Bribery is such an ugly word, and yet as a father I find it’s one of my most effective parenting tools. Oh sure, I could mask it by calling what I do bartering, but the truth is I bribe my daughters. A child psychologist would have a field day with the concept, not to mention my family. But the shoe fits so I’ll strut in it.
Most of us start bribing our kids early. It began with toilet training, just a harmless little M&M. It was such a treat! And quickly it became inadequate. Two and three were negotiated, and when it came time to produce #2 on the loo we were practically ready to buy a cake for our daughters. They settled for M&M ice cream sandwiches, but had they known then what they know now they would have been able to work us for a lot more.
With the Marin Swim League season practices and our daily visits to the Terra Linda Recreation Center just a few weeks away we’ve already renegotiated our contract for 2011. We actually sat down at the dinner table and had a negotiating session with our daughters. For three practices with the Terra Linda Orcas my daughters will get ‘x’. Any less qualifies them for nothing because there is no way they will improve practicing less. Four practices yields ‘x+y’ and five gets a grand total of ‘x+2y’.
When we have the Dual Meets, All Stars and Championships there will be small incentives for best times, points earned for the team and first place finishes: all of which add up! It’s especially painful when you multiply that by two, but my daughters like to put the money in the bank, or at least the younger one does. Why is it that I feel like my daughters are still too young to earn an allowance, but I’m compelled to pay them to swim? I feel like it’s good for them to learn how to earn money, and swimming practice is not easy, particularly on those days when it’s 40 degrees outside.
I know some parents are embroiled in money for grades schemes with their kids. We haven’t taken it to that level, yet. I feel like the payoff is too remote for that to be effective. Honestly last year I didn’t even feel like the money was a main motivator for my kids swimming with the Orcas. The older one was truly enjoying her success in the pool and even made a run at the breast stroke Terra Linda pool record for 8 & under girls. For the most part it’s not what got her in the pool, but she loved her paydays! I do think it made a difference some weeks between her practicing a fourth and fifth day. We weren't going to make her swim, just properly (or improperly) motivate her.
The question is, where does this end? What am I going to pay my daughters to do next? Is that what I’ll always fall back on, when I can’t get my daughters to do something will I simply pay them off and what is that teaching them? They should always have a price? Do we all have a price? Do I? What’s yours?
I could have written about B being for biking, as my daughters bike to Vallecito Elementary School daily. Surprisingly I don’t have to pay them to do that, yet. I considered B for beach. Summer days we enjoy a quick getaway to China Camp here in San Rafael, if not a drive out to Bolinas or Stinson Beach. But ultimately I was compelled to write about bribery, the most important tool in my fatherhood belt.