This morning a Croydon Hills woman shocked onlookers when she went for a bike ride with her seven and nine year old children at 9 a.m. in the morning. She left the security of her home without her phone, purse or a supply of snack-food for the children. Armed only with her bike helmet and a positive outlook, she set off into the wilds of Croydon Hills.
'My wife would never choose to take the kids bike riding, let alone go riding on her own bike', her bewildered husband commented. 'I just looked out the window and there they all were, casually riding down the street.'
What makes this incident even more puzzling is that the woman went riding without a clear idea of where they were going and what hill climbs may be involved.
'I knew there was a big park near our house with a bit of a path around it, so I thought we would just ride there.' the mother commented. 'However, things took a turn for the worse when we discovered that the circuit we had chosen to ride around ended up with a significant hill climb in order to get home.' the middle aged mother stated. When asked if she will attempt such a feat again she replied 'I think next time, I will put my kids bikes in the boot and drive them to a local park that we know has flat bike paths. Proximity to a coffee shop would also be helpful.'
It remains to be seen whether this mother will ever take her children bike riding again.
For those readers who know me personally, you will appreciate just what a feat it was to take my children bike riding without my husband. He is a keen cyclist and even has a bike for riding on the road and a bike for riding 'off road'. I find that bewildering! However, my kids and I joined up for a promotion called 'Active April', where you endeavour to do 30 minutes of exercise a day plus my children were fighting like cat and dog this morning, so I had to get them out and do something! Things really did start very well. There were a few shaky moments, like when my daughter's head band that she was holding in her hand (in addition to the handle bars) landed on the ground and her brother didn't really feel like assisting her in retrieving it. There was also the moment when my son discovered that he didn't really like the feel of gravel slipping beneath his tyres. However, this paled into insignificance when we had to walk a couple of hundred metres up a steep footpath in order to get home. One child took it in their stride. They just pushed their bike at a steady pace, knowing that our house was just around the corner. My other child found the effort involved in pushing the bike up the hill to be all too much. Sadly, as I was busy pushing my own bike, I was unable to help them. So, I listened to the moaning as we mounted the hill. 'I feel sick! I think I'm going to vomit!' were regular cries. However, suddenly the weary child dropped the most incredible phrase.
'I can't believe I'm doing this when I'm not even going to get a certificate for it!'
What!?!?! Are you kidding me? What do you mean you're not even getting a certificate for this? Do I offer certificates for other school holiday activities? Does the activity only find it's value in what recognition you get afterwards?
I've got to say, I was truly shocked that my child felt that their situation was so much worse because they wouldn't get concrete recognition of their efforts. Did I fail as a mother in allowing my children to think this way?
Maybe, maybe not.
I promise you, I don't give out certificates to my children for getting dressed in the morning, having a shower, playing in the playground or even being kind to a difficult house guest.
However, their sporting clubs give my children certificates or 'rewards' for getting through a term of weekly lessons. My children each get the chance to be 'student of the week' at school and are guaranteed at least two certificates a year from their classroom teacher. The maths program our school uses gives the children weekly progress certificates that they can print out and put on the wall. When my son does his ICAS tests later this year, he will get a certificate of participation, no matter what score he gets.
I have a large plastic tub full of certificates, 'special memory' book and even a trophy or two for my kids. The only certificates I received were for piano exams and the one I received during Year 10 careers week for being the "Best Interviewed Student". I didn't even get a certificate when I was 'Checkout Operator of the Month' at Safeway Blackburn North - what's with that?
Somewhere along the line, my child has concluded that you only push yourself hard when you know there is a tangible reward at the end. The fact that they were engaging in exercise, exploring the neighbourhood, seeing their mother on a bike for the first time ever - none of that was rewarding enough. But a piece of glossy paper sent through the printer would make it right? How did this happen!
Well, as I pushed my own bike up the hill, I thought, 'Things are going to have to change'. I need to make less of a fuss when my children do things that are 'normal, everyday activities'. I need to stop doing a congratulatory song and dance every time my children clean their room or get through a day without physically or verbally attacking their sibling. I also need to model doing things without expecting gratitude or recognition, because that is how life is sometimes. Oh - and bribes - I probably need to stop telling my children that they will get a treat or be able to watch t.v. if they clean their room.
My hope is that if I get the balance right, my children will start to do great things because they enjoy the experience in itself or recognise the long-term benefits of engaging in the task, even if it is unpleasant in the short-term.
One day, my children are going to have to persevere with their school work, or keep going with a monotonous task at work and they won't be given a shiny certificate to recognise their efforts. If I don't start changing my childrens' expectations now, we all might be in for a rough road ahead!