Parenting procrastinators for those who’d rather put it off

motivation, time managementToday is one of those days where kids everywhere drag their sad, mopey selves back to school, and parents everywhere rejoice in the knowledge that a gallon of milk has a snowball’s chance of lasting a whole day.

This means yesterday was one of those days kids everywhere were madly scrambling to get homework done that they could have finished at any time over the previous two weeks, but did not.

Or maybe that was just here.

It’s one of those massive ironies of the universe that a person like me is supposed to be a positive influence on a person like my oldest son. As opposed to a horrible example, I mean. The two of us are locked in a perpetual battle for the title of World Champion Procrastinator.

So this weekend, as I was trying to get a certain someone to make at least some headway on a certain gargantuan assignment that’s due at some unspecified time in the near future, I was also procrastinating on my own project. Which means, instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing, I was busy looking at parenting sites for clues about how to motivate procrastinators.

That’s what World Champion Procrastinators do. We make it look like we’re doing something productive while we’re putting something else off.

The experts had some pointers:

Encourage procrastinators to set up their own goals. Oh yeah? … I mean I get this. I do. In fact, I employ this strategy when I’m working with adult volunteers in my professional life. Set your own goals, and you own them. It can work.

If you’re not a procrastinator.

When it comes to a fifteen year-old whose goals include making it to level bazillion on the Xbox game his brother gave him for Christmas, and binge watching the entire Dr. Who series on Netflix by the end of the break, I’m a little less inclined to care about owning one’s goal.

One of your dang goals better be to turn in your gargantuan literature assignment on time, buddy. How about you own that.

Let go of perfection. Honey. I let go of perfection just as soon as I made sure there were ten fingers and ten toes. Look around. There’s evidence of good enough all over this house, from the Christmas decorations that were sort of packed up, but not put completely away, to the sink full of dishes that haven’t made it to the dishwasher just yet.

Tiger mom clearly does not live here.

The experts weren’t helping. Or else the experts weren’t procrastinators themselves and couldn’t speak from experience.

And since I happened to be putting off the Christmas decoration thing, or the dish thing, or going for a run thing, or the making sure we had any groceries in the house thing, I thought I’d come up with my own list of strategies for working with a procrastinator.

I’m all kinds of helpful, like that.

Dangle a carrot. My little procrastinator and I both work well with a reward system. If I get a full hour of running in this morning, say, then I can have a beer with dinner. Well, I’ll probably have a beer anyway, but I’ll have earned it. And no, I’m not saying I motivate my fifteen year-old with beer. He gets something else. Cheetos, maybe.

It doesn’t have to be a big carrot either. Small rewards go a long way. I don’t have to promise a Disney cruise in order to get someone to finish his homework (or to get me out on a run).

Cover that carrot in frosting and sprinkles. I like to give little reminders that the carrot is still out there, tempting, tantalizing, waiting for someone to finish his lit homework. Even though the number of breaks he takes every ten minutes rival the kind of shenanigans we used to witness while putting him to bed as a toddler.

Set another carrot just beyond that carrot, and then another after that. Divide whatever it needs to be accomplished into smaller increments, each with its own reward. If I really need to go for a run and really don’t want to, for example, I’ll tell myself interval training is called for. That’s a fancy way of promising myself frequent walk breaks.

Wait a minute, why are we talking about carrots? Who is motivated by a dang carrot? Dangle a brownie or a cupcake or something. Come on people, put your thinking pants on.

Perfect your mom-look. The mom-look can convey any number of things, from vague threats, to bitter disappointment, to I’m-not-taking-anymore-of-your-crap-no-you-can’t-have-another-glass-of-water. When push comes to shove, a good mom-look goes a long way.

I don’t know that it really does, necessarily, that’s just what I say when someone catches me practicing in the mirror.

If all else fails, bring out the big guns. I hate to be a “just wait ‘til your dad gets home,” kind of mom, but sometimes sending another parent in to check that a certain someone is actually typing away instead of watching videos is its own kind of escalation. And in our family, a visit from the non-procrastinating parent carries a kind of gravitas that a bunch of carrots from the procrastinator doesn’t.

I don’t know why. It’s one of those things. Ask the universe.

And the super helpful thing about having a non-procrastinating parent around is that it lets you off the hook on monitoring homework progress so you can get on with putting off whatever it was you didn’t want to do in the first place.

Shut up. That does too make sense.


Don’t put it off, vote. You can do so as often as once a day.



Photo by Chris Florence

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  1. I am procrastinating right at this very moment. I REALLY need to get my workout in after forgoing any healthy anything over the holidays. My mom-look ends up backfiring on me almost every time. And my hubby is also a fellow procrastinator. Hmm…

  2. I love when my kids are out of school, not in. Out of school is less stressful for me. No worries about missed buses or forgotten homework or my kids procrastinating on assignments!
    I am NOT a procrastinator, so it really freaks me out when the kids have a project due or a test to study for, and they put it off to the last minute!
    I try not to be a control freak so they can do things their own way, not mine, but it\’s one of my biggest parenting stressors!

    1. Somehow, I could tell you weren\’t a procrastinator, Deborah! I\’m sure you\’re a good example for your kids. One of ours happens to not be a procrastinator. We\’re counting on him to save the family. No pressure.

  3. Oh, I can so relate to this! My high schooler is stressing me out with his homework and lack of motivation! I\’m glad I\’m not the only one. I think I need to try dangling the cupcake….I know it would work for me! Ha.

    1. At the end of your Whole 30 thing, you might be mowing people over to get to that cupcake! I know I would. You\’re one of the most motivated people I know. No matter where you\’re coming from, it\’s hard to watch someone struggle like this.