When Going through the Motions Is a Good Thing by Fern Weis

Updated: Jan 14, 2019



When you hear the expression ‘going through the motions’, what comes to mind? Making a mediocre effort, yessing someone, lack of buy-in, and not caring about the final result are some that come up for me. It’s generally not a positive picture.

There are times, however, when going through the motions is a good thing. Here’s an example from a personal experience.

When our family was at Hyde School, there was a system of evaluating your attitude and effort: EEMO. The first E was for Excellence. As a parent you were full-out committed, working the program and being the best role model possible for your child. The second E was for Effort. You were making a serious effort to learn and grow, and were still facing some challenges. M was for Motions. You were just going through the motions, one foot in, one foot out. O was for Off-track. You were not involved and believed that the only one who needed help and to work the process was your child.

(Remember that Hyde is a program of family-based character growth and leadership development. My motto is one of their principles as well: when parents work on themselves, it inspires growth in the children.)

Let’s go back to the M for going through the motions. This was actually a critical juncture for some families. Parents who felt no personal commitment to the process were encouraged to go through the motions, to do it for their child. Sometimes this was the most effective way to get them to participate and contribute to their child’s growth.

Even though the parents were going through the motions, it sent a message to the children: We care, and we will do this for you. We’re not sure it will work, and we don’t know how long we’ll stick with it, but we’ll give it a shot. You are worth it.

The children, who were struggling to find their way, were motivated to keep at it when they knew they were not alone. Parental involvement, even at 50%, showed them that they were in it together, and that people of all ages are on a lifelong journey of self-examination and transformation.

As parents, our job is to teach by example. Our words matter, but it’s what we DO that truly makes the difference. Many of the parents in Motions moved up the EEMO scale to Effort, and many of their children did, too. These were the families that really turned it around.

How are you showing up in your family? When your child is struggling or acting out, do you focus only on your child, or do you examine your own part in how it’s playing out? Are you off-track, in motions or in effort?

For better or for worse, we parents are usually part of the problem, and can improve things by being part of the solution (and that doesn’t mean finding help for your child and stepping back). Even if you believe ‘It’s my kid, not me,” I encourage you to begin by going through the motions. Your child is counting on you, and needs you to go through it with him.

The long-term picture is brighter when you do. Your child will be learning new ways to see himself and be in the world. When things change at home, there is support and reinforcement for that new learning, and growth can be maintained. Without your participation, that learning is mostly lost.

There are many resources available to you - therapist, clergy, coach, Al-Anon and more. All you have to do is ask. Ask. Do it for your child.


Fern Weis is a parent coach, specializing in supporting parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations (including underachieving, disrespectful behavior, addiction recovery and more). With parent-centered coaching, Fern helps parents release guilt, end enabling, and confidently prepare their children to thrive through life’s challenges. Learn more about coaching and workshops at www.fernweis.com. And while you’re there, download a free report, “Five Powerful Steps to Get Your Teen to Talk.”

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