Runners don’t take shortcuts. They take the long way. The long way requires resilience, motivation and a strong mind. Any runner will tell you that the sport is not a test of who has the strongest muscles, but rather, it is a test of who has the strongest minds. But even the best runners can become unmotivated. They wake up tired or overwhelmed and contemplate skipping a day of training or tossing their running shoes to the side for the comfort of their beds. Like running, parenting is about taking the long way and putting in the time- the practice and the training - to feel a sense of accomplishment. And there are days when motivation is low. You wake up and want to take the day off, remove the moniker of mom or dad and deshroud yourself of all parental responsibilities. How do parents sustain motivation and remain psychologically fit in order to travel the long road ahead?
Growing a strong mind requires building a psychological muscle with three main nutrients that serve as the PowerAde of psychological functioning: Competence (sense of effectiveness, confidence), Autonomy (amount of choice and volition) and Relatedness (feeling cared for and caring for others). These three enhancers will increase persistence, cultivate interest and enjoyment, lead to high quality personal relationships, better physical health and greater emotion regulation. Competence, Autonomy and Relatedness not only give a boost to your Parent Well-Being, but they also enable you to sustain motivation during the challenging times. Here’s how to start building your fuel belt:
Competence: In coaching sessions with parents we discuss a wide range of wishes, hopes and desires from managing discrete behavior problems like temper tantrums to personal goals like better physical health. No matter what the goal, the key is to get specific with action steps and a game plan.
Autonomy: How much of how you behave as a parent is a matter of choice or volition? How much conscious thought and mindfulness do you integrate into your parenting? You may have a case of opposititis- parenting the opposite of however you were raised because you deemed it ineffective. You may have a case of the icebergs – acting and behaving on deep core beliefs that were ingrained in you as a child –this is the way I was raised, so that is how I am raising my kids. Ask yourself what you stand for as a parent. You have a choice in the matter. Building autonomy begins with choosing what is most important to you-your values and heart’s deepest desires- and then voluntarily acting in accordance with those values. Take out a journal and think about the following questions:
Relatedness: Some time ago I was working with a client who had a strained relationship with her mother. Without a good role model, my client felt as if she didn’t know how to be a good mother. After discovering her vision for motherhood and clarifying her values, we began to create a clear picture of the mother that she wanted to be. Week after week she set goals for designing her life around that positive core, with the hope of building intrinsic motivation and increasing confidence in her parenting. One of the last homework assignments that I gave her was to schedule a play date with another parent she admired. My hope was that she would have more and more vicarious experiences that allowed her to learn from other effective mothers and form the social support she needed to protect her vision for mothering. To increase relatedness, connect with other people through parenting groups, community organizations, play dates, morning walks, online forums, or school functions. You will be building your parenting tribe, taking care of others and also taking care of you. Remember that for parents, the race does not have a finish line. Along the way, our mothers, fathers, grandparents and friends give us nods of encouragement and acknowledgement that evokes a sense of knowing and a feeling of kinship. We’ve all taken the long way with no shortcuts.
The next time you feel your motivation for parenting waning, check your psychological muscle for competence, autonomy and relatedness. You just might need to add an enhancer to your fuel belt that day.
Elizabeth Elizardi is the mother of two strong-willed girls, ages eight and five and wife of eleven years to a native (yes, born and raised) New Orleanian. She is a parent coach and founder of Strengths Hub, an online parenting community that offers classes, workshops and coaching on Parent Well-Being. Elizabeth studied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and she has been working with parents and educators as a teacher, coach and school leader for fourteen years.