The Ugly Truth

OK, it’s time to cut to the chase about why I’m writing a blog journaling my children’s fifth grade school year and my attempts to be a happy, healthy, effective parent along the way.  The ugly truth:  Last year did not go well.

A lot of the unpleasantness centered around homework.  My son hates homework.  Both kids hate having their work checked or — God forbid! — corrected.  Weekday evenings were frequently rife with sullenness, frustration, broken pencils and tantrums.  I started to dread coming home from work in the evening, wondering if it would be a “good homework night” or a “bad homework night”.  But that’s not all.  The kids were often rude and disrespectful to me, complained about doing chores or picking up their own toys and belongings, and fell apart when they did not get their way.  To top it off, they were constantly competing and fighting with each other.  I was left feeling like a terrible, ineffective parent, wracking my brain for strategies to make things better.

When did all this begin?  Was it when I was overwhelmed by my infant twins as a new parent and spent the first several years of their lives in triage mode?  Or was it when the school years began and the challenges and expectations for my children became more demanding?  Does the root of their behavior lie in their temperaments?  Or have we, their parents, created these behaviors through our responses and parenting techniques?  Does my own anxiety and dread of ensuing unpleasantness become a self-fulfilling prophecy and/ or a reinforcer of the negative behavior?  Are they especially competitive because they are twins?  The answer to all of these questions is probably “YES”.   But, where does that get me?  Time to move on!

So, why a blog?  Why would airing my parenting troubles for the world possibly be a good thing?  There are a few reasons why this idea appealed to me.  First, I like to process.  For me, “external processing” — of challenges, problems, unpleasant events, things I’m worried about — is almost always a good thing, resulting in new perspectives and ideas and a more relaxed, positive attitude.  While it is not as fun and heart-warming as taking a walk and talking with a good friend, a blog is another avenue for processing.  Second is the concept of maintaining perspective, some degree of objectivity and, hopefully, at least a modicum of humor as I document and reflect on my parenting journey.  I mean, if I can blog about it, how bad can it be?!  Finally, I like to write, and the blog is a useful exercise in writing for an audience — at least a theoretical one!

If any of this sounds like you, and you are not currently writing a blog, you might want to try it.  If you are already writing a blog, what purposes does it serve for you?

Finally, to end on an up note, I will report that two weeks into the new school year, things are going well.  There has been a little grumbling about homework (even though there hasn’t actually been very much yet) and one over-reaction to my attempt to “help”, but I also see subtle signs of a more mature, less volatile attitude from the kids.

More about how I’m working to adjust my own attitude in upcoming posts!

Before homework…                         Who knew???

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6 thoughts on “The Ugly Truth

  1. I like your blog. If I wrote one it would be about being a working mom being pulled in so many directions. Possibly including my bad habit of getting a second wind and doing much of my work late late at night. Yesterday was school, then a surprise doctor appointment for Jacob at 3:30. I was caught up in several impromptu meetings between 2:30 and 3:15–so barely made the appointment, swung by the pharmacy then Staples for my penny deals, drop off the kids with Kevin, swing through a drive through for a taco, back to school for parent meeting, then stay late to pull together my classroom after a busy day, home at 8:30 PM then schoolwork and planning ’til after midnight. Today it began all over again. :0) Tonight, phone call from the soccer coach adds a new element that will begin next week. Wait, a freelance assignment is calling me from the closet. I think it’s due in a week. I should not be writing…. must move on. :0)

    • I admire your stamina! We hardly have any activities, and your schedule is way more hectic than ours — yet you always seem to pull it off! I think you could write a great blog about teaching — failures and successes, what it feels like to have all those little faces turned towards you looking for guidance and wisdom.

  2. Karla may I suggest that you not check or correct any homework. Unless asked specifically for that help by a child. Homework is an exercise for the child and part of the learning experience. It doesn’t have to be right. If it is not that too is a learning experience. Let homework be between the kids and the teachers. Your job is to provide a good environment for homework to be completed in, not to help, not to do it, not to check it.
    Sounds like you are putting too much on yourself and not enough on the kids. Let the kids have the benefit of the consequences of not doing what they are supposed to do. Kids are highly manipulative and if you are too involved in their work it becomes a point of manipulation. This year try and step back a bit. Tell the kids you expect they will do their homework but that it is their choice whether they do it or not and that it is their grade that will suffer. You won’t suffer at all, you’ve done your homework, graduated not only from elementary school, but high school, college and law school.
    This is harder than actually hovering over reluctant kids and prodding them to do the homework. Their homework should not cause you anxiety. I would make sure that distractions like TV and video games, etc are banned until all homework is done and put in the backpacks ready for school. If you get a notice from a teacher that homework is not being turned in then ban TV etc until you get a notice that the student is performing to expectations. All drama should also get bans on TV etc. One evening of drama gets one evening of banned electronics.
    Parenting is only a test and the test gets harder each year. But you will survive, it is rarely fatal. Your kids are old enough that they will definitely learn that you are not there as an audience for their dramas. They are old enough to be responsible for their actions when it comes to homework. One bad grading period may be enough to turn this whole thing around and make them realize there are consequences to their behaviors.

    • So true, Judi! “Positive Discipline” talks a lot about not giving your kids an audience for their bad behavior and letting them work things out for themselves. I have been getting better at physically removing myself, and it is definitelly effective in relieving tension and sometimes completely changing what’s going on. Still, it’s hard to walk away all together. The schools put quite a bit of pressure on the kids (even at this age) to be on their game with schoolwork and assignments. Just this evening at the teacher meeting for parents, we warned warned about the consequences for our kids of getting a “zero” if an assignment was not turned in and how that would affect their grades!

      • Though, I guess your point is that a bad grading period will not be the end of the world. Still, it all seems very ominous when you are in the thick of it — even though they are only in 5th grade!

  3. Karla, I can totally understand how frustrated you are with this – we struggled with the same thing for Sean. He hates homework and it was a constant battle. I found (as others have suggested above) that backing away improved things tremendously for both of us. Instead of my sitting with the kids, we give them space to do their work. They can come and find us if they have questions – and we’ll check things if they wish. All I do with Sean is ask him each day if he has homework and if its done. The rest is up to him – and no TV, games, computer, until it is done. He has the consequences if homework isn’t done as it is part of his grade.

    Mollie is quite different in her approach, so will more often ask for help, but I don’t sit with her either. This is hers to manage. She has handled the responsibility well overall.

    All in all, we’ve had to work through this – Sean spent 5th Grade not doing his work and had the grades that followed (so much of the grade rested on homework that he did poorly). He had consequences over the summer and 6th Grade went much better.

    Good luck! Jo

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