January 27, 2011


This morning we had a snow delay of two hours for school and with a little extra time on my hands, I decided to clean out Briton's backpack. It is generally in a state of utter confusion, with papers stuffed in at all angles, empty folders falling to shreds, toys gathering at the bottom making the whole bag jingle and clank when he wheels it (not very gently or slowly) down our front steps every morning. Typical boy. Typical kid I guess.

However, To my horror I found two weeks worth of homework carefully folded into a tiny square and stuffed in the smallest pocket and a history test with a totally unacceptable grade at the top. And I'm not talking about a B here. Not even a C. This was a bad test. Now I'm going to be fair and also tell you that there was also a very good test. A very very good test. But still.
In the weeks since school has been back from break, Briton's class has been going through a series of tests. Mid term tests. MAP test, testing review. Too many tests in my mind, but that's not my decision to make. So when he reported that there was no homework, I didn't blink. His school has generally followed that line, no homework during testing weeks or short weeks. It makes sense and is always something of a relief. As a parent I really struggle with homework. I know, from my teaching days, that it is important. The problem I run into is that for my particular child, if he doesn't do homework RIGHT AFTER SCHOOL, it takes hours. If he stops to play, he gets out of work mode and everyone suffers. Trust me, I don't like this model. I would love to have him play first and then do homework. And in theory it should help him to get some fun time in and then settle down to work. But we've tried it. And it just doesn't, not for him. Evelyn will be different. Because that's just the way of things. Every kid is different.

A couple of months ago my House Rules post got picked up by the Apartment Therapy kids site Ohdeedoh and people were pretty awful about the strictness of it. It left me feeling pretty low to hear that I was too strict and mean and that people would hate to be my child. Eventually I felt I had to respond and asked people to please remember that different children need different levels of structure. I happen to have one of those kids who needs a huge amount of structure. I know this about my son. I know that it works for him to have a very specific routine. I don't love it. But I do know it.

But it stuck with me, those comments. And over the past weeks, I've found myself not checking if he really had homework, because it was nice to be a little loosey goosey. I marvel at parents who never have to remind their kid to do homework. Whose children will read and read and read instead of having to be bribed to sit down for 15 minutes with a book. I marvel because I was that kind of kid, and my child is not. I want to be able to trust that he will do his homework on his own, that I can just stand by encouragingly and know that it will get done without any nudges (ok, threats) from me. But obviously, given the lack of completed homework and the bad test, it's not working for us. Which just, ugh, drives me crazy. But there it is.

The best piece of parenting advice I ever got was from a book I was given when Briton was a tiny (well, with a ten pound birth weight, are they every really tiny?) baby. "Love the child you have instead of wishing for the one you don't". It's not always the easiest mantra to embrace, but, really, I think it is the most important. I may want my son to be the easy going good student, but he's not me. He needs structure, and it's my job to give it to him. And don't get me wrong, I know I'm a list girl. I love lists. But I'm not big on schedules, they frustrate me and stress me out. Which may be part of the reason I never really wanted to "go" to work. Too many schedules. :) But back to the boy...

After the bus pulled away this morning Will and I had a long chat about things that needed to change. A lot of it is us. We need to have a more regular routine so that he has a regular routine. And, truthfully, since I started working more and Will began working from home, our routines have definitely slipped. Because it's all too easy to not quite get started until 10 in the morning, to stay up till 1 finishing a project, to laze around or change the plan at a moment's notice. But now, it seems, it's time to have one of those hour by hour schedules that we have shied away from , finding them stiff and hard to follow. To get a big family calender up on the wall to keep track of tests and games and ballet practice, so that everyone knows what everyone else is doing. To have even more structure in our day, even to the point of structuring in play. And then, well, I guess we'll see how he does. How we all do.

Do you do this? Or do you have children who don't need that kind of structure? Any words of wisdom?