What shall we do with our middle son? What should he lose?
I had been returning to my desk when the hubs asked the above in a plaintive voice. It took me a few minutes for the questions to register as I swiveled in my chair to face him. That is the million dollar question that I ask myself, day-after-day.
How do you self-motivate?
I regurgitate the information I am gleaning from my current parenting book read, The Dolphin Way by Dr. Shimi Kang. The dolphin metaphor isn’t doing it for me, but the author has cogent points that I absorb like a sponge. And last eve, I had arrived to the chapter about self-motivation; particularly for our children. In this age of helicopter parenting and tiger moms words like crispies (kids burnt out by overscheduling) and tea cups (overprotected kids whose parents hope to bubble wrap them and shelter them from the real world) have sadly entered into child psychology. Extrinsic factors are motivators. Rewards. Material Things. Accolades.
I can clearly remember when our bookclub read Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The discussion was non-existent amidst our group of ten. But the pool moms chattered and argued amongst one another for a week as I read excerpts from the book aloud on the bleachers. Why? In hindsight I see it. WE were those tigers.
Kids are too busy and distracted to discover how to self-motivate from within. When parents do everything or constantly dangle carrots to entice; why would a child want to do something, just because. What’s in it for them?
When the hubs asked our sons to help within the shop; the middle son refused. Earning money nor video gaming time were not motivating factors. And so the hubs considers what this son will lose for not choosing to help. Should this kid have to help? Why did the other two immediately acquiesce without having to earn money or play time? What motivates our children? Heck! What motivates me?
As the thought formed in my mind I stopped typing. I was multi-tasking between windows; pinning online articles about swimming for exercise. I am not a swimmer but I must change my fitness routine, often, to remain consistent. And so I search, pushing myself to try new things…
…and found myself taking online quizzes; pondering my level of motivation. I allocate myself an hour, each day, to do something I really don’t want to do. Currently, that entails a project of wading through twenty-five years of paperwork generated from our small manufacturing company. Surely, producing nuts and bolts doesn’t require THIS much paperwork? The whir of our shredder is my constant office companion this summer.
In order to function we must always have proper nutrition, enough sleep and consistent exercise. To attempt to do our best each and every single day; these needs must be met. The Eggo waffles for lunch, the late hour gaming matches and Internet surfing tendencies are not optimal ways to produce contributing members to my household. Nor is the extra tutoring, private lessons and time consuming enrichment activities able to produce “well-rounded” kids for the betterment of society.
There is a school of thought that kids have to want to do things, intrinsically. But what if they don’t want to do anything? How far do you bribe, cajole, push and pull your child to make them efficient and productive denizens of society? What is the tipping point or motivating factor for the child to want to self-improve and contribute?
If you have the answer, please let me know. The answers to my husband’s query elude me.
It is hard to find the balance amidst our twenty-first century world. A majority of US states are implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to teach our children to be competitive in a global world economy, to critically think and problem solve, to become innovators. There are multiple correct answers to a problem; as long as there is proof to back them. One needs to be able to communicate ideas and extra kudos for those who can do this with panache. How does one juggle staying competitive, discover the cure to the Ebola virus or proliferating squamous cancer cells, find world peace in the Middle East, eat, sleep well and exercise? Is there really enough time in the day?
It is these questions that taunt me as I seek my inner Zen and stoke my inner fire. On the yin and yang symbol I walk the fine, curvy line. It seems easier to walk around the circle in the periphery. Maybe this is what my middle child is doing. It is easier to disengage, to lower expectations. You won’t be critiqued or judged. You will just be. So very Zen.
It is a fine line we walk, as parents, to guide our kids. But in order to guide them, we must model the behavior for them. During the hubs’ afternoon lull, I wheeled his chair to my desk to take the online self-motivation quiz. Thankfully, both he and I fall into the same category; within two points of one another. In our marriage we are complementary; the hubs is more of the critical thinker and innovator. I am the collaborator and communicator. We can push each other to be our best because we excel at different things. Yin and yang.
Upon returning from the golf course, this afternoon, the hubs was disgusted. All our sons could talk about, on the green, was online games instead of concentrating on the game of golf. For the remainder of the afternoon bedrooms were in disarray when, hark; our eldest son’s closet organizer finally was installed. It has only taken up space in our garage for over three years, but the hubs finally found his motivation. The younger boys were tasked with tackling the endless shelves of children’s books and unwanted clothes in closets. They did not have any choice in the matter, whatsoever.
Meanwhile my parenting book urges dolphin parents to allow their children to play. To have some free time and to explore things that interest them, just because. Sadly, I think our children do not know what to explore without a purpose in mind (unless it is gaming). My sons have not had days where they sat making mud pies or were left to explore the great outdoors. Their childhoods have been filled with structured activities, lessons and sports. The car was their homework space as we shuttled to and fro.
Rosalind Wiseman, the author of Masterminds & Wingmen recently blogged an interesting point of view. She had been speaking to a room of middle schoolers and was, unexpectedly, asked by a student what gaming console she preferred. A mother of boys, herself, she realized she was given more clout because she could immerse herself into their gaming world and reply. She wasn’t the typical adult who espoused video games as societal evils. She could relate to the tweeners in the audience by discussing various games that virtually represented life situations of: bullying, racism, bartering and working communally.
Wiseman urged parents that being knowledgeable and empathetic to characters and games, could actually improve relations with those children who live and breathe: FIFA Soccer, Minecraft, League of Legends, or DotA 2 24/7. I happily noted she did not endorse inappropriate games such as Grand Theft Auto (GTA). The take home; taking an active interest in what your child is into can be a way to communicate in their language.
Though I have no desire to create an online Steam account I have been spending my days looking up the games my boys currently play. I share the idea with the hubs; who already has an online account and plays alongside my sons. I suppose it is fair that if I make my boys understand why I make them do things they don’t want; that I should also understand why they do the things I really don’t want for them.
I must immerse myself in their world to relate. It goes both ways.
It is my hope that what, ultimately, will motivate my children is to contribute; to give back. I am hoping my transparency, as I also search internally and give up external factors as motivation, will also help them find themselves. I must continue to search. To serve. To communicate and collaborate ideas. My thinking cap is on; to arrive at possible answers and create new ways to reach my sons. To be authentic. To be true, to you.