by GEORGIA HAWKINS
This morning at our place it was the typical early weekday routine, physically drag two petulant children from their beds, scramble to find sports uniform and soccer gear while making lunches, coaching nine year old on spelling words and coming up with a creative option for ‘news’ that the seven year old hasn’t already used, and most importantly, actually approves of.
In the fifty shades of chaos that seems to eventuate no matter how much ‘night before’ preparation I do, we couldn’t find my son’s sports cap. And when I say ‘we’, I mean me. As I ran around like a headless chook, searching through cupboards and drawers, said son stood looking with a glazed expression at the inside of his school bag, clearly hoping it would miraculously appear.
Now I guess in the grand scheme of things this would not normally be a huge issue, except that the school he goes to is frustratingly pedantic about uniforms. Oh and then there’s the fact that he was on report, with this the third cap lost in three weeks. He’d exhausted our household of caps belonging to him, his sister plus a spare.
I partially blame my own pedantic nature and tendency towards being a control freak for what followed. Throwing the kids in the car, I made a beeline for the school’s uniform shop where I stopped only just short of crash tackling three other mothers for the only sports cap on the shelf.
I also had to run around the playground to find a mum I could borrow money from and at the lack of anything else appropriate, painted my son’s name in red nail polish (my only other option was lip
stick –mental note, add black marker to kaleidoscope of chaos in handbag) on the inside of the cap.
To his complete mortification, I then went to the classroom and called him out to give him the cap, along with a threat of death if he lost this one too.
As I drove home, the embarrassment of my obsessive compulsive behaviour set in, along with the question, how much is too much when it comes to managing our children’s lives?
I have no doubt that if I told my husband about the cap incident he would shake his head and tell me to just let our son get in trouble –it would do him good.
But c’mon, tell me I’m not alone. Have you ever run a forgotten lunchbox up to school during the day? What about a work book? Even if the answer to both those questions is no, I bet you are guilty of ‘mum-work’, or homework that has effectively been done by you.
I’m talking mostly about those big projects, like the last one we had which was to create a model of the digestive system using “bits and pieces from around the house”. Sometimes I wonder when I read these notes whether it’s a sick joke that all teachers are in on. Surely they know that when they ask a nine-year-old to build a lever and pulley system, again using “items from around the house”, but with working parts that can be demonstrated to the class, this becomes a parent project as well.
My first stop is always one of those kids’ science homework websites, which invariably start with a rave about how school science projects are “stacks of fun for children and parents”. Newsflash, most parents, especially those who work don’t find it fun to spend every night for a week educating themselves on how levers work by finding and building a contraption involving ramps, wedges and a fulcrum.
And while I am now capable of waxing lyrical about compound machines, and can explain in detail why it’s easier to use plasticine than a stuffed stocking to make the small intestine, I may not actually be helping my child.
In fact if you Google ‘helping kids with homework’, any number of psychology websites will tell you that parental involvement risks undermining the child’s confidence and may prevent them developing the knowledge and ability to do the work themselves.
I do get this but maintain that some of the work or the projects required of young kids are too complicated, overwhelming and involved for a child to do on their own. Especially if your child is the reluctant kind who’d much rather be outside kicking a ball or building a cubby.
I’ve personally spent years encouraging, pleading, cajoling, yelling and offering rewards(aka bribery and yes I already accepted long ago I’m never going to get a ‘Mother of the Year’ award) in regards to both homework, and generally being organised. It can be an excruciating battle.
I’m also convinced (from experience as opposed to behavioural expertise of which I have none) that girls are much more organised than boys. From the age of about four, my daughter has scolded her older brother for his messy room, picks his clothes up from the floor, will make his bed and even ties his shoelaces every so often.
While I discourage her from doing this, it’s obvious to me that it’s in her nature and missing from his.
What’s in my nature is to nurture, protect and help my children. While I want my son to develop into a responsible, functioning member of society, I also don’t want to see him in trouble at school for constantly forgetting items of uniform or not completing homework tasks up to par. I guess the ironic thing about that is that with the big projects, I’m sure the mark often reflects the time and effort from a parent, not to mention how much money has been spent on those “items from around the house”.
The obvious dilemma is the balance between helping but not hindering a child’s development.
As I ponder the question, I think I may just pour myself a celebratory glass of wine –‘I’ scored an A on last week’s history homework!
Georgia Hawkins is the Entertainment Reporter for Sky News. In her parallel existance she is a wife, mum of two and lives on a property on Sydney’s outskirts wrangling a menagerie that includes horses, cows and a pet python called Reggie. You can find her on Twitter here.
How much do you help your kids with their homework? Did your parents help you out?