We all know people who feel their parents are to blame for their lack of success in life. Some wish their parents had been stricter or had higher expectations; but many wish their parents had been more supportive and less controlling.
Of course parents play a huge role in our lives, whether positive or negative. (For the record, mine were great.) And while it isn’t impossible to overcome an incredibly domineering and controlling family — as you’ll see — it does make finding success and happiness a lot harder.
Mozart is a great example.
When he was young, Mozart was the family’s Jackie Coogan. (Coogan was a child actor who in the 1930s earned over $4 million but only received about $2,000 of it; his parents took the rest. Then again, in later years Coogan did play Uncle Fester on The Addams Family, so there is that.)
Over time, Mozart’s father Leopold banked a sum equal to about fifty times his annual salary. So when Wolfie left Salzburg when he was twenty-one to make his own way, his father did his best to try to maintain control.
Here’s Leopold’s advice on making friends:
“All friendships have their motives,” he wrote, with scoundrels everywhere whose only purpose is to “squeeze (you) dry.” And, “All men are villains! The older you become and the more you associate with people, the more you will realize this sad truth.”
He also wasn’t big on foreigners. Or women:
“You should be on your guard against its (Paris) dangers… and should refrain from all familiarity with young Frenchmen, and even more so with the women, who are always on the lookout for strangers to keep them, who run after young people of talent in an astonishing way in order to get at their money, draw them into their net, or even land them as husbands.”
He wasn’t done on with women:
“Where they are concerned, the greatest reserve and prudence are necessary. Nature herself being our enemy. Whoever does not use his judgment to the utmost to keep the necessary reserve with them, will exert it in vain later on when he endeavors to extricate himself from the labyrinth, a misfortune which most often ends only at death.”
(Imagine how it would feel to be a young woman Mozart took home to meet his parents.)
It gets even better when Wolfie falls in love with Aloysia Weber. (He later marries her sister, Constanze.)
“All your other friends are forgotten, now this family is the most honorable, the most Christian family, and the daughter is to have the leading role in the tragedy to be enacted between your own family and hers!”
Yet all this time it seems Leopold was holding back. Here’s what happens when he goes all-in:
“Now it depends solely on your good sense and your way of life whether you die as an ordinary musician, utterly forgotten by the world, or as a famous kapellmeister, or whom posterity will read… whether, captured by some woman, you die bedded on straw in an attic full of starving children, or whether, after a Christian life spent in contentment, honor, and renown, you leave this world with your family well provided for and your name respected by all.”
“Bedded on straw in an attic full of starving children.” Now there’s an image.
As Maynard Solomon, the author of Mozart: A Life (the source for the above quotes), says:
“Thus, when Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart first attempted to emerge from the bosom of his family, he discovered that his way was barred. His extraordinary family, rather than being a loving haven within which he could grow to maturity, had somehow come to resemble a kind of debtor’s prison from which he could escape only by the most strenuous effort.
“At each sign of Mozart’s resistance to family imperatives, the full weight of his father’s coercive rationality was brought to bear upon him. And if this proved insufficient, his sister and his mother were conscripted to stand against him as well.”
Fortunately, as Russell Crowe said in an Oscar acceptance speech, “For anybody whose on the downside of advantage and relying purely on courage… it’s possible.” It was possible for Mozart, just like it’s possible for all of us.
While where we come from certainly matters, where we choose to go — and it is a choice — is everything.
Help your children become the person they really want to be.
Because in the end, who they want to be is what matters most.