Every Friday my 9-year-old son Finn trudges through the door with his schoolbag on his back. With trepidation, I unzip the bag and take out his English and math homework. My husband gets to help Finn with his math (because it’s a foreign concept to me), and it usually takes no longer than a half hour. Since I’m the writer in the family, I do his English homework with him.
And it’s the bane of my existence.
This week, I reeled in horror when Finn told me he had to do a two-minute presentation about a family member who was in World War I. At first, I thought, “Oh, that’s OK. I can ask my dad all about my grandpa who got an OBE for his services in the war.” But then I realized that was World War II. World War I was in 1915! How is my son meant to research that if none of my family members are alive who were even there?! My son just shrugged and looked to me for guidance. Meanwhile, all I could think about was how much I wanted to murder the teacher who gave this homework because it isn’t my son’s homework — it feels like MINE.
New research reveals that 1 in 3 parents are confused by their kids’ homework. Hands up if that is you? Yup, my hand is wildly waving in the air! Entire weekends have been spent making a booklet on penguins or looking up words like “paltry” and “innocuous” and using them in a sentence.
I know we should leave our kids to do their own homework, but my son is 9 and not all of his take-home assignments are within his grasp. How is a 9-year-old meant to research World War I without me guiding him in some way? It would take him far longer to type in words to look up on my laptop than it would me, so it makes sense that I help him without actually doing the whole thing for him. I often wonder if teachers think about these things before they assign homework? Do they do it just to spite us?
A Butlin’s survey of 2,000 parents also found that 48% offer help with homework. Of those, 12% struggled with the homework themselves and were left feeling embarrassed or fallible as a parent. A quarter of the survey felt they lost kudos with their children for not being able to help with their homework tasks.
In my house, the whole thing gets way too stressful. My son is very sensitive and he gets easily frustrated if he doesn’t grasp a concept quickly or understand the meaning of something. I then get annoyed because he interrupts me or doesn’t pay enough attention to what I’m trying to teach him. My temper rises and before you know it, he’s in tears and has stormed off, and I’m left seething that my weekend has been taken up doing a monster essay.
Frequently I ask my husband, “He is only 9 — do they really expect kids to do this at such a young age?!” Which is why I’m not surprised to find that 1 in 5 parents in the survey pretend to know the answer before going online to research the question. Meanwhile, 1 in 10 adults ask other parents on chat forums for help while 12% turn to social media.
The thing that worries me most is that if I’m this confused/stressed about his homework when he’s 9, what’s it going to be like when he’s 15? Chemistry was never my strong suit, nor physics, and what of all the new subjects on the curriculum that we never had as kids? When Finn comes home with homework on computing and coding, what then?
As it stands, I feel I am much more engaged in my children’s education than my parents were in mine. When I pick up both kids from school, the teachers stand at the door, meaning I can talk to them and hear how my son and daughter are doing every week. (As a child, I distinctly remember parents not being allowed inside the school yard.) I also get daily text updates from the school about clubs, activities, bake sales, fairs, etc. I volunteer at every school party or fair and twice every term attend the “Child Shows Parent” afternoons where my kids bring me into their classroom and show me their work. (If memory serves me well, my mom went to one open house a year when I was growing up.)
Nowadays, it seems that we have a much more active role in our children’s education — which feels like a requirement from the school. When I worked full-time, I was filled with endless guilt about not being able to volunteer on field trips or be on the school PTA or run a club. My husband manages my son’s under-9 cricket team and assists with his football club, and I’m certain I’ll be asked to participate in some way when my daughter also joins clubs.
Since when did parents have to become so ingratiated with their kids’ schooling?
While I want to leave my son to just get on with his World War I presentation all by himself, I don’t want him to feel embarrassed or under-confident about what he produces, which is why I help. But there is a small part of me that wonders why I have to, and if I’m really helping or just hindering him by not letting him just attempt it all himself.
Is it a quandary that every parent has? How much do we help our kids with homework — and if we do, doesn’t it defeat the purpose?More On