Monday, December 14, 2009


How do you motivate a child that refuses to be motivated?

What is wrong with my daughter?

I work with all sorts of kids whose parents tell me that their kids will never do that which I ask, and yet, time and again, we get them to work. And work hard.

Why can't I do that with my own kids?

When Robert was young, it was tough to get him to listen, but he had an excuse or two. So did Tina and I. Much of Robert's issues was simply beyond anything Tina and I could handle.

When things got better for Robert, it was still tough to get him to do everything we asked, but at least he tried. While he never really pushed hard to excel in school (Whenever I told him he had to study more, he would tell me he did study. I said there's a difference between studying and studying more.), he did manage to get by and do reasonably well.

We weren't that worried about him, though. When he was interested in something, he worked hard at it and did well. We saw him do that with fencing, and guitar, and bass, and his band, and his artwork.

He even got into his first choice college.

Enter my daughter, Katherine, now a senior in high school.

What can I say about Kat? She's a beautiful, talented, gifted, carefree, underachieving, social butterfly. Unfortunately, she is the daughter of two average, overachieving, high strung perfection seeking homebodies.

She's gifted in math. She's got a great eye with the camera. She has a beautiful voice and took to piano and violin with surprising ease. She's strong and coordinated. And, she can bake (best chocolate chip cookies I ever had!)

Does she do any of these things? No.

Is she excelling in school? No. Most mornings, I have to threaten her with grounding just to get her to class on time.

Also, one more call from a teacher or one more progress report about missing assignments or homework, and she's really in for it.

Is she looking for a college? If she is, she's doing it very secretly.

How does she spend her time? Hanging with her friends, Dunkin Donuts, cell phone, TV and an Ipod.

We talk, we urge, we argue, we yell. She tells us that "it's just the way she is." School's not that important to her. She doesn't understand why we're so upset.

She's killing us.

But, maybe she has a point.

She is having fun, and she does seem happy, and man, does she have a lot of friends. In fact, she brings all her friends together. She's their focal point.

She looks at us, and sees the stress. Raising three kids, keeping the house together, both of us working, Tina with two jobs, me hustling to keep the business going. We hardly ever go out. Always fixing, always cleaning. Kat tells us we should go do something "romantic" (usually when we're telling her to do some chores).

I'm not complaining. I think I have a great life, and God knows I've been blessed, but sometimes I wish I could just turn off my mind sometimes. I'm always worried about what needs to be done. I always have two or three lists going. Nothing I undertake is ever just "good enough."

Maybe Kat has a point.

I was pretty miserable in high school. All honors, AP classes, and sports. I went to practice right after school, and then to the library for a couple of hours. Dinner, a little more work, and then bed.

I did graduate as the class Valedictorian. Not that it got me much of anything, but I'm sure it helped with my college applications.

And, I did well in college. Worked all the time because I was convinced I got in by accident. I was miserable for two years, but I did maintain a 4.0 for my first three semesters at Brown. . .

I had a disastrous end to my second year -- lots of personal issues, and an absolutely killer final exam schedule, and I lost the 4.0. But, it made me think. Maybe I was working too hard. Maybe I should take it easy and enjoy the college experience more.

I did. My grades went down a bit (I still managed to graduate magna cum laude), but I had a lot more fun. And friends, too!

Maybe Kat has a point.

I'm worried for her in a way. I want her to do well. I want her to go to college and enjoy it. I want her to do well in life.

But, in another way, I am supremely confident in her. She is simply too bright and too strong to let life pass her by.

I know one day she will find her passion. I would love to be there when it happens.

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