Managing Homework

Helping kids with homework is easy. I don’t mind answering questions or explaining concepts. Weathering the emotional drama of homework time is exhausting. Watching kids trying to avoid their homework is a fascinating psychological study. Most evenings we go through anger, depression, denial, anger, repression, displacement, avoidance, and anger. Did I mention the anger? I get to be the recipient of much of this anger, although sometimes the kids lash out at each other instead. Then I have to step in the middle and remind everyone that the real issue is not who was looking at whom, but the fact that there are two math assignments yet to be completed. Then both kids glower at me and get back to work for approximately two seconds before busting out in a new direction.

Homework time used to be after dinner. I liked to let the kids come home from school and play. I figured that they had been sitting still long enough and they deserved some time to relax. But this year after dinner homework time abruptly stopped working. Most of this is due to the fact that I now have four children bringing home work that I need to supervise. (In prior years I only had two because Kiki’s homework load was light enough that I did not have do pay any attention to it and Patch was not in school yet.) It turns out that I am incapable of helping four children simultaneously. Every time I tried to focus on one child, three kids were free to pick fights in my peripheral vision. The other problem that manifested in the after dinner homework hour was the lack of enticements to get the homework done. The kids knew that after homework came bedtime and the imminence of bedtime was not encouragement to work fast. This had not changed from prior years, but with my attention split four ways the dawdling increased dramatically.

I began to divide up the homework. I made Link get his hardest work done as soon as he got home. He protested this change vehemently, but gradually came to accept it. Kiki and I are still working on some kind of a pattern for her. The challenge there is that I’m trying to teach her to take charge of her own homework rather than waiting for me to declare what she must do. We’ve made progress, but it is a one-step-forward, two-steps-back, three-steps-sideways, one-step-forward kind of experience. Oh, and every misstep causes tears. When I manage to get Kiki and Link through with their work in the afternoon, then I only have two homework kids in the after dinner hour. Unfortunately I am also exhausted and not at all interested in fighting more homework battles. Specifically, I don’t want to fight with Gleek. Patch loves homework, except on the rare occasions when he hates it. But Gleek is often more interested in Patch’s homework than her own. She alternates between giving him the answers, which doesn’t help him learn, and declaring that the work he is struggling to do is easy. Then there is anger. And hitting.

In all of this I think the poor pencils have a harder time than I do. Pencils get broken in half, thrown across the room, chomped to bits, and erasers torn out. No wonder we have trouble finding a “good” pencil when the time comes for homework. One simply can not do homework with a “no good” pencil. Obviously. And so I put pencils on the grocery list yet again because we went through our stock from last fall’s back-to-school sales much faster than I anticipated.

I’ve tried separating it all out so that the kids do homework solo, but they all seem to require me standing nearby. And where the mother is, all the kids will naturally gravitate to be fed snacks. And so I’ve given up on having a system at all. Each day has its own set of variables and I try to fit the homework in around them. I look at the quantity of homework for each child. I look at the after school activities which are scheduled. I look at the evening activities. I assess the states of the children and figure out which ones will most harmoniously work on homework together for this day. The answer will be different tomorrow. On a good day, I do all this by instinct without even thinking about it consciously. On not so good days…homework doesn’t get done.

I feel guilty when the homework piles up. I feel like I should do better. But no one can be at their best all that time. And part of my brain stomps her feet and declares how unfair it is that I have to pay attention to this at all. It isn’t my work. They should just do it. But they don’t because they are kids. Half of the point of homework is learning how to handle regular unwanted tasks. And I must teach it to them. By example. Which means the foot-stompy part of my brain can stomp all she wants and I’ll help my kids with their homework anyway. Because it is the right thing to do.

I just wish it were not quite so exhausting.