i want to be a singer one day!
Since I was six years old, I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to be a singer. I didn’t have all the details figured out, but I knew God had put this desire in me as part of my calling. This calling has given me strength through so many obstacles.
When I was a 10-year-old little girl, I was singing along with my mom to Aretha Franklin. My mom loves Aretha’s soulful and dynamic sound. Singing a powerful song can be such an adrenaline rush, and in the height of my excitement, I blurted out, “I want to be a singer one day!”
My mom stopped singing and got quiet. She turned to me and asked, “Are you sure? I don’t think that’s the right fit for you.”
I don’t think it fully hit me at first that she was discouraging me, because I continued to sing along. But she had stopped singing and started gently pointing out how I wasn’t sounding exactly like Aretha. In her mind, I think she was trying to help me improve what I was doing, or to make me realize I should give up. I was a really sensitive child, so I became discouraged and went to my room and cried. I chose not to sing solo in front of my mom again until my college recital eleven years later. I spent a lot of time alone in my room, learning the lyrics to my CD’s, and trying to make my voice sound like the singers I admired. I practiced singing every day for years. There was something special about singing. I could be completely myself. I felt like it was the only way I could express my feelings. If I couldn’t share my feelings with my parents or siblings, at least God would know.
A theme in my childhood household was that the feelings of my siblings and I didn’t matter; instead, we were at the mercy of how our parents felt. Eventually our built-up feelings would come to the surface because we didn’t know how to regulate them. My parents would call us dramatic or crazy. Those experiences instilled a deep fear in me. I knew I was emotionally unsafe around my parents, but instead of emotional explosions, I had emotional implosions. I tried to be the perfect child in everything I did: chores, grades, demeanor. My parents and teachers chalked it up to me being a hard-worker, but working hard was just the result of my perfectionism. I put a lot of pressure on myself. If I started to cry, even as a teenager, I would hide my face or run away like a small child - sometimes resulting in panic attacks. It would get especially bad when the root of something my mom said to me rang in my ears: “You’re not good enough”.
It was in the car on the way to one of my choir concerts. I was lucky enough to get one year of choir my senior year of high school. There were no vocal music programs after 5th grade until the school brought it back my final year. Private lessons were not available in the town I lived in - if they were, they were not easy to find. The nearest large city was an hour away and money was scarce. I knew of all the obstacles, but I still decided that day to confront my mom on why she wasn’t supportive of my choice to sing. I was going to go to college that fall as a Vocal Music Education student against her wishes. Why didn’t she ever get me lessons? She was very flustered and responded, “If I had thought you were good enough I would have gotten you lessons.”
a dream of her own...
Parents are people first before they become our parents. Even after they enter parenthood, they will consider or sometimes even make decisions based on their personalities before contemplating what a “good parent” should do. Each person has their own faults, insecurities, and limiting beliefs through which they operate and, since parents are people, they are not immune to that. I held my parents to an impossible standard. I never allowed myself to believe they were just people doing their best. I grieved the life I could have had.
The years of 2020-2022 were healing years for me. God told me that I would be sorting through “childhood trauma” during this time. I had already done so much work on myself. So much therapy. So much journaling and praying. What else was left to do? I joined a group at church to help me overcome the anger I felt towards my parents. The work done in this group unburied what I was really thinking and feeling. It also prompted me to look beyond my story and think about theirs. I became interested in who my mom was as a person.
I remembered that she had grown up with a dream of her own. She wanted to be a professional gardener or maybe own her own greenhouse. She had always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit and she was a wizard with plants. My mom had seven large gardens that she worked in consistently at our house. She had so many textbooks and magazines on gardening, I would have thought she went to school for it. Instead, she went to school for Business Administration; to do office work like her mother. Having grown up in the Great Depression, my grandmother would tell my mom that she needed to pick a career she could make money on and, since people at that time rarely would have more than one career in their life, gardening would never be a career option.
Another thing I knew about my mom is that she had very low self-esteem. She did not take criticism well, and she was hard on herself. Sound familiar? She once told me that it was one of her biggest fears that her children would have the same insecurities that she had. She didn’t want that for us. Lastly, I realized that she bore the brunt of the blame we wanted to place on our issues, considering she was deemed almost entirely responsible for taking care of and making decisions for my two sisters and I. Our dad was a mostly dis-engaged parent. Most times, it was like she was a single mother. It must have been terribly hard to parent well.
Having more empathy with my mom’s story, along with seeing how it intertwined with my own, gave me the words to have an honest conversation with my mom. It was scary because it started somewhat similarly to the conversation we had had in the car fifteen years before.
“Mom, I’m sorry if I’ve been distant. I’ve been angry at you.” She gets quiet, but replies: “What about?”
“Why did you not want me to sing? Why didn’t you want me to go to college for it?” I choke out. She sighs.
“I wondered if we would talk about this. Honey, I love you so, so much. I didn’t want you to deal with that life. I wanted to make sure you would be able to support yourself. Being a starving artist is never something a parent wants for their child. Plus all of the things that are involved with the life of a musician: drugs, partying, the loneliness….I didn’t want to expose you to that.”
My face is hot as I’m trying to hold back the tears but they are free-flowing by now. I remember all the “Behind the Music” shows we would watch that highlighted those issues, so I understood her thought process.
“I was sure it was because you thought I wasn’t good enough. You told me that once. You told me you would have gotten me lessons if you had thought I was good enough.”
She pauses and then says quietly “I don’t remember that. Did I really say that?” She sounded ashamed.
“Yes.” I said.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking when I said that. I can only guess that maybe I just didn’t want to have the conversation.” It was the first time I can ever remember that she admitted she was wrong.
We continued to talk and ended with her hearing one of the most recent songs I had written. I didn’t care whether or not she thought it was good. What I cared about was the fact that I could share that part of myself with her.
step out in faith...
She is now so supportive. I am still not used to hearing encouragement from her. Surprisingly, I was not fully healed through that conversation. I still was grieving the person I could have been had I been fully supported, and I still am rewiring my brain to overcome limiting beliefs and step out in faith to the calling God has given me.
Currently, I am singing on the worship team at Radiant Church, as well as leading a songwriting group there to support fellow musicians. I have a Bachelor’s in Vocal Music Education. I work in the box office at the Jackson Symphony Orchestra, and I am registered to teach voice at the orchestra’s Community Music School. I will be leading a Songwriting Workshop there this summer. I volunteer to sing places, but just this past weekend, I received my first check as a paid singer!
I am not fully healed, but I have done enough emotional work to know what parts my parents played in my life and the parts I am responsible for. I am responsible for my limiting beliefs and for the steps I do or don’t take. Instead of grieving who I could have been, I am openly celebrating who I am now. God doesn’t waste hurt. I truly believe He turns all things for good. I hope this story gives you peace.
Nichole and her husband Jeremey reside in southern Michigan. In the midst of perusing her calling in music, Nichole is finding joy in songwriting, teaching others, and singing wholeheartedly for the Lord.
Photos by Carly Kristin Photography. Headshot provided by Nichole Thompson.