Middle School Finals: do what you gotta do, ‘rents.

This week I learned a valuable lesson in parenting a pre-teen and I’d like to share it here.

Embrace bribery.

photo-25As Ben headed into his first week of finals in Middle School, he had good grades – all A’s and B’s.  He knew as well as we did that in order to finish strong and have a shot at all A’s, he’d have to hunker down and crush every test.  He also knew (because I told him about 25 times a day and even whispered in his ear while he slept) that the surest way to achieve this was to study.  And that, I explained to him, would involve quiet time in his room with a book open on his lap, reviewing the past few terms.

“I got it, Mom, I think I’m prepared.”

Hmmm.

I’ll give it to him, he went through study guides and seemed to recall most subjects pretty well.  We’d have him practice using ethos, pathos and logos persuasion in real situations like, “Ben, using ethos, tell me why you shouldn’t have to study for another half an hour.”

As you can imagine, he nailed that one.

When it came to the math final however, he and I went to blows.  You need to understand, I totally get math.  For me, the logic completely makes sense; I’m careful and methodical and write everything down.  Ben, however, is a big “yeah, I got it” kind of guy and that, to me, screamed “I’m unprepared.”

Batten down the hatches, kids…there’s a storm comin’.

photo-26As Ben and I argued incessantly (I, of course, was right), he got angrier and more stubborn and I became more insistent on “helping him.”  As I’ve stated before, I am Alpha Dog in this house when I’m sure of myself, so I had all but declared summer vacation canceled when I noticed a turning point.

On Sunday afternoon in the car ride back from New Hampshire, he studied.  When we got home, he went to his room and with his math pages spread out over his bed, he prepared.

“I knew he’d realize I was right.”

As we went to bed that night I remarked to Andy how proud I was of Ben and that it was great to see him embracing responsibility.  Our boy was growing up.

“Yeah, either that,” Andy explained, “or it could be that I told him that if he got an 86 or better I’d pay him $50 and if he he got an 85 or below, he’d owe ME.”

The day after the exam, I was sitting in the lobby of an ad agency waiting for my meeting when I got a text from Ben:

103 on my math final

You know, at first I was disappointed that it took a financial reward to get Ben to get an A+ but then I realized, what motivates any of us?  I mean, I love my job but I’ll admit that I don’t give it my all SOLELY because I want my Mom to be proud; I do a great job because I’m getting paid.  And although it’s not Ben’s choice to go to school, there are many days where working full time may not necessarily be my choice either.  But there I am, doing my best, making a salary because, let’s face it, the aforementioned pre-teen and his siblings tend to cost a bomb and I intend on going the extra mile because my bank account sure could use it.

So at the end of the day, I’m down with motivating my kids by pressing the right buttons.  While I’d love for them to strive for excellence based on a desire to change the world, I’ll settle for a couple bucks or Taylor Swift concert tickets (Lord help me if that carrot ever has to be offered).  When I told my client today about Ben’s final, this intelligent young woman with a good job admitted that her parents had paid her $20 for As and $10 for Bs.  And just look at her now.

Hey, if it keeps going in this direction I’ll be working harder than ever before…not to pay off the mortgage but rather to fund the blooming intellectuals I’m raising.

Maybe I’m not so good at math after all.

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