As loving parents, we try to offer our children calm comfort by letting them know it doesn’t matter what mark they got or if they scored a goal in hockey, with the caveated: “so long as you tried your best.”
We feel pleased with ourselves for being encouraging. We pat ourselves on the back for not being one of "those" pushy parents who demand all A's or pay cash bonuses for high grades or for reaching other goals like making the cheer team. (It’s true, some parents do that... Don’t get me started.)
But what if you’re a chillaxed parent, and your children don’t try their best?
What do you say when you know darn well they could get a better grade on their English assignment if they slowed down and improved their penmanship or checked it over for simple grammar mistakes? They are NOT doing their best and THAT irks parents.
We see our children squandering their talents and we tell ourselves terrible things like:
1. they must have a poor work ethic
2. they have a bad attitude
3. they are lazy
4. they don’t care
But is that really true?
I don’t think so. Let’s look at the roots of motivation and understand that the mantra “always do your best” is seriously flawed.
We have to kick that psychological slogan to the curb once and for all.
Do your best is a flawed mantra
First of all, adults think they always do their best, but they do not. I don’t live up to my full potential. For all I know I could be a world-class bassoon player, but I am not. Am I lazy? Poor attitude? I don’t think so.
Every day, I have more tasks to do than I have hours in the day or budget for. I am constantly thinking of ways to compromise, make do, look at the larger scenario, make choices about my time and energy based on the needs of the situation.
If I tried my best at making dinner last night, we would have had something very different than pre-packaged Thai sauce poured over shrimp from the freezer. But there was no time last night. Was that a bad attitude? Was I lazy? I didn’t do my best on purpose. It would have been a poor choice to do my dinner best last night.
Another example for you: My daughter is in university and next week she has the following tasks: an exam worth 30 per cent, a term paper worth 40 per cent and a class quiz worth five per cent. She will have to prioritize. She won’t be able to do her “best” as she might have if her profs scheduled her work on different weeks. Oh well.
She will also have to juggle down time so she doesn’t burn out as well as make time for friends and family since she is a whole person, more than simply a student studying machine. You can imagine what issue might arise if you become one of those.
So this is life people! “Do your best” is a mantra that will surely lead to misery. We have to accept the reality of “good enough.”
Ask yourself, do you do your parenting best every day? Ugh, who does? We will be so upset with ourselves if we think that’s the standard. I would argue most families are doing just fine raising their kids but they would enjoy family life EVEN more if they adopted the “good enough” model. You’d have less fights, more fun, be more attuned. The benefits are numerous.
So let’s throw out that “do your best” bullsh*t and try to look at our children’s motivation differently so we can offer more constructive approaches.
Next week, I will give you tips on how to motivate children with this new paradigm in mind.