a couple of weeks ago my children starting asking why they take music lessons and some other kids don’t. “It takes up a whole afternoon we could be doing other things…” “I don’t want to give it up – but not everyone goes to music lessons” they said. That got me thinking. Maybe they should know why I feel so strongly about keeping arts in their lives…

We talked about how music makes you feel, why music is on the radio at all, why people go to listen to the symphony, what purpose does music serve? Maybe a little bit heavy for my 9 and 11 year old sons, but maybe not. Here’s what I came up with and what we talked about, and continue to talk about almost every day…

Life is stressful. Plain and simple. More stressful for our kids now than it ever was for us as children. The very idea of existing at school is scary these days. The workload is ridiculous and their very basic safety is sometimes in question. Emotionally, they are hit with things online, in the news and on social media that we never considered in the 80’s. There are more and more children with anxiety disorders than ever before. Life is stressful.

So what do we do about that? There’s not much we can do on a fundamental level, as a child, to change that. We can’t fix the world…yet…so we need to know how to navigate it. We need to know how to clear our minds and be peaceful. Sometimes, we need to create our own happiness. Music and the arts is a pathway to happiness. I see that very clearly.

As parents, I believe it is our job to help our children find pathways to happiness.

I visualized for my kids (and myself as I was working this thought process through) our world as our own personal forest. Every tree is something in our lives – wonderful things – family, friends, interests, responsibilities, experiences, health, jobs,  a wonderful forest of stuff that makes up our lives. Sometimes we can walk in that forest and enjoy all of it. A nice peaceful walk, where we are sure footed and know where we are going. We can come to a clearing or a lake and enjoy it – bask in it all and really take in the beauty that surrounds us. Some of us walk that path with family and friends and some of us walk it alone. Some of us walk with our heads down and focusing on each step missing the beauty and others walk with our eyes to the sky and enjoy every second. We can visualize that, right? My world as a forest…it can be a beautiful thought!

But sometimes the forest can be overwhelming and we can get a little lost. Maybe we aren’t sure where to walk next, the path isn’t clear and we aren’t as sure footed as we wish we were. Maybe we are walking that path alone and we wish we had people around us to show us the way. Maybe we will get to a point of our lives, as pre-teens, teenagers or adults, and that forest will get dark and we wont know where to go. What will we do?

I think we need to help our children create pathways for themselves that bring them to happiness. Maybe sports is a pathway for your child – and when there isn’t a team full of friends to play with, they will forge their path with a work out or go for a jog. Maybe reading is their pathway – and when they start to feel overwhelmed they can get lost in a good book. Maybe art is their pathway – and when they are confused they can create something beautiful and appreciate the beauty in their own life. Maybe dance is their pathway and when they are feeling stifled and worn down, they can express themselves with their own bodies and feel the strength inside themselves. Maybe music is their pathway and when they are feeling cast aside by society, they can find comfort in someone else’s music – or better yet, create their own!

I want my children to actually visualize the forest and all of its trees and brush. And every time they sit at the piano to practice, take that dance class, go to rehearsal, snuggle up with a book, create something beautiful, sing at the top of their lungs – they visualize themselves actually using a machete and cutting down their pathway to happiness. Keep it nice and clear so when you need it, it’s there. You can feel overwhelmed, but hop on a path and get yourself to that clearing. It’s there waiting for you – you just need to take the path.

The forest is there for all of us. No matter how old we are. I want my children to know that it will not always be sunshine and cool breezes in that forest. It’s going to be hard and sometimes even scary. But you have pathways to happiness. Use them. Get out a book, your paints, your guitar, put on some music and dance… and guess what? Video games and instagram are NOT pathways to happiness. (sometimes they are actually the scary trees)!  Pathways only work if they connect to your soul. This is why the arts are so important for our kids! No score, no fast times, no competition, just connecting with our souls.

I know it may sound silly but I LOVE visualization for children of all ages – even us big kids! My son actually said the other day that he feels bad for kids who only play one sport all of the time – “he will only have one pathway – what if he needs another?”  Maybe he’s getting a pathway at home – from a parent who loves to sing with the kids, or cooking together on a Sunday night, woodworking with dad…pathways can come from anywhere.

I think it’s important to talk to our children about being overwhelmed and real stress. They feel it too and they need to know how to cope. Really cope with the emotions, not just how to be more productive or make a to-do list, or homework and time management…how do you manage the feelings that come along with all of that?

Maybe there are a few too many trees these days and we are feeling overwhelmed – find a pathway… and keep it clear… you may need it again!


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