Ever tried to motivate a teenager to do something he really didn’t want to do? Give his best effort when he didn’t much care? I don’t think it’s humanly possible. Nothing leads to gray hair and wrinkles quicker than the bewildering frustration of parenting a kid who shrugs his shoulders and settles for less. What’s a parent to do?
I have learned the hard way that I cannot make my kids care about their grades or their appearance or their messy rooms. I cannot force them to enjoy practicing the piano or propel them to rehearse their speeches or galvanize their desire to serve others. I can enforce consequences when they don’t meet certain house rules, but if my rules are designed to force motivation or desire, well, I am fighting a losing battle.
I have also tried to stimulate motivation by inspiration. The walls of my house are literally covered with colorful plaques painted with verses from Scripture and quotes from men and women of character. My boys get more edifying books –especially biographies—than they have time to read. I have driven from Washington DC to Houston, Texas, in an effort to impress them with beautiful college campuses so they will work hard in school. I have even paid them to work out, and yes, I know that bribery is not a sustainable (or admirable) parenting technique.
So how in the world can I MAKE my kid care? The bad news is, I can’t. But there is also good news: my frustration makes me stop and think about exactly what I am doing, and why.
Here are some of the mistakes I have made:
In my eagerness to see my child “achieve his potential,” I have put undue pressure on him and strain on our relationship.
In trying to help him “make his dreams come true,” I have lost sight of the fact that they are his dreams, not mine. Or at least they ought to be.
In showing cheery, eager interest in every single thing he does, I have stressed him out.
In encouraging him “be his best self,” I have assumed the role of God, thinking I knew what that “best self” ought to look like.
Not all of my “help” has been very helpful.
I have been afraid that he would be average (which, in fact, he is - most all of us are - and that is just fine).
I have been afraid that he would not get what he wants (which ironically can be a really good motivator…).
I have been afraid that he would fall short of being the person God made him to be (which, starting with Adam and Eve, every human but Jesus has done).
In short, I have parented from my fears and not from deep trust in the God who made my child and loves him way more than I do. I have prioritized achievement and performance over his heart and our relationship.
This passage from Colossians gives me some guidance:
Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him… And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance, for you serve the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:17, 23-24)
Here I am reminded that what I want for my child, more than anything, is that he know and love Jesus. Absolutely everything else is secondary. If he knows and loves Jesus, everything else will fall into place. That does not mean his life will follow my plans or look like I think it should. It does mean that my child and His heavenly Father are working together to bring in God’s kingdom. What more could I possibly want?
Unfortunately, my son’s relationship with God is not under my control. I can’t make him love God any more than I can make him do his best at piano or cross country or algebra. But I can live my own life according to this verse. This verse changes my perspective about my calling as a mom.
I have always thought I wanted to be a good mom for the sake of my child, that my child’s heart, health, and well-being was the goal of my parenting. Everything changes when I realize my goal as a mother is to glorify the Lord, not to secure a good and godly life for my kids. If I parent in the name of the Lord Jesus (not in the name of Mac, or Sam, or Ben, or even Anna) then I parent heartily, as to the Lord and not to my children. If I live a life of exuberant, glad obedience, giving thanks to God, in word and deed working for Him and Him alone, I can leave the results to Him. My achievement and performance as a mom are literally irrelevant. It does not matter how many cookies I bake or carpools I drive, how much wise counsel I share or godly instruction I give, the results of my efforts are completely in His hands.
Parenting to glorify God, then, frees me from the burden of perfection and frees my child from being my project. My child no longer needs to please me or reflect my good mothering. When I am motivated by gratitude to God, I serve the Lord and my child with gladness.
My son gets to see, first hand, what it looks like to do and say everything in the name of Jesus. He watches as I give thanks to God through hearty good work. He understands what it means to do everything- even the very most important job of parenting- to please God and not to please men. I cannot motivate my child to give his best. But I can show him that the truest motivation lies in glorifying God in everything we do because we are so joyful about all He has done for us.