I have a special treat for you today, a collaboration on the topic “homework”. I am sharing the blog space for today’s post in two parts with my colleague, friend and fellow mother Mary Strachan, who is the founder of Fresh Perspectives, a Parenting Coaching Service. She coaches and mentors parents and children. The purpose of Fresh Perspectives is to empower parents to get clear on what they want most, understand what might be getting in their way, and get re-energized to raise a happy and healthy family. Here is a story Mary would like to share:
How a Grade 3 Book Report Turned into a Parenting Life Lesson for Me
By Mary Strachan
When our son was in grade 3, he had a series of 3 book report projects to do over the course of the year. The first one went really well. I supported him to break it down into pieces and he was able to get it done without any drama at all. It was really quite a pleasant experience, with minimal involvement on my part.
The second one didn’t go so well. His motivation to do it just wasn’t there, and, ski and snowmobile season had started so he spent most weekends away, enjoying his fun in the snow. He definitely did not work on it a little bit at a time.
Suddenly it was Family Day weekend, and the project was due on the Tuesday, and it wasn’t anywhere near being done. As you can imagine, stress levels were high – both his and mine. The more I pointed out that he was running out of time, the less he wanted to work on it. Instead, he suggested he might as well not do it at all, seeing as he’d “never get it done anyways.” (In the heat of the moment, I may have suggested he’d never get it done at the rate he was going.)
Several arguments later, I found myself bargaining with him to get it done. If I drew the characters’ heads, would he colour them in (please say yes) and, if you tell me what you want to say, I’ll type it out for you (it was so painful to watch him type.)
We got the project done. On time. Mission accomplished. Crisis averted.
I could breathe again. Until Tuesday night that is. When he came home from school, he was worried about how a class mate would do on the project because she had only written a couple of sentences for each section – unlike him, whose sections were full because I had typed them out for him. He was convinced she was going to fail. But I knew better. If anyone had failed, it was me.
Sure enough, I got a call from his teacher later in the week, asking me to come in and talk about his project. Even though I was embarrassed, I went in to have the conversation. Luckily, his teacher kept an open mind about what happened, and wanted to understand what lead me to do so much of the project for him.
Together we figured out that leaving most of it to the end was a really big part of the problem. He felt so overwhelmed at the thought of having so much to do that it was just easier not to do it at all. He also changed the kind of project he wanted to do at the last minute, creating more work for himself. We agreed that she would work with him to set up a time line for the last project to keep him on track and stress free.
But there was more to it than that. She also helped me see that I was unwilling to let him take the project to school “as is” and incomplete. The thought never, ever, crossed my mind. It was due so that meant it would be finished and handed in. No ifs, ors, ands, or buts. At least not on my watch.
My belief that he had to have a finished project to hand in robbed him of the opportunity to learn from his choices. To feel the consequences of the decision not to finish it. To understand what to do differently next time so he wouldn’t be so overwhelmed. To admit to the teacher it didn’t go the way he’d planned. Even worse, it taught him that the only way to handle the situation was for me to do the work for him.
And, at the end of the day, if he didn’t hand in a completed project, on time, didn’t it mean that I was not a “good” mother?
Lots has changed since then. I’ve seen him hand projects in on time and late. I’ve also seen him hand in a version of the project he thought he was supposed to do that was very different from the one he was actually assigned. I’ve kept him company late at night while he has finished them and celebrated with him when he’s completed them a day early. I’ve encouraged him to check in with his teachers to make sure he’s on track and to be honest with them when he’s having trouble. I’ve bought supplies for him, driven him to friends’ houses to work on group projects, and even proof read his writing when he’s asked me to do it.
Are there times when I want to manage his work more? Sure. Are there times I’d love to jump in and rescue him? Yep – I’m still working on this one. Do I like it when he procrastinates and leaves things to the last minute? Not really – I find it kind of stressful, actually. But I realized something. I’ve had my turn at being a student. This is his turn. And the more I do for him, the less opportunity he has to experience what it truly means to learn – beyond the facts and multiplication tables and capital cities.
As far as my worries about being a “good” mother, I know it has less to do with being “right” or what other people think about me and more about allowing space for my kids to experience all of what life has to offer – the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, and allowing them the chance to discover what works and doesn’t work for them. It’s about staying connected with them without overdoing it and being available and present when they need me to be.
Check out Mary’s website for 5 Ways to Support Your Kids With Their Homework Without Actually Doing It For Them