Saturday, October 8, 2011

We Need to Have a Talk About Goals

Incentives have had a pretty positive effect on my sons' willingness to try something.  I convinced them last summer to ride a few roller coasters by paying them in Mighty Beanz (amazing how one's fear of death can be circumvented by mere trinkets).  The ability to watch a movie or play their DSs in bed gets them washed and in their pajamas a little sooner.

The flip side to this has been that they begin to expect something in exchange for the simplest tasks.  If I want them to brush their teeth, they ask, "What's in it for me?"

"A winning smile," I respond.

When told to pick up their toys, they think it's time to sit at the negotiating table.  "What will you give us if we clean up our toys?" they ask.

"I will give you the privilege of keeping those toys instead of throwing them in the garbage."  Thankfully, I haven't actually had to place anything in the can in the alley.  I once got halfway down my gangway with a bag full of items before they caved and rushed to do my bidding, tears in their enlightened little eyes.

This relationship has become well balanced as of late.  I often make sure their promises have been kept prior to letting them do something they want.  Homework before Wii.  Cleaning up before friends can come over. This has even rolled into earning money by doing even more difficult work than usual in order to get new things.  Picking up dog poo in the yard will earn a dollar as will helping clean something around the house.  A recent warm spell has seen them running a lemonade stand at the corner.

Yesterday I was pleased with myself due to the precedent I had set.  My sons asked if they could rake the leaves.  That displayed drive, a good work ethic and a very industrious nature.  Very good.  But I awaited the fine print.  What was their payment to be?  As it turned out, in return for their labor, they simply wanted the opportunity to jump into the leaves prior to the pile being collected and disposed of.

It sounded to me like a win-win.  I grilled in the backyard and relaxed with some beer while they worked in the front, patting myself on the back for the work that had just been saved.  I was ready to award myself a plaque: The 2011 Father of the Year Award in recognition of my stellar achievement in the field of character building.  Tomorrow I would teach them how to tie a neck tie and apply a good firm hand shake in job interviews.

Upon strutting out to take a look at my sons' hard work, I was reminded that the leaves on my tree out front had hardly begun to turn colors, much less fall off.  However, the same is not true of the rest of the trees on my block.  I was treated to the sight of most of my neighbors' leaves now piled on my lawn.  As one of my boys was raking leaves from down the block out of the street, just to put them on my lawn, I put an end to it.

They got to jump in a nice big pile a few times.  They received their payment.  And me?  I have a hell of a lot more leaves to pick up than I ought to and the promise of more when my tree finally turns in a week or two.  I suppose a better workout and a little humility are my prizes.

My sons seem to have learned the art of the loophole.

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