After 23 years of parenting and with a child just entering middle school, I have a lot to say about the subject of HOMEWORK. It’s probably one of the worst things about parenting, ok it’s not, but night after night it can sure feel that way. Maybe it’s because I’ve been at it for so long with 4 kids. Year after year, work sheets, papers, projects, often the same as the year before, creates an endless evening ritual. On the surface it seems like a silly subject but below the surface it can have many emotional implications.
I believe that homework is a necessary part of getting a good education and that a good education can provide certain freedoms in life. I want to do what I can to help my children toward that end. Sure it would be nice if they were all self -starters and knew exactly what to do for each and every assignment but that just hasn’t been my experience. You see, I have 4 children with four very different personalities; one academically gifted but with a learning disability, one quick and capable but more interested in the world outside, one who wants to do well but is enjoying the freedoms of high school life and so usually lacks all the necessary homework instructions, and then one who though very smart would much rather socialize, doesn’t focus easily and is up and down like a yoyo. In other words, my kids are like most kids!
Mix all that up and you need an expert in almost every psychological and teaching field. Unfortunately, that’s not me. Now I will add my own personality to the mix: I’m a very social person from a very large family and people come in and out of my house pretty regularly. As a matter of fact, we are all pretty social around here. This makes for spontaneity and fun but it is also the reason I feel I never stop. Usually, in late evening, when I’m the most exhausted my children throw out statements like; “I have a project due tomorrow, do we have any poster board?” “I need to write an essay but I can’t find my book.” “I know I brought the words home with me but I can’t remember where I put them.” “My friend isn’t answering and she is the only one who knows the assignment.” Maybe you are also familiar with these types of statements. On the surface they are indicative of the ordinary pains of growth and development in responsibility and independence. However, they are the things that can absolutely drive me mad!! Annoyed, I roll my eyes and let out a huge sigh and then I launch into a lecture about how they cannot wait to the last minute, they must learn to think ahead because next year it will be even harder, etc. Afterward, I grudgingly succumb to the reality that my night is gone and will be spent coaxing, instructing, guiding, running to Walgreens and whatever else is necessary to teach them how, and help them just “get the job done”.
One school night about 10 p.m. my son’s best friend and the son of a dear friend calls me. He says he knows it’s late and he feels really bad but could I possibly help him type a paper that’s due tomorrow. Probably because he’s not my child, I feel sorry for him and think, “Yes, of course. It’s the right thing to do. I can’t let him down. After all I would want someone to help my son if he needed it.” He comes right over and very graciously, I help him until almost 12:30 a.m.! (We will save the discussion of “Boundaries” for another blog!)
The next day I began to think about what happened and why I was so willing to help my son’s friend. I believe it is because I want him and his parents to think well of me. I also like to feel valued and I want to see myself as “good”. Furthermore, I just find it hard to tell people “no”. Not surprising as my parents taught me how to be available for everyone, all the time, with no thought to proper boundaries or my own personal needs. They groomed me to help, save and take care of people. It’s funny how you can find yourself in a role without realizing it. It’s just who you think you are. My role soon became a “persona” or “image” that I presented to people outside of my home. I had never really thought about it before but suddenly I was aware of a stark difference between the way I treated that young man and the way I treat my own children.
I’ve learned that eye rolls are a sign of contempt and that sighs can often mean, “don’t you see what you are doing to me?” So all this time I’ve helped my kids with their homework I never realized that I expected them to not only know my needs but also take care of me. So though I wouldn’t always say it outright I often thought things like “Don’t they see how exhausted I am and that I never stop?” The fact that they didn’t see my emotional needs or try to meet them made me feel contempt for them. As a result, I became more focused on their irresponsibility and inconsideration of me than on what they needed to grow. The problem with contempt, whether you acknowledge it or not, is you can’t hide it from the people you have it for. They feel it. In spite of all of my efforts to help them, my contempt was creating a barrier between us. I knew that this was just another example of the “House of Shame” I had grown up in and now had fashioned for my own. I felt sad and ashamed but luckily Grace entered in and I decided I didn’t only want to be there “for” them but I wanted to be there “with” them.
Our time together soon became an opportunity for me to enter into their emotional world. I knew I would have to start taking responsibility for my own emotions so they could be free to get in touch with theirs. Determined, I prepared myself for the exhausting evening hours by making sure that I got the rest I needed and the time alone I craved. I moved from emotional dumping, “sighs and eye rolls” to listening to them, how they were feeling about the task at hand, school, friends, their future goals, or whatever happened to be on their mind.
Released from my desire for them to take care of me, I was able to see them differently. Rather than as irresponsible or inconsiderate I began to see their goodness and desire to do well. I knew they weren’t perfect but they were good and they were growing and they were learning. Somehow the idea of them making mistakes didn’t seem so horrible or overwhelming as it had before. I could relate to how they felt and where they were in life. Grace allowed me to let go of my contempt.
I’m excited about grace, because it’s freely given to all who desire it and are willing to accept it. I’m also excited about the prospect of really knowing the most important people in my life, my husband and my children. I long to have honest, vulnerable and forgiving relationships and the privilege of truly knowing how they feel and who they really are as I share in the ups and downs of their lives.