Unlived lives

Carl Jung on the unlived lives of parents

The closeness of the work between Suzuki child and parent inevitably risks drawing unresolved parental issues into play. Carl Jung[1] said:

‘The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parents.’"

I’ve heard from fellow Suzuki parents about their regrets over not taking music as seriously during childhood. Many quit lessons early and have held onto a lifelong regret over having done so. In my own case, I studied music seriously as a young person and ended up a serious amateur player. But I still wonder what might have been if I had taken my practice more seriously. I wonder how common it is that Suzuki parents have similar issues and how we can make better use of them to help our children rather than let it interfere with our work.

The issues that we as parents bring to practice can either be productive or unproductive. The risk in bringing unresolved regrets into practice is that we become less motivated by hope for our children than by fear that they might suffer the same regrets that we experienced as children.

Among of the signs of the latter is a tendency to push, to blame, and to judge. There is less joy, more fear, and a sense of urgency. All of these, of course are counterproductive to the development of a young Suzuki musician.

Our ability to reframe our experiences is the hallmark of personal growth. By reconfiguring our interpretation of past events we can develop lessons that can be passed on to our children as we practice and live together.

We can reframe regrets over our ‘unlived lives’ in our role as practice parents.

Instead of using our regret over not practicing enough ourselves as children to push our children, we can cultivate a sense of wonder over the power of the mother-tongue approach to talent education and an appreciation for our children’s hard work. For parents who are themselves musicians, we can set goals for our children that are not dependent of things beyond our control. We can place emphasis on life’s meta-lessons that Suzuki talent education gives children: persistence, appreciation for beauty, self-confidence, and problem-solving ability. Instead of wishing our children to be star players, we can wish that they reach their full potential whatever that may be.

Finally, despite all that we give our children as Suzuki parents, we have to hold something back for ourselves. We need to be able to live a life both together and separate from our children. By living simply, frugally, and in a goal-oriented way, realizing a solution to some of our old regrets is often within reach.

With introspection and self-compassion, we use our own issues in a positive way, one that helps both us and our young musicians develop.


  1. The Swiss psycotherapist, Carl Jung, wrote at length about the interaction between parent and child. He felt strongly that children develop under the shadow of the "unlived lives" of their parents. He noted that children "re-enact" under unconscious compulsion the unlived lives of their parents." As one author observed: "Without being conscious of it, without being able to articulate just what is going on, children pick up their parents’ failure to live authentically, and take on this burden." Link