After talking to the awesome Opera Teen a while ago, I realized that we had something in common: Neither of us had grown up around opera. Our parents weren’t fans, and we more or less discovered it on our own.
Like me, The Teen had come upon opera largely through self-discovery. He had had a grandfather who had acted as a kind of guide into the world of opera, but his parents just didn’t seem to be into it. And this is a story I’ve heard over and over again from Millenials: Opera just wasn’t part of the entertainment palette at home, so they went out and embraced it as something new. Fine arts, by ways of rebellion.
I can definitely say that was the case for me. My family was definitely not a stereotypical “opera family” — We weren’t rich, we didn’t give money to NPR based on their opera programming, and we lived in a small town (though I did hear my very first opera there, courtesy of this company). When I’d sing particularly loud in the shower, my mum would call out to me, “Stop singing opera!” We were a jazz family by heritage; opera was the polar opposite of us, and therefore foreign.
As most people do when they enter college, I rebelled against my parents. But instead of drinking a lot or getting a ton of tattoos, I started listening to public radio. I attended foreign films. And I started listening to opera.
Of course, I came off as a snob to my family. Why would I want to just stay all cooped up in my room listening to radio hosts talking about life, or a couple old people sing about an elixir of love? It was strange to them, and not as much a part of their cultural vocabulary. Which is totally fine. Not all people are into opera, and that should be respected. But for a kid with a budding interest in opera, not having a parent or mentor who wasn’t into it as well was very hard. It discouraged me from learning more about opera, though thankfully I gained the personal strength to pursue it as an adult.
All this begs the question: What is the right way to handle it if your kid is into opera and you’re not? I assume The Teen’s family is totally fine with hi hanging around the Met all day, or else he wouldn’t be such as much of a bada*s as he is. But my parents, intentionally or not, discouraged me from actively looking into opera as a young(er) woman through peer pressure. But I still got into it as an adult. So does parents’ “approval” of their child’s interest in opera even matter if they’re going to get into it later on anyway?
Maybe it does. Both The Teen and I came to opera out of rebellion, and are pretty much guaranteed to stay opera patrons for a long while. But what if each of our sets of parents/guardians had been huge opera fans? I know at least I would have seen a lot more opera, and probably would be much more knowledgable about it today. Even if my parents hadn’t been totally interested in opera but had encouraged my interest more, things would have been much different. I would have respected them for letting me be myself, and maybe would have bonded with them over opera with time.
But now I’m opening up the floor to all the parents out there. Do you encourage your kids to go into the fine arts, even if you’re not into them? How do you handle it if your kid is into something you’re not? I’d love to hear your answers.
About the Author: Brit McGinnis writes regularly for nerdy blogs, awesome magazines, and even the odd eBook. In her free time, she edits and writes even more things. You can see some samples of her work on her website. She also loves running, watching horror movies, and playing video games.