Musicians who are parents often find themselves walking a fine line between encouraging creativity and not forcing their chosen form of expression on their children.

With Mother’s Day approaching, I decided to ask a handful of singer-songwriter moms from Maine about how they found that balance and what role music plays in their relationships with their kids. For most, it’s a big one. Whether their children have served as muses or have become musicians themselves, they said that sharing a love of music has provided some of the most rewarding moments of motherhood.

Anna Lombard with daughers June (left) and Haisel (right) in 2020. Photo by Jon Roods

When Anna Lombard was pregnant with her daughters Haisel, 11, and June 6, she held headphones to her belly and played music. But after that, she didn’t impose music on them, hoping they would connect to it organically, and they did.

“Turns out it was a great approach because it became this sort of reverse psychology method, and now I can’t get either of them to stop singing, or banging on piano keys, or wanting to play with me at home,” said Lombard, who lives in South Portland and is a member of the roots-rock band Love By Numb3rs.

She said music helps with everything from brain development and stress release to learning patience and discipline. And she sees an opportunity to benefit from their love of music as well.

“I’m looking forward to having them as backup singers one day, although I may be all washed up by then and begging to sit in on their shows instead,” Lombard said.

Laurie Jones and her son Torin. Photo by B. Tupper

Folk-rocker Laurie Jones of Saco, the mother of two adult kids and step-mom to two more, always told her children “that in music, you will always have friends.

“It doesn’t matter if you play it, or just love listening, it’s consistent and true.”

Her son Torin has taken that message furthest, having joined her on stage since he was 8 years old and acting as guitar roadie and stage hand at gigs. He now plays several instruments and writes songs, including one for a new album she’s working on.

“It’s such a blast to play with him,” she said. “He is like the punk rock to my folk vibe material, Iggy Pop to my folk sensibilities.”

Mehuman  Photo by Craig Litten

Mehuman Ernst of Westbrook, who records and performs gospel, blues and jazz as Mehuman, grew up learning musical instruments as a means of worshipping God and celebrating life and death. Listening to her mother play piano while singing hymns and spirituals, with her dad on baritone accompaniment, taught her how to express herself musically.

“We learned that music transforms hearts and situations,” said Ernst.

She and her nine siblings have carried that tradition forward by encouraging creative expression in the next generation, including her two step-sons, Evan and Pierce Ernst, who are in their early 20s.

Evan is a filmmaker, and Pierce, who played guitar player in high school and college, keeps her informed about new music worth listening to.

“I like to believe that both of my sons’ eclectic sensibilities about art and life, and their courage to experiment creatively has been positively influenced by watching me try, succeed and fail,” said Ernst.

Sara Cox, her daughter Lila Schrock and Cox’s boyfriend Paul Lachance playing music together. Photo courtesy of Sara Cox

Motherhood is a recurring theme in Sara Cox’s music. The Windham singer-songwriter’s “Green Apple” is about how fast her daughter was growing up, and “I in Team” is about her experience as a stay-at-home mom.

She made sure to incorporate music in the lives of her children – Avery, 22, Caleb, 20 and Lila, 15 – from an early age by having musical instruments around for them to pick up and play as they pleased. And she’s reaping the rewards.

“Playing music with them is one of my favorite things in the world now,” she said. “It brings me more joy than playing professionally ever did.”

Charles Van West and his mother Jenny Van West playing in Sonoma, California in 2018. Photo by Chris James Music

Americana singer-songwriter Jenny Van West of Portland started writing songs and performing regularly when her sons were in elementary school, and she would make up songs just for them. She recorded one called “All The Way to the Sun.”

Now, Baxter, 18, is headed for Berklee College of Music in Boston in the fall and is training as a luthier, making stringed instruments. Charles, 20, is a programmer and electrical engineer, but Van West said that music is still a central part of his life as both a musician and fan.

“They’ve developed independently and on their own terms as musicians and have performed together as a duo,” she said.

Occasionally, there are spontaneous, late-night singing parties at the Van West home, during which “all hell breaks loose,” she said.

Van West’s advice to parents who hope to create a culture of music in their home is not to force anything, but to play music around and with their kids, and be OK with making mistakes.


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