What happens when we lose the signs that told us we were on the right track? Where can parents find it?
Motivation is something we all want more of. It can be a tool that spurs us on to greater heights. It also has the power to completely halt our progress if we look for it in the wrong place.
What is motivation?
Motivation is defined as the process that initiates, guides and maintains goal-oriented behaviours. Motivation is what causes us to act.
Where do you look for it?
Within or without?
Perhaps you require meeting your own standards before you are satisfied that you have done something well, guided by internal motivation.
Maybe you look outwards for confirmation that your work is well received or on the right track – external motivation.
In a standard workplace external feedback can come through successful partnerships, completed projects, co-workers or finished tasks that advance a bigger goal. Even something as simple as a day’s work for a day’s pay can provide it.
As a parent, these markers seem to vanish. Parenting can change how you see yourself and it’s INCREDIBLY helpful to understand that there is something you can do about it.
In the past I’ve often been lead by external motivation. This makes what I do today tricky, because I spend a lot of time parenting. As such, I’ve realised that the nods of approval that I have done well are rare and unlikely. The affirmation and confidence that had developed from the (more standard) workplace has not had a chance to grow as it once did.
Now I live and work with my children.
I lead, care for, educate, feed and nurture them, and I’m learning about who they are every day. It’s useful if I tune into their emotion needs, they physical needs, their curiosity and their need for play.
If I’m doing well, the day runs like this – they are cleaned, fed, watered, educated, exercised, rested and challenged. I manage the house, restock the food, connect the family schedule and plan upcoming needs and events. We navigate emotional, physical, linguistic, safety and moral needs that are constantly in flux.
I learn a bit more about them and then they change. A good day can happen when all this fits together with ease. On an identical day they could be overwhelmed and everything falls down and we figure it out.
I’m the adult, I’m getting it done. It’s a stupid amount of invisible work.
Not a lot of external motivation there.
Knowing how I’ve leaned, I’ve had to strength my muscle of internal motivation. I have developed the understanding that as my children learn and change, they are progressing from where they were last year or last month. Progress not Perfection being a favourite mantra of mine, I apply it to their growth.
I notice the small changes. Now they can put on their coat, tidy up their shoes, clear the table.
Nice one! (inner pat on the back)
I also believe the best way to show up as a parent is by being connected to who YOU are EVERY day. So I role model the behaviours I want to see. I practice healthy boundaries (more often than not). I take responsibility for my actions and pursue growth. I’m open with them about when I fail and try again.
To acknowledge and honour how I lean, I talk to other parents, other primary carers who are doing this same work. It helps me get context for how life is for others who work like me, often behind a closed door.
Now, if this doesn’t fit your view of the world maybe you’re a person who uses internal motivation more often.
Perhaps you don’t stop unless your standards have been met, no matter what anyone else says. This can be wonderful in many areas. It also means that once you are satisfied, you can move on.
For you it might NOT be helpful if the standards you have set yourself are so high that you never meet them. An endless cycle of striving and falling short can wear you down. If you seek perfection you are guaranteed not to find it (ideals by their nature are unattainable) as there’s a difference between healthy striving (with a focus on progress) and perfection.
People who lean towards internal validation have an opportunity to practice looking for external markers that prove your progress. Feedback from the people you are doing the work for.
If it’s your kids, do they feel listened to? Loved? Cared for? Empowered? Trusted? When they tell you, believe them. Parenting is hard enough. Give yourself room.
Knowing this is powerful.
What’s beautiful about this is, however we are, just IS. It’s not right, or wrong. It’s simply how we currently respond, (give yourself a little grace).
Understanding how we are in this moment is one of the most amazing ways to acknowledge our strengths and develop areas that need strengthening.
Now is the time to ask yourself – Where will I go from here?