Modern day procrastination

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Here’s a tricky question: How do you teach your kids a lesson you’re not sure you’ve learned yourself?

That’s the dilemma Tom and I find ourselves in as our kids struggle with the dragon of delay – procrastination. After a few extremely late nights with homework and dramatic angst and self-loathing, our kid, who shall remain nameless (and sleepless), has realized there’s a dark, ugly side to putting things off.

For the record, I tried to help him avoid this situation. I reminded. I nagged. I pointed out how late it was getting. But teenagers tend to insist they’ve “got this” or that “they’re on it.” (They’re usually not, by the way.) He’d been lured into the waltz of the wait, the polka of postponement. It’s a fun dance at first, but eventually the music stops playing.

When it stopped for our kid, he hated himself for it. And as much as we wanted to do the tap dance of “told you so,” we didn’t. Because we were nearly as torn up about it as he was. That’s the thing people don’t always tell you about being a parent. You don’t get to opt out of your kid’s misery – not even when it’s self-inflicted. When he hurts, we hurt, too.

Sometimes I wonder if his generation has it tougher than ours because they have a whole world of digital distraction that fits conveniently into the palm of the hand. When I was his age, I didn’t have a smartphone rabbit hole to fall into for hours at a time. We did most of our procrastinating while making mixtapes and watching MTV. We couldn’t fast forward through television back then, so we got our homework done during commercial breaks.

time-flies-2470848_640 (2)We assured our son that we know how hard it is to avoid procrastination because we sometimes do it, too. That was the bad news we had to break to him – that this issue won’t magically disappear when he’s old enough to vote.

As a writer with more than 20 years of deadlines under my belt, I practically have a degree in procrastination. It’s the most miserable part of the writing life – those hours, days or even weeks when you know you need to write but will do almost anything to avoid it.

There are always adequate reasons for delays. It’s usually something like “I don’t have a good idea yet,” or “This idea is stupid,” or “I’d love to get to work, but the cup holders in this car aren’t going to wipe themselves out, now are they?” That’s one of the great ironies of procrastination. Many of us feel so bad about putting things off that we fill our time with busywork to make us feel productive, even as we actively avoid the most pressing tasks.

We told our son that sometimes we have to be honest with ourselves when we know – way down deep where excuses don’t work – that we’re running away from something. There’s always a place to hide from what needs doing. You can hide in housework, “research,” an email inbox, your news feed, YouTube, or Netflix. And Facebook never fails to put out a welcome mat for anyone looking to dilly dally in the virtual world while the real world taps its foot.

We know that with time and experience, our kid will learn to manage this vice we all have – some more than others. I told him that one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard on this subject is to take care of your “future self.” Do things today that will make life easier and better for “future you” tomorrow.

For example, “today Gwen” doesn’t want to finish this column tonight. She wants to sit on the sofa and watch her college team play basketball. But she is putting her behind in the chair and her fingers on the keyboard and doing the thing that must be done.

And you know what? Future Gwen is going to be so happy she did.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. You can read more of Gwen’s work by clicking here to visit The Rockwood Files.

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