As a parent, you’re constantly looking for ways to motivate your kids. Sometimes rewards work. Other times that motivation can come in the way of fear.
When I was younger my parents used fear in the form of a can of pork and beans. The threat went like this: if I got a detention in school my supper would be a can of pork and beans. I hated them growing up.
It was effective because I never got a detention. The closest I ever got was in middle school band. Probably 6th grade. The entire trumpet section got a group detention. I was nervous to tell my parents but made the case that it wasn’t my fault so I shouldn’t be held accountable.
Apparently, I did a good job presenting my argument because I got what the rest of my family had for supper that night.
By the way, my aversion to pork and beans is gone. I realized about 15 years ago that my tastes had changed and that I didn’t mind pork and beans.
It was on a guys week away horseback riding with my father-in-law and brothers-in-law in South Dakota. Our evening meals consisted of grilled meat and beans. On the second night, I thought, “I should try pork and beans. See if I like them now.”
Turns out they weren’t bad. Still not my most favorite, but I don’t mind a serving every once in awhile. Especially with a burger or BBQ.
Once I realized that I could eat beans I set out to try them more often. I found out my absolute favorite beans are my aunt’s homemade baked beans. They’re delicious and I’d happily eat them anytime. They’re a favorite of my youngest daughter’s too! I need to get that recipe to add to my collection.
What food would’ve kept you from getting a detention?
A few months ago I had the opportunity to go to an Eric Church concert. It happened to fall on a weeknight… and with less than 2 days notice my wife couldn’t go because it was her late night at work.
That meant if I went our kids would have to fend for themselves for the night. They’re old enough to be by themselves but I was conflicted.
Eric Church is one of my favorite country artists but parental guilt, and the feeling that I needed to be there for my kids, made me want to turn the offer of tickets down.
In fact, I was going to turn it down… but before I could… I was told that not only did I have tickets but I was on the list for a backstage meet-and-greet. It was too late to back out so I called a friend to see if he wanted to go.
I still felt a little guilty leaving the kids at home and heading to the show but I’m glad I went. It was a great show, I had fun hanging out with a friend, and my girls got along just fine for a night without my wife and I around.
That night… and the fact I almost turned it down… got me thinking a lot about parental guilt. How I know there have been times that I’ve let it get the best of me and missed some opportunities because of it.
Since then I’ve tried to let go of the parental guilt. To realize that me being gone one night isn’t going to scar my kids… and the independence is probably good for them. To their credit, they’ve actually supported a few nights out that my wife and I have had recently.
A year ago my wife and I would’ve turned down weeknight tickets to Sound Of Music and Jersey Boys, opting to stay home but no more. I’ve realized that having time for ourselves and each other is just as important as having time with our kids.
Are you good at letting go of parenting guilt?
I’ve offered up before what I thought was my best parenting tip… but today made me change my thinking.
My new best parenting tip is simple. Show up. Be there for your kids. Years from now your kids won’t remember the things you bought them but they will remember the times you showed up. The times you showed an interest in what they cared about.
This afternoon was the Spring Show for my oldest daughter’s high school dance team. As part of the show, the moms did a pom routine by themselves and the dad’s danced with our daughters.
I know many of the moms would’ve preferred to stay in the stands and not dance… but they showed up and danced anyway to surprise their daughters.
Backstage before the dad/daughter performance there were plenty of jokes amongst the dads. How we wouldn’t remember the moves. How we weren’t ready. How we’d mess up.
What I heard behind each joke was clear… “I love my daughter and if she wants me to dance with her that’s what I’m gonna do… even if I make a fool of myself.”
Yep. Today it became clear to me. Parenting isn’t about knowing all the answers (because I sure don’t have them). It isn’t about making the right call every time (because I don’t).
Parenting is about caring, showing up, and making an effort…. even if you don’t have all the answers… even if you could look foolish.
In the end your kids won’t remember if you missed a dance step. They’ll remember you made an effort. That you showed up. That you were there. That’s what’s important.