A mother, her son and the homework bluesBy: Tricia Caspers
Nearly three months. Three months, I tell you.
That’s how much time my 11-year-old son had to finish his summer reading and report for school. All this season I have played the role of Naggy McNaggerton: “Have you chosen a book?” “Do you want to go the library?” “Have you read your book?” “Have you started writing?”
If you are a parent with a pencil-dragging child, you may feel my pain. Even I think I sound like one of the grown-ups in “Charlie Brown.”
In July, my son and I created a homework timeline together, and he agreed to it.
Now he has one day left to finish, and it’s ugly over here. Threats have been made, and more than one hostile word has been exchanged. A dictionary may or may not have taken flight.
At which point it crossed my mind that I do not want to spend the next eight years as a Naggy Pants. In fact, I don’t want to spend another second nagging my son.
Why am I doing this?
It’s one thing if I’m prodding him from his beloved spot on the couch so that he’ll empty the dishwasher. There’s something for me in an empty dishwasher — er, you get my meaning?
I don’t benefit from my son finishing his homework.
Or do I?
I’ve read that when we brag about our children it gives our brains a happy little boost the equivalent of eating a cookie. I wonder if it also works the other way around. If our children fail, do our brains recreate the sensation we felt that time in high school when we looked up from our novel and discovered the class was in the middle of an algebra exam?
Oh, was that just me?
But maybe you’ve had that sinking, tummy-knotting, I-blew-it kind of feeling, too?
Is all my effort to avoid feeling like his unfinished report is my own personal failure?
What would happen if I didn’t nag and let him show up to the first day of school with a half-baked summer assignment — or none at all?
Is making sure his homework is finished a parental duty on par with feeding, clothing and telling him to mind his Ps and Qs? Is it considered neglect if I stop nagging, and as a result he doesn’t get accepted to a four-year university because he didn’t turn in a single math worksheet for eight years?
I suspect that Child Protective Services would not come knocking.
Still, I know that I’d have to sit through all of those, “Your son isn’t working up to his full potential” parent-teacher meetings, and I would feel responsible.
I would feel shame.
On the other hand, what if I stopped all the bribes and threats, what if I even let him show up to class empty handed a few times, so he could feel the full effect of his actions (or inactions)? Is it possible that he’d choose to do his homework without the annoying mosquito of my voice in his ear?
I dare to dream.
Study habits, time management — I want him to have those skills, and I’m happy to help him learn them. I do want him to become a content and productive member of society, for his sake and for society’s sake.
I don’t want to argue anymore.
There must be a sweet spot somewhere between ignoring his educational responsibilities completely and tearing out each other’s hair in an effort to get the work finished.
Please tell me this place exists.
And then tell me how to find it.
Tricia Caspers is an award-winning writer. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.