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Is Own-Label” Parenting Here With Us To Stay?

Posted on Jul 30, 2020

It’s June 15th in post-Lockdown London. I’m waiting outside the courts for my son’s group tennis lesson to finish, relieved he can finally play again. The other tennis parents” around me, however, are looking decidedly glum.

I asked one fellow father what’s going on. To be honest I preferred lockdown,” he tells me. I didn’t have to do this.” I learn that this” means spending entire afternoons chauffeuring his kids from activity to activity. Lockdown life was so much less programmed’,” he adds. I got to spend a lot more time with my kids and really see what’s really going on in their lives.”

Let’s be honest – he’s far from alone. For those of us who were lucky enough to have stable jobs and our health intact, lockdown might have actually re-ignited our inner-drive (or what psychologists call intrinsic motivation) as parents.

Intrinsic motivation is about pursuing an activity because it’s inherently satisfying in itself, not because of the rewards that are promised at the end. Three decades of rigorous research studies, all over the world, show that when intrinsic motivation fills our lives, we are likely to happier and more fulfilled – as well as ultimately more successful. But to achieve it we have to unlock Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery (PAM) as parents – and also in our children.

The powerful trends towards Helicopter Parenting” over the past decade has really sapped all three of these elements in so many of us.

We’ve often confused our Purpose as parents as getting our child into the right school with the right grades – not nurturing young people who are kind, self-aware and able to adapt and learn in a world of unknown unknowns’, to sheepishly borrow Donald Rumsfeld’s phrase.

Our parental Autonomy is equally sapped: we can’t raise our kids the way we really want to, because of the snide comments and peer pressure from other parents at the school gate.

And our parental Mastery and muscle” have been weakened because of the temptation to outsource everything – from tennis coaches to tutors.

The end result: far too often, our kids haven’t developed their own Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery. Too often they feel directionless and ineffectual without us constantly hovering in, helicopter-like, at any sign of trouble.

In the midst of all this came the Covid lockdown…and the glimmer of a new rainbow of hope: that we can move from Helicopter” Parenting to what I’m calling Own-Label” Parenting.

I started my career as a management consultant to the food industry, in the days when supermarkets started creating their own-label products, in everything from ketchup to (newly precious) toilet paper. And I remember the angst that trend then created among the big consumer goods manufacturers.

People still buy branded goods such Heinz and Andrex, of course – because they believe they provide superior quality. But in many other areas, they’ve found supermarkets’ own label products almost as good, and most of the time considerably cheaper.

Will this be how we evaluate our kids’ extra-curricular activities in the future? Shouldn’t we judge them not just on what they do on the tin’ (giving my son a sharper backhand, for example) but whether they really develop that deeper sense of Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery in our kids?

Does the activity concerned give our kids a way to help and serve others (Purpose)? Does it help them become more confident, curious and independent (Autonomy), rather than being spoon-fed? And does inspire them to get so lost in the activity that they learn how to learn, and become life-long learners (Mastery) in the process?

That’s why I’m such a big fan of what Mama Codes is doing. Coding gives kids real Purpose: it opens up a new set of possibilities for the world, and for their own lives – for boys but especially for girls. It gives them real Autonomy to figure out things, and most importantly make mistakes, for themselves. And it provides a sense of the limitless possibilities to get better and improve (Mastery).

In my case I’m keeping the group tennis lessons because I think they achieve these three things – but (after a heart to heart with my son) I’ve given up the individual lessons. Instead I now play tennis a lot more with him myself, and we’ve joined the local tennis club. I may not be as good as his coach (in fact I know I’m not) and it may eliminate the already tiny chance of him becoming the next Roger Federer. But it’s wonderful for us, father and son, to go on the Mastery journey — and truly learn and do something together.

Lockdown brought many bad things, but a good thing it did bring was a new opportunity for this Own Label Parenting.” It’s the first step towards us feeling willing and able to be the parents we truly want to be – not the parents we’re told we have to be.

Just like the early shoppers who flocked to pick up supermarket’s first own label products, let’s embrace this first step towards more intrinsic parenting.

Roger that.

Sharath Jeevan is one of the world’s leading experts on intrinsic motivation. He is the Executive Chairman of Intrinsic Labs and the author of Intrinsic, being published by Hachette next year. As the father of two young boys himself, he’s interested in how intrinsic motivation can re-ignite our parenting lives – and help our kids have a more fulfilling childhood. To continue the conversation, please follow him at https://​www​.linkedin​.com/​i​n​/​s​h​a​r​a​t​h​j​e​evan/