If there was ever an example of a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation, it's helping your children with homework. Sure, you start out all misty-eyed with your first kindergartner, as you picture sun-dappled sessions at the dining room table. See the plate of homemade cookies and a glass of milk sustaining your child's cheerful efforts? He occasionally pauses, looks up at you with a gap-toothed grin and a milk moustache, and says "Thanks for being here."
And then reality hits. Here, in loose chronological order, are the 15 toughest things about helping your kids with their homework.
1. The endless experiment.
What's the best time to do homework: immediately after school, or after your child has had a break (and maybe dinner)? Nobody can agree. You try one, then the other, before concluding neither is a cake walk and give up. Next year, everyone tries again.
2. You can't win.
Around first grade, children start to insist "I can do it myself." If you force your help with homework, the multiplication tables wind up in the fish tank. If you don't help, what will the teacher think when he hands in that slop?
3. Homework pass shame.
As a reward for something or other, you child can skip homework tonight! The next day, Ms. Perfect Mom asks why you look so chipper. You explain you didn't have to deal with homework last night. She smirks and says, "Oh, I never let Sara use those homework passes. What message is that sending?"
4. The 9 p.m. superstore run.
Your kid remembers the 100th day of school is tomorrow, and he needs 100 of...something...with which to make a project for homework. You spend $53 on ten packages of hair clips with farm animals on them.
5. The death of supermom.
Your child discovers you don't know everything. Thanks, Common Core.
6. Begging for assignments.
Calling other parents at dinner time can be awkward. "Hi, Jessica? It's Emma's mom. Would you mind reading me the spelling words? Oh, right...your Pampered Chef party...is that tomorrow already?"
7. Reading Logs.
8. Feeling stupid.
Have you tried your hand at fifth grade math lately? It's what we learned in high school, I swear. But different, in a more confusing way. Finally your kid asks "Should I just not do it?" And you don't even know the answer to that! "I guess...if neither one of us can do it...maybe..."
9. Morning-after shame.
Doing that last worksheet for him (or fudging the reading log) seemed so sensible last night after your kid fell asleep on the couch. But today? Regret sets in. What message did that send?
10. Pretending it matters.
How many years did serfs have to toil on a plot of land before the Lord of the Manor granted them the right to live on it in perpetuity? How did the Cronus Myth inspire Percy and the Lightning Thief? I'm a lover of both history and literature, really, I am. But much of what they're doing for homework won't help them a whit in the job market. There, I said it.
11. Signing tests.
This is, apparently, homework, as it's always listed in The Organizer. If it's a 99, I wonder if adding a "Yay!" is too smug. If it's a 59, how can I just sign it? But what do I do, draw a sad face? That seems like I'm minimizing the seriousness of the situation. It's more complicated than it seems.
12. The Dash of Discomfort.
After running barefoot, in pajamas, to the bus stop with the oft-forgotten signed test, part of the homework for the previous night, you remove bits of glass, imbedded pebbles, and bird poo from your feet.
13. Loading your kid up like a pack mule.
The homework isn't done until it's handed in, so that means repacking the backpack. The thing is half the size of your kid. Drape the lunch sack over the other shoulder, hand her the violin, and worry about scoliosis the rest of the day.
14. The day you hear:
"Why do I have to study all this stuff? I can always just Google it." It will come, my friend. Please, let me know if you have an answer.
15. The bubble bursting.
Colleges don't look at grades before high school. In the end, it's like K-8 never happened. And here you had just learned the difference between knights and nobles.