Friday, January 29, 2016

Motivation Part II

I could relate to Jan's blog post about motivation, and I think it's safe to assume I'm not the only one. After a rather long Christmas break and a heavenly vacation where our families reunited, Jan and I were commiserating over a single issue: how to motivate our kids. Jan's son was getting back to his first year of college while mine was getting back to first grade. Both were adjusting to being back in "the real world". Both were giving their respective mother's gray hair, sleepless nights and a (bigger) reason to drink. Despite the twelve year age difference, our boys do have some striking similarities in the personality department, which gives me hope that my son will turn into a confident. caring young man like my nephew.

Anyway, the motivation issue is center stage in my household. Most days a three year old who refuses to poop on the toilet is the least of it. I spend all day every day trying to motivate myself and my first grader.I don't think my struggles homeschooling are greater than the struggles of parents with kids in traditional school. If anything I have more time and flexibility. The homework battles spare no one. The problem is I think it's my job to motivate my son, which again isn't unique to our schooling situation. To a certain extent, it is our job as parents to motivate our children. I'm channeling my motivational psychology class when I say that we are all born self absorbed egomaniacs. In other words, children are naturally motivated by what feels good: a full belly, a soft bed, a parent's arms, colorful toys. As the world grows we learn to be concerned with bigger pictures and people and things outside of ourselves - but - and I know this is my new favorite overused phrase, let's be real here. Who is not more motivated to do things that offer a sense of pleasure and purpose? Or even just pleasure? Who wouldn't rather watch TV than fold the laundry? Good thing we can do both simultaneously, right?

How do we motivate our kids, especially those that are a little more difficult to motivate? Although I've said it in my head, I'm fairly certain screaming, "Just spell the fucking word!" would be about as effective as begging, not that I've done that. My husband and I say ridiculous things like, "hard work pays off in the end" and "you need to do well in school so you can go to college and you need to go to college so you can get a job and you need a job so you can pay your bills". If you don't think this is ridiculous advice, listen to it as a six year old. "In the end" refers to when your friend logs off the Minecraft server. As for the school-college-job-bills thing? That, my friends, is extrinsic motivation.

For those of us who aren't psychology nerds with dusty, useless bachelor's degrees, extrinsic motivation occurs when we are motivated to do something for its end result. I am motivated to do laundry so that we have clothes to wear. I am motivated to go grocery shopping so that we have food to eat. Simple enough, right? This is what we often use with our kids, or at least I do. "If you get 10 out of 10 on your spelling test you get a new book; if you finish your school work you can play Minecraft; if you poop in the toilet and not in your pants you get a sticker and a piece of chocolate, and Spiderman won't have to go in the garbage". Some might call this method of motivating bribery. I call those people STFU. By the way, my son's response to the aforementioned school=college=job=ability to pay bills? Don't worry, he is going to, and I quote, "play Minecraft all day while my wife works". Those of you with daughters, you're ponying up the dowry right now, amIright?

This brings me to intrinsic motivation. If you're reading this blog pot you are intrinsically motivated, because there's no prize at the end, which means you're reading out of a genuine interest and quest for knowledge. Or you are a friend/ family member reading out of a sense of obligation, but that's a different matter altogether. I am intrinsically motivated to write. I don't get paid for it; in fact I have spent more on printer ink printing out all 272 pages of my finished manuscript. Maybe it will never be published, but I still had a sense of accomplishment when I got the first draft of my first novel typed out. I'd still write even if no one read it. Back in September I attended a writer's conference in L.A. One wise speaker said, "It takes a certain degree of insanity to put 80,000 words in a Word document". *Raises hand and nods*. In other words, it takes a certain amount of passion to put a lot of work into something that may never be rewarded (or even read), because, drum roll please, the reward is in the work. The destination is in the journey and all that jazz. I write because I love writing. I spend one Saturday and two Sundays a month working with kids with special needs because it gets me out of my own head. It's a flow experience -  that thing you do that makes the time seem to flow instead of drag. Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation is the person who runs for the runner's high versus the runner who runs to lose the pounds.

Obviously, intrinsic motivation is what really drives us. So how do we teach our kids intrinsic motivation instead of, as Jan said, dangling the carrot? The answer is we can't. Intrinsic motivation can't be taught, fabricated, threatened, or cajoled. I would say it has to come from within but then I would have to be holding a joint, which I'm not if you were wondering. Nonetheless, we can't make our kids really want to write spelling words, study, or clean rooms any more than we can make ourselves really want to clean the litter box, fold the laundry, or kiss the boss's ass. But if/when they find what drives them, what they really want, what fits, they'll be motivated to do whatever it takes to get there. All we can do is expose them to a wide variety of experiences and give them a chance to find that drive.

 Until they do, we'll keep begging, praying, drinking, not sleeping, and holding Minecraft on a stick.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Three Words No Parent Wants To Hear

It was directed at my husband and not at me, but I still felt it.The words flew like shrapnel, grazing against my skin, the shock of the pain causing me to draw in my breath. 

"I hate you!"

His little fists flung out wildly and he fired the words again as my husband carried him to the car, his pajama shirt still on under the school t-shirt we had wrestled over his head. It took both of us. He is six years old. 

"I hate you!"

It's the first time he's said those words, but it won't be the last. Nor are we the first parents to hear them from the mouth of a child. Does he really hate his dad? Of course not. He's angry and he's lashing out the only way he knows how. The transition between home and school on Monday mornings is tough. We wake up prepared for battle. We know it's hard for him. But this morning his words hung in the air long after the car pulled away, swirling with the icy January wind, just as sharp. I went back into the house and looked at my three-year-old happily playing with his PAW Patrol trucks. I wonder when he'll say it for the first time. 

Let's be real, here. Parenting is not a popularity contest. Tough love is not fun. If we're doing it right sometimes our kids will hate us. They might hate us when everyone else's parents are letting them go to Sue Ellen's party but we'll say no because we don't know Sue Ellen's parents but we're pretty certain they weren't invited to the party. They'll hate us when we push them, try to motivate them, set hard limits. They'll hate us for not being the cool parents, the exact thing they'll love us for later. Or so I tell myself.

Sometimes our kids will hate us. Sometimes they'll tell us. We'll hate ourselves too, sometimes. Sometimes we might even hate them a little bit, but we know enough to keep it to ourselves.

People say that parenting is the most rewarding job in the world, and this is true. It is slightly less PC to say that parenting is the most painful job in the world, but this is also true. Like I've said before, having a child with unique struggles amplifies both the victories and the fall outs. My husband sent me a text to let me know that as soon as he was in the car he took his words back. I knew he would. His remorse is always deep and sincere and unprompted. Almost before the words are out of his mouth, almost before his fists stop swinging he realizes that he's been hurtful. He does not lack empathy, he lacks self-control. 

Even in the midst of his mind storms he's in there trapped under a tangle of synapses, wires that have gotten crossed. The people we love have the ability to hurt us the most and there's no exception when these people are our children. It's more than getting our feelings hurt, though. It's heartbreaking to see your child struggle. But that's why we're here. We'll help our children understand that we care about them and want the best for them. We'll help them understand why they have to do things that "aren't fun". When they don't understand we'll make them do it anyway. We'll give them love and support, we'll guide them through the landmines in life. Sometimes we'll have to let them step on one so they learn to be more careful. Sometimes we'll say no. Our love for our children is unshakable and we know they love us too. Even when they hate us.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

It's Not Me, It's You: Motivation

I was emailing my sister-in-law and explaining how one of my kids doesn't seem motivated to do much of anything, especially school. My frustration is overflowing, yet I feel completely helpless. She has experienced similar problems motivating her boys, the most recent problem being her potty training failures with her little one. No matter what we do or say, they are not motivated to do what we feel they should or shouldn't do. At times, I feel as though I have failed as a parent, unable to make them see the importance of things, unable to inspire them to be better, to want more for themselves. I tend to get jealous of parents whose kids are over-achievers, yes, I can admit that. "My kid gets straight As, my kid is a top athlete, my kid is the star of the show," blah, blah, blah. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm happy for them, really, I am. I would just like to know what the magic formula, the secret sauce is, what motivates their kids to achieve without the push, without the dangling carrot. Or, if they do get pushed or chase the carrot, why does that work for them but not for my kids? I think the one most obvious statement exists: Motivation comes from within and cannot be taught or coerced.

We all do it, reward desirable behavior with positive words or actions. Hell, I have promised my kids phones, money, or other wanted items in exchange for good grades or certain behaviors. It makes sense right? Motivate them with what they want, what they desire? As kids get older, it's more difficult or should I say, the payout is much more complicated. When they were little, a warm smile and a "Yay, you did it," seemed to be all they needed. Then we moved to M&Ms, then Barbies/Legos, and before I knew it, I felt like I was offering more than what the task was worth. A while back, my husband told my son he would get him a specific car if he got straight As. I guess he knew he would never really have to pay up since our son's motivation wanes and dissolves during the semester, but on the slight chance our son did it, maybe it would spawn an internal motivation to want to achieve straight As the following semester. Um, no.

Lack of motivation doesn't just pertain to kids; it's very much a part of the adult world as well. We have someone in our family who smokes. We have begged, offered options, given the dire reality of what it's doing to his/her body and how it's claimed too many of our family members already, but what we see as motivating reasons to quit is not motivating to him/her. This person has to want to quit. He or she may say they want to, but in reality, they are not motivated enough to make the effort. No matter how much begging, it's a waste of breath because the lack of motivation exists.

We may struggle with our own motivation. I used to go to the gym almost every day and was in the best shape of my adult life until about a year ago. Now, I make a million excuses why I can't get to the gym. How do I motivate myself to get back into the healthy routine? What lies am I feeding myself to keep from getting back in shape? I guess I just don't want it badly enough. I keep telling myself, next week would be fine to start, this week is just too busy. Yes, I lie to myself, even though I know I'm lying! Maybe our family member has lied to him/herself that they won't be one of those who die of lung cancer. Sometimes it's much easier to convince ourselves of the pros of what we are doing than to convince others around us who have a different view.

I had to dig down into what motivates me. My motivation stems from childhood. When I was in grade school, my parents were told they would be lucky if I worked as a checkout girl at Kmart for the rest of my life - yes, someone at the school actually said this!! I struggled in school; nothing came easily to me. I had a learning disability no one could pinpoint. I was put in remedial classes and was made fun of for being in the "stupid" math class. It was humiliating. I would huddle under my covers with a flashlight at night and study, so I wouldn't be made fun of for getting a bad grade on a test. School was my nemesis, but it was also my motivation. I refused for anyone to tell me I couldn't do something. I proved my worth by going off to college and eventually scoring higher grades than the grad students in my class. My motivation never came from material things; it came from the need for internal validation. It was raising my middle finger to the schmucks who thought I wasn't capable or worthy of my dreams. I guess you could say, people who doubt me, motivate me.

So, no matter how much I try to motivate my children or those I love to push through their difficulties and rise above it, if they don't want it, it won't happen. I have to hope, somewhere along their journey, they will find the strength to push themselves, to find their own motivation to achieve what I know they are capable of. In the meantime, I hope to push myself to be the best I can be so they can draw strength from my perseverance. If they see me conquering my own mountains of self-doubt, maybe it will inspire them to do the same.

Next time you struggle with your motivation skills, consider leading by example rather than offering a physical or verbal push that will only be pushed back to you. No matter how hard you push or how much you want it, they have to want it more.