Did You Finish Your Homework?
Updated: Mar 2
The kids are back in school. Can I have a Hallelujah from the crowd? We love our kids. We love them when they are busy at school for long stretches of time, too. Especially when the year first starts, I loved the shared excitement of new notebooks and letters from teachers about weekly assignments, new math workbooks and freshly sharpened pencils for our homework station. Wait, what homework station? Oops. I guess I forgot to gather those supplies because I was too busy enjoying summer. Ok. On the list. And then let's not forget about our healthy snacks for homework time. What snacks? Oh, yeah. I might have forgotten to collect those, too. I guess I have some homework of my own to do.
Doing homework as a student was a bit of a hassle. I remember staying up late at night with my sister, who was a very conscientious high school student to my somewhat flighty middle school self. With a tub of melting ice cream between us and the tv tuned to her soap opera that she faithfully recorded each day, I would sit next to her and watch her dive into her work. (We could have saved a ton of time without the tv but no one bothered us about it back then.) She enjoyed the challenge. I simply survived it. As a parent, watching my own children develop their habits around their work and their activities, I want so much for them to always enjoy what is before them and have what they need to find their tasks enjoyable. And I've started thinking a lot about how we might foster those conditions.
Homework is not just for the kids. Parents must do their homework, too. Parent homework doesn't always come from lists that are given to us by teachers, though I absolutely love it when I am just told what I need to do. Parent homework is the preparation, big and small, that allows for our kids and families to get through each day. Parents do their homework to support great school habits, like creating a homework "station" or box with the basic supplies for assignment completion. We plan ahead to have snacks ready when the brigade returns home, tired, dirty, and always hungry after a long school day. We have a place to put school documents, permission slips and checks for returning to school the next day. We set the example of being responsible for our papers and teaching them that papers with our names on them that are not crumbled in a small ball, are a great representation of our best selves. Try convincing a 5th grader of this and you'll lose your mind. But we persist.
There is even more homework to be done, completely unrelated to school, that I have started to appreciate, discovering now in its absence the consequences. The best example I can think of is meal planning. Planning and prepping meals ahead of time, on the weekend or at the beginning of each week, saves us money, time, and immeasurable amounts of stress, angst and arguing. It is HUGE because it is the one thing we can count on each day - someone getting hungry. So to have that important and perpetual query answered with a plan, a meal, a decision, already done - mission accomplished.
Aside from meal planning, I can still point to many areas of family life that require the adults in the house to do their homework. Heading into the city for an adventure - do that prep work to make sure that parking, snacks, back-up plans for that restaurant that is too full to accommodate, and timing is ready to go before you walk out of the door. The last thing I want to do is to be dragging my children around the city around another unknown corner because I really am not sure where I am going. This is easy. Google will help.
Doing my homework around media - the shows and movies we watch, the games they play, the music they listen to - that is another easy one because the resources are aplenty. I want to know what my kids are enjoying, not to police them, but to be connected to them. If I have to police them because something is inappropriate, at least I'll know.
When my children begin a new activity, my homework is just beginning as I work to keep and maintain their supplies, their schedule updated, access carpools with friends when needed. The more I can put down and have done in advance, the better.
And aside from the homework we do to help them with THEIR homework, there is homework more directly related to their homework. My oldest son particularly enjoys it when we can discuss books that he has read in school, so I might spend a few nights reading Judy Blume (again) simply because he has asked me to do so. I find this homework to be an honor. My youngest is not as keen to share, but I still look through every piece of paper that comes home and dig through her box on Back-to-School Night so I know what her little world contains. Parent homework is not glamorous, or necessarily recognized. If you are waiting for a celebration of our homework completion skills, keep waiting.
Take a moment with me to think about all the ways in which your role as a parent is much like that of an advance team for a candidate. Meal prep, household organization, paperwork control, vacation planning, schedule sorting - all in the name of being ready for what comes next. While I would happily skip having to write an essay about The Canterbury Tales, the homework around taking care of my family and making sure my kids are provided with the best conditions for success with the least amount of struggle....I don't mind at all. If only I could always have ice cream while doing it.