The Family Therapist is In
What's your Motivation?
February, 2005 - Issue #5
As a parent I'm sure many of you have had the experience of being involved in some type of volunteer group; Brownies, soccer, football, baseball, cheer, Awanas... the list goes on, you fill in the blank! And I'm also pretty sure many of you have stood back and observed in fascinated horror certain parents who just lose it when they get involved in these activities.

The transformation from normal parent to egocentric, self-motivated, power-hungry pseudo-parent is amazing and scary. What happens? Where does it come from? Was the involvement ever sincerely about their child or does the opportunity fulfill some need inside the parent?

It's a sad situation. Maybe you've even been one of those parents but were fortunate enough to "pull yourself back from the dark side" before things got too carried away.

The expectation of what your child should do, should be, or should accomplish, what kind of talent you think they have versus what is truly their ability, these expectations can blind you to who your child really is, what they enjoy and what are their true gifts.

Khalil Gibran wrote, "Your children are not your children... they come through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts..."

A false assumption that parents make is that their children should be pushed rapidly into roles that are either too mature for them or not natural for them. This happens often when parents are involved in the activities for themselves. Because of insecurities from their own past experiences their motivation isn't about encouraging their child, it's about validating themselves.

We do ridiculous things when the agenda is selfish. We frustrate our children when we seek to satisfy ourselves vicariously through them and their activities. This type of parent needs their children to experience and achieve things they themselves were denied. Their children become their ego trip. A feeling of inferiority rises up within the child out of a parent's self-satisfying agenda.

Children of these parents often feel that they are not seen or heard. A sense of adequacy, self-identity and personal worth are all wrapped up in the need to be accepted for ourselves by our parents. A child's sense of identity starts early. A child's uniqueness and belief that they can make it in the world is gained through their parents and especially through the relationship with the parent of the opposite sex. Parents who are involved in their children's activities for personal gain may miss the opportunity to build their child's sense of significance.

So what's the way out for those seeking redemption? If you recognize yourself in what I've described, here are some tips designed to keep your motivation child-centered:

Let your child speak for him/herself - don't answer for them.

(I've even heard college students asked questions that their parents jump in and respond to; it's rude and humiliating.)

Give your child the privilege of choice and respect their opinions whenever possible.

(Personality and character develop through making decisions - especially learning to live with the results of their decision.)

Spend time with your child outside of their particular extracurricular activity.

(A small boy asked his dad how much his car was worth and the father replied, "It cost a lot and it pays to take care of it." After some silence the boy said, "I guess I'm not worth very much since you spend more time on your car.")

Ask yourself if you're willing to play just a minor role in your child's extracurricular activity.

(Let them enjoy the activity with whatever time or talent is pleasurable for them.)

Help your child find satisfaction in their achievements.

(Get yourself or your involvement out of the way - in standing by rather than always jumping in, parents show they are supportive and accepting, which helps teach our children security and independence.)

Now, for those parents out there doing a good job when it comes to setting priorities for involvement with their children's outside activities, please don't take the above as advising you should always step back. As you already know, many organizations couldn't function or fund themselves without the help and support of wonderful parent volunteers. This article is only a heads-up, a kind of self-check. It's never too late to evaluate our parenting priorities and to strengthen our relationships with our children.

E-mail Kim Schafer with your comments and suggestions at
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