Truly being there for your kids is perhaps the greatest gift parents will ever give.
It isn’t always easy this time of year, especially for parents of children in the performing arts. Between practice at home, rehearsals after school, and performances—band, choir, orchestra, ballet, and theater can ask a lot of students—and the family as a whole.
But, as Central High School Theater Director Justin Speck attests, the performing arts give us something precious: the chance to “truly express ourselves.”
“Oftentimes we never feel validated until we hear it truthfully from someone other than our parents,” explained Justin, “and for some students, participating in performance arts could be the first time they feel completely validated.”
Making those first steps onto a stage of any kind, and facing a crowd, are often some of a child’s first experiences of really putting themselves out there. They are also perhaps the first moments they begin to understand who they really are and what they’re capable of. Through it all, a parent’s presence is a tremendous gift—even during those years when it feels so hard to connect to their kids.
Todd Brink and his three sons made Black Hills Community Theater’s annual all-ages productions a family affair and looked forward to it every year. Rehearsals were “a chance to spend quantity time,” he reflects—time he argues is just as important as quality time. “For two to three hours every night, for six to eight weeks, I got to be in the same room with my kids.”
That time together expanded beyond rehearsal, too–exploring characters in the car and practicing lines over pancakes on Saturday mornings. Over and over Todd gave his sons “little nuggets of encouragement,” building up their confidence and then “staying out of their way,” he laughs.
Christine Stephenson, mother of 8-year-old Elsa appreciates the Black Hills Suzuki School’s parent participation policy for the same reasons. Every day, they take time to practice Elsa’s violin. “I will never regret the bonding she and I will have from practicing together. It’s not always fun,” Christine admits, “but it’s also a lesson in delayed gratification. It’s a good lesson for parents and kids.”
Practice time is absolutely a labor of love and the rewards are immeasurable. Parents can see it in the days and nights before the big performance, as all that hard work is transformed into excitement. Once the enthusiasm turns to fearful jitters—children again look to their parents for comfort. Taking the stage and gazing out into a sea of unfamiliar faces can unseat even the strongest resolve, but seeing Mom or Dad in the crowd is comforting—even if they won’t admit it.
And when the curtain goes up, we get yet another truly precious gift; the chance to watch children bravely face their world—and themselves. When Audrey Perli, just seven years old at the time, was cast as Gretl in the Black Hills Community Theater production of The Sound of Music, her mother Holly watched with pride as she worked to memorize her lines. The little girl had learned to read only two years before, and when the time came for her solo, “she just stepped up to the challenge,” Holly extols. “It was so precious.”
Christine echoes that sentiment. “I get to see my little girl who has worked so hard every day,” Christine iterates. “Suddenly, she’s on the stage with poise, confidence, and focus. She plays as beautifully as she can and it makes me so proud. It’s a gift we’re giving her that we appreciate only in moments—because it’s a gift that requires all of us.”
Amidst the decorating, the parties, and the never ending list of events to attend, the performance arts can provide a chance to give our greatest gift; presence. It is a gift we give to our children—an investment in our shared bond and in their future. It is also a gift our children give to us, when our hearts fill to bursting as we witness them taking one more step into themselves and on to life’s stage.
The memories of the botched costume changes or missed notes will serve as warm reminders of the moments when we knew our children could overcome any obstacle, moments when we watched them learn they could recover from mistakes and go on to shine. When they’re grown we’ll look back on the hours spent practicing and rehearsing, long nights and full weekends, as treasured time together. The fond memories are making now the perfect time to remember the gift of our presence is perhaps the most treasured gift of all this holiday season.