Motivation….by definition is that process which initiates, motivates, and maintains goal oriented behavior. motivation determines what we actually do, not what we just think about doing. Motivation is taking what we are capable of and creating something bigger, better, and rewarding. So how do you motivate your children? How do you teach them the value of motivation and goal oriented behavior without turning into one of those screaming domineering parents?
When children are small it seems so much easier to “motivate” them with praise, stickers, and completed chore charts. Sports teams give everybody a trophy for showing up while we proudly display the team photos. And don’t forget the snacks after games! But what do you do when they are older? Threatening them, chastising them, and expressing your disappointment can be “motivating” but at a huge cost to your relationship and their own internal drive to succeed or event to participate in activities.
This summer we had the unfortunate experience of listening to “screaming mom”. This was the affectionate nick name we gave this woman who would leap out of her car at the most unexpected moments during summer training and scream at her child. “Mikey are you even listening?!!” “Mikey, WHAT was THAT?!! You know you are faster!” Mikey, you are never going to make it if you don’t up your game now!” UGH! It was embarrassing to watch and really hard to not intervene. This poor 13-year-old boy had a rotten attitude, was clearly rebellious and disrespectful to his mom, and frankly she deserved it.
My husband and I have been blessed with four great kids who are generally obedient, pleasant, and fun to be around. They’re the kids who the neighbors call on to watch their homes, children, and pets. They’re the children that other parents have told me they’re so happy that their kids are hanging out with them. And frankly I’ve been proud that people have made these comments to me. But as we continue to guide them all into adulthood we are struck by how unmotivated these same great kids seem to be. They get descent grades (all above 3.5) but in our academically rigorous school district certainly don’t strive to be the best. They generally love athletics and music, but none of them have turned out to be die-hard competitors. They are basically successful, well-rounded young people, but we arent’ really seeing any passion driven, goal oriented behaviors. Is this bad? Should we worry? Well, sometimes we do. Just last week I watched our youngest basically jog through a cross-country meet (in his defense he sprinted at the end). When I approached him after the race I said “What was that about?” He replied, “What? Are you going to be screaming mom now?” Nope, not my plan, and certainly not my behavior that day. But I was disappointed in his lack of effort. I told him, “Dude it’s cold out here! And dinner is probably over cooked now! I would have stayed home if I had known that you weren’t really going to try!”
We never really did argue and I think I actually made my point since the rest of the evening he hung around me telling me all of his reasons for not going “all out” at this particular race. But is that enough?
We live in an area that has a large population of successful, affluent people and these people take their children’s activities, particularly sports, very seriously. Private lessons, select club teams, and expensive clinics are the norm here. We refuse to buy into this kind of intensity and yet that certainly puts our children at a disadvantage when trying out for school teams. If I saw a passion or drive would I buy into this stuff? I can’t really say for sure. I just don’t know if we are doing them any favors. Has our lack of pushing made them soft? Has it taught them that mediocrity is ok? Is our home life so comfortable that they haven’t learned to really WANT something passionately? They all know that “lack of effort” is a huge issue that we won’t tolerate, but when is a good effort good enough? Have we mislead them by not insisting on all out commitment to be the best? I’m obviously referencing athletic examples now, but I see this attitude, or lack of passionate drive, dripping into other areas as well. I can’t beat motivation into my children. I can only hope that I’m raising well-rounded citizens who will eventually find their passions and goals worth pursuing.
So how do we find that balance? How do we ensure that they grow up with that life lesson? How do we teach them the value of giving your all?