Like many parents, I often struggle to find the right words to motivate my children. I have survived the teenage years twice and am well into my third go-round with my youngest son. As a wordsmith who prides herself on being able to communicate effectively it’s incredibly frustrating when time and again the words I need elude me.
My fear is that my children will do something which will have a permanent negative impact on their future. Making them see the consequences of their actions (or inactions) is one of the most difficult challenges I have faced as a parent. There is a chasm of experience between us and I am often at a loss on how to bridge that gap.
I understand that until someone is receptive to an idea, there may not be any combination of words that can get through, however that has never stopped me from trying. I believe that you never know when the moment that they are ready to hear the words will coincide with someone saying just the right thing and I don’t want to miss an opening.
My kids kind of roll their eyes when I launch into a soliloquy that is meant to pierce their souls and set them on the correct road. Even though I am their biggest cheerleader and I know that they are going to make mistakes, I desperately want to spare them from the worst ones, the ones they will end up regretting.
When my middle son was in middle school, he didn’t do much work. He didn’t hand in some assignments and didn’t study much for tests. He spent more time trying to trick me into thinking he had done his work than actually doing the work. Perhaps he didn’t care or he thought he knew better but in either case it was terribly frustrating.
With high school looming, I started to panic. My husband and I tried everything. We bribed. We cajoled. We punished. I yelled. I even took away video games and his precious Lego collection. Nothing worked. He would be better for a few days and then slip up again. I was truly at my wit’s end.
One day I picked up one of his friends for carpool and was bemoaning the situation while I drove. His friend turned to my son and, in a matter of fact tone, said, “Dude, just do your work.” And I swear it worked! I wasn’t sure if it was the tone he used, or the perfect combination of words, but I could see that he had gotten through to him. The proverbial light bulb had gone off over my son’s head.
I recently asked my son what it was that his friend had said that turned him around, and he said that he was, “embarrassed that his friend understood better than he did.” After that, I never heard from a teacher about a missed assignment. To this day, we still quote that wise young man and, “Dude, just do your work” has become a family mantra. In this case it was both message as well as the messenger that did the trick.
We found ourselves in a similar situation with our youngest son in high school. Things weren’t quite as dire, but I felt he wasn’t living up to his potential. I reverted to daily pep talks, encouraging, threatening, whatever I could think of on any given day. I often felt like Knute Rockne giving his “Win one for the Gipper” speech. And I watched as pretty much everything I said went in one ear and out the other. Until one day, during football season, when I told my son that every time he didn’t do something he was supposed to, or didn’t do it well, he was getting further from the goal post, which would make it harder to score. My son looked up from his computer and said, “That’s actually a good analogy,” before proceeding to ignore me again. I felt as if I had scored a touchdown! He finally appeared to understand what I had been trying to tell him all along.
I know I can’t take all the credit and he was probably ready to turn on the power but things are now going really well for my son in school. I’d like to think I had some small part in the change.
As parents, we can never know how far our influence (and nagging) will go. But on the outside chance that I could be the one to spark that change I’m never going to stop trying. In fact, I’m already crafting my next pep talk because the precise combination of sounds and syllables I use at the perfect time might be the just the catalyst my child needs.
Marlene Kern Fischer is a wife, mother of three sons, food shopper extraordinaire, blogger and college essay editor at Essay Moms. She attended Brandeis University, from which she graduated cum laude with a degree in English Literature.
A Founding Contributor and Advisor at CollegiateParent, her work has also been featured on Huffington Post, Her View From Home, Parent Co., Kveller, Grown and Flown, MockMom, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and Better After 50. You can read more of Marlene’s work on her site, Thoughts From Aisle Four