Turning Homework Fails into a Parenting Triumph

Homework has never been my children’s favorite. It’s probably no child’s favorite, ever. Although Michael loves when I give him “homework” — because it makes him feel like a big kid, I’m sure.

This post is not about Michael.

I got a phone call yesterday that derailed me. Turns out one of my children was not completing her homework. And I didn’t know about it because every time I said, “Is your homework done?” she said, “Yep!”

And I believed her.

Pile of homework
Not very popular in these parts. (Image by Ed Sweetman)

Now, I will be upfront here and say: the other girl is not great about homework either. I have asked them to do it when they get home from school. One of them starts at Bella and Tadone’s and doesn’t finish, and the other doesn’t start until I get home, and we fight about it while she does it at our kitchen table. Which just makes it take that much longer.

So. This is the current state of homework at Casa di RPM.

I took awhile to process my feelings after the phone call. I was furious at being lied to; I was disappointed that my child was lying; I was even embarrassed that the teachers had to call. I was frustrated with my own failure to be on top of the situation. And while all of my feeling are valid, I couldn’t deal with the situation by being reactive and emotional when dealing with it.

I came up with a plan and consulted with Dan. We agreed on a strategy. And when the girls got home, I sat down, first with one, and then both, and talked about how we were going to do homework from now on.

And it starts with no screens. No television, no computer, no mini-Monk (this is what Bella calls her tablet, it’s a long story), no Minecraft. And it’s not “no screens until homework is done.” For at least the next two weeks, it’s no screens until night-time showtime at 7:30 p.m. One half-hour of television each day. That’s it.

I have no doubt my children are going to be bored. We will play games, they can read books, I will read books with them, they can do chores. (Flora is actually very good about doing her chore each day, which is emptying the dishwasher. The other two — yes, Michael has chores — are not as good, but they are getting better.) They can play with Legos and cars and superheroes; they can draw pictures.

And then in two weeks, we will see if things have improved.

One of my children was very upset during the conversation. She knew her teachers had called; she knew what the problem was; she didn’t want to keep being lectured. (My father is chuckling to himself right now.) I let her be upset. I let her cry and show her frustration. I think she was embarrassed and I think she was angry at letting us down. The other child was more receptive.

I did not talk about my feelings. Dan did not talk about his feelings. We didn’t tell the girls how smart they are. We didn’t tell the girls how disappointed we were. We calmly talked about the problem, the solution, how we were going to reach the solution, and how we were going to measure the solution (teacher conferences). We let the girls express their feelings, and we let them know it was okay to feel the way they were feeling (sad, angry, frustrated, uninterested in homework). However, despite their feelings, we were going to solve the problem.

Together. As a team.

What failure have you turned into a triumph lately?