Bunmi Laditan, of the infamous blog The Honest Toddler, just dropped a serious truth bomb on Facebook about the pressures of homework, and parents everywhere are cheering.
“My kid is done with homework,” the post begins. “I just sent an email to her school letting her know she’s all done. I said ‘drastically reduce’ but I was trying to be polite because she’s finished.”
With that, my ears perked up. As a mom of four, I have seen first hand what the burden of homework can do to a kid — in fact, it’s why I stopped making my own kids do every bit of homework they’re assigned. So even before reading on, I knew exactly what Laditan was getting at.
“She’s in school from 8:15 am-4 pm daily so someone please explain to me why she should have 2-3 hours of homework to do every night?” Laditan asks. “How does homework until 6:30, then dinner, then an hour to relax (or finish the homework) before bed make any sense at all?”
I couldn’t agree more. Parents too often assume that because our kids seem to have boundless energy and are (literally) bouncing off walls at any given moment, they should be able to endure anything we throw their way, including weekly homework packets.
We also mistakenly believe that “more is more” instead of “less is more” when it comes to education. More papers coming home means our kids are learning more, and will therefore be smarter, right? More extracurricular activities mean our kids are more cultured and multi-talented. More hours spent in the presence of adults directing our child’s every move means our kids will be better prepared to climb that corporate ladder one day.
But as Laditan notes, it seems we’re all missing the point.
“Is family time not important?” she asks. “Is time spent just being a child relaxing at home not important? Or should she become some kind of junior workaholic at 10 years old?”
We often conclude that separation anxiety is a bad thing, a weakness in our children that needs to be squandered, even when they are barely out of toddlerhood. Our children should readily transition from our care to that of another adult, often a near-stranger, with the purpose of being pressured to learn a new skill that oftentimes they aren’t a tad bit interested in. We have decided, collectively as parents, that our children should be resilient in all things, limitless, and adaptable.
But in relenting to these social pressures, many of us no longer subscribe to normal bedtimes or family dinners. After all, they interfere with what we’re supposed to be doing: carting our kids to guitar lessons, gymnastics, sports practices, and tutoring — the latter of which has become a booming business, designed to help our drowning kids try to reach ever-changing academic standards. We hemorrhage money for these tutoring sessions, fast food dinners (because we’re always on the go), and activities that promise to make our kids more marketable 10 or 15 years from now.
And in the process, we readily forget that our children, arriving home armed with homework packets promising to make them more intelligent, were in utero just a few short years ago. Their norm, until fairly recently, included Pull-Ups, afternoon naps, and watching Disney Junior.
One of my own children broke down in tears after school just yesterday. She’s prone to anxiety and is fearful of falling behind, being left out, or getting into trouble. It’s Tuesday, and homework packets are due on Friday. She wasn’t in the door more than five minutes before she burst into tears.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I asked her. “I only have a few more days to get my homework done, and I haven’t started. And if I don’t do it on time, there will be a consequence.”
She’s in 2nd grade.
“You know what’s more important to me than a homework packet?” I asked, as I looked into her chocolate-brown eyes.
She let out a sigh of relief, remembering what I always tell her: “I am, Mommy,” she replied. “I am more important.”
“Yes, baby,” I told her. “You are more important to me.”
It isn’t that I have my head in the sand. I was an educator for eight years, teaching college students. I dealt with entitled, lazy students, the type of children I’m dedicated not to raise. But just as often, I recognized the students who were like me and my own daughter: frantic, anxiety-ridden, and just downright scared. They weren’t happy. They were always grasping, struggling, and planning. The joy of school was lost to them, because they felt the incredible pressure not only to keep up, but to excel.
We all want our children to be prepared for the next step in their education. We don’t want them to fall behind, to have low self-esteem, or to feel less-than. But I think what we’re missing is this: by pushing, and pushing, and pushing, we are permissively leading our children down a dangerous path. We accept long school days with a single recess, fewer art and physical education classes, and, of course, thick homework packets.
Still, I admit there’s no perfect answer. All parents are struggling to decide what’s best for their children, in their own way. But like Laditan, I’ve had moments where I put my foot down. After all, these are my children and they’re my responsibility. I know them better than anyone in this world, and just as I told my daughter, my children are more important to me than practicing multiplication.
I just wish more parents would give their kids (and themselves) a permission slip on homework. Sometimes it’s ok to choose snuggling your 7-year-old on the couch over practicing double-digit subtraction. Sometimes it’s wiser to take a few months off from playing sports to enjoy lazy Saturday mornings as a family. Sometimes the best thing you can do is toss the homework sheet into the recycle bin on your way out the door to turn on the sprinkler for your kindergartner.
At the end of the day, I agree with Laditan whole-heartedly — especially when she shared this beautiful truth:
“I don’t believe for one second that academics should consume a child’s life. I don’t care if she goes to Harvard one day. I just want her to be intelligent, well-rounded, kind, inspired, charitable, spiritual and have balance in her life. I want her to be mentally and emotionally healthy. I want her to know that work is not life, it’s part of life. Work will not fulfill you. It will not keep you warm — family, friends, community, giving back, and being a good person do that.”