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Report Card Time for Mom

Jun10

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What if the tables were turned and you as a parent were going to get graded on your child’s report card for things like your child doing their homework, coming to class prepared, getting enough sleep, your perceived involvement in their education? How do you think you would do?

I am not sure that I would do very well.

I am not the parent who meets their kids for lunch every week. I honestly had no idea that people did this regularly until my kids told me, it seems so odd to me. I didn’t go on every field trip, I was 1-4 this school year. I didn’t go to every class party, I’m not sure why I need to go stand in the classroom and watch them eat cupcakes on the last day of school. The mothers who volunteer to be Class Mom deserve sainthood, truly I do not think that there is a more time consuming volunteer position. On the other hand, I did make it to every special event: award ceremonies, concerts, and of course extra curricular sports in which my children participated. I was in regular contact with my childrens’ teachers when I needed to be, something which varied greatly from child to child, as their needs are very different.

Lisa Belkin wrote recently in her NYT column:

It is a complicated idea, taking on the controversial question of whether parents, teachers or children are most to blame when a child fails to learn.

But the thinking goes like this: If you look at schools that “work,” as measured by test scores and graduation rates, they all have involved (overinvolved?) parents, who are on top of their children’s homework, in contact with their children’s teachers, and invested in their children’s futures. So just require the same of parents in schools that don’t work, and the problem is solved (or, at least, dented), right?

I am not so sure.

*****

I am sitting on the bleachers watching my middle school age son play football. Around me parents are having various conversations about their kids and summer plans and inevitably the topic turns to homework.

“So Johnny has been saying that there is no way he can finish his project in school. I told him he had better bring it home so I can help him finish it!”

“Oh, I know. I am going to be up all night doing Jaymie’s report. With him, of course.” Cue nervous twittering laughter.

“Oh, please, most of the time I just do it myself. Just to get it done.”

“I know. I am so afraid that if Johnny were left to his own devices he would get the worst grades.”

“Why are kids just so unmotivated?”

I know I should say that I am shocked, but the truth is that I am not. I see it all the time. Parents so afraid to let their kids fail that they refuse to let it happen. Ever. They micromanage their children’s lives because they are afraid in part of what people will think of them if they don’t. And for the most part it seems that the schools my children attend expect that. They expect over involved parents. They want to be seen as being the best parents ever and the way they do that is by making sure their child succeeds academically, even if they have to do the succeeding for him.

I was at a birthday party where one of the mothers admitted she routinely took her 4th grade child’s online AR test. For the uninitiated, AR tests are online tests that children take after reading a book to gauge their comprehension. The score on these tests count as grades. When my son decided not to read the book I let him suffer the consequence of using recess at school to read. Then when he tried to skim the book instead of read it, I allowed him to fail the AR test.

I am sure some of the teachers shake their head and wonder what is up with his mother. Why isn’t she standing over him, bullwhip in hand.

Similarly, my 12 year old son could not seem to remember to go to his first period class prepared. The teacher actually suggested that it was my responsibility to make sure he brought his pencil to class each day. When I told her that I disagreed, that my responsibility was making sure he went to school with all the supplies he needed but something as simple as bringing a pencil to class was my son’s job, she suggested I go to school with him and make sure he got to class with his pencil. I had laughed, but she wasn’t joking.

*****

But what would happen if the schools started handing out grades to parents? How would they grade a parent who has taken the stand that homework is the child’s responsibility? What about parents who have kids doing well in school, but they themselves are not very involved? What about the parent that does their child’s work for him?

I have decided that I do not do homework. Period. End of story. No matter what the teachers may think of me. I’ll admit that this does not come easy. Often times I too want to do the homework for my kids just to get it over with.

I facilitate homework time. I have the supplies ready that one might need to do their homework. I will gladly proof read something that has already been written. I am happy to discuss novels. I’ll brainstorm topics for research papers. But I will not create original content myself.

If we started grading parents, as one Florida lawmaker proposes, who would decide on the grade and what criteria would be used?

Would I get an F for allowing my kids to go to school without having their homework done? Would I get an F because my son leaves his pencil in his locker every other day? Would I get a D for the number of times I did not sit in a tiny chair and watch my child eat cupcakes?  And what happens if you get a bad grade as a parent?

I am opposed to grading parents for all the same reasons that I am opposed to grading teachers based on the test scores of students.  Not everything can be quantified.

I hear people bemoan the fact that young adults today are lacking in personal responsibility. But how can that really be a surprise when they have been robbed of learning that their actions have consequences. If you are always being “saved” how will you learn? I feel like it is an important life lesson that is best learned when you are young and the consequences are small.

Better to fail a 4th grade test, than a 10th grade test, than a semester in college. Better to learn time management skills now than when they go off to college and have distractions far greater than shooting hoops in the driveway. Better to learn now that how your life turns out is your own doing, the successes and the failures, even your parents can’t save you from yourself.

One day my kids will all do their homework without my prodding.  And maybe one day my 12 year old will remember to actually bring his pencil to class.  On that day I’ll deserve an A in parenting, because my children will have learned the most important lesson of all, personal responsibility.  All the times I allowed them to stumble will have been worth it.

I just hope that with that A comes a Caribbean cruise and a stiff drink.  I’m going to need them.

About the author

Chris Jordan

http://notesfromthetrenches.com
Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.

Yes, they are all hers.

No she's not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.

Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That's why her youngest is almost 6.

Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.


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32 Responses to “Report Card Time for Mom”

  1. Zoot Jun 10 at 3:14 pm Reply Reply

    MAN…I could talk about this for HOURS, but I’ll spare you the boredom. :)

    My story: I didn’t know parents did this b/c I was a bit of a hermit until 2 years ago. By then I had established: YOU do the homework, NOT me, but YOU are expected to get good grades. The End.

    It was just recently I realized how many parents do the work for their children and it has blown my mind. It never occurred to me to do it, NEVER. My son gets decent grades, sometimes good. I’d like them to be better, MUCH better, but I’m not going to do the work for him. 

    And you know what? He’s fine. He doesn’t do things as well as I’d like him to, and sometimes he has to pay that price, but he does fine by himself.

    I just find it weird. Weird that parents do their work for their kids, and weird that they openly admit it. Isn’t that cheating? Eh. I don’t know. I’m just glad you wrote this b/c you made me feel better.

  2. Trish Jun 10 at 3:26 pm Reply Reply

    I’m going to date myself here, but I was a kid in the late 70s and early 80s and my mom worked full time. She did not chaperone, bake cookies, do my homework, watch me eat cupcakes or any of the other things that parents feel they “have” to do today. Because she had to be at work. We all got As and Bs because it was Unexceptable to do otherwise. We did homework without her checking/nagging because we would have been grounded if it got back to her that we didn’t. I aspire to such slacker parenting. I want to raise my children to become adults. I don’t want to raise children to remain children.

  3. Mama B Jun 10 at 3:35 pm Reply Reply

    Amazing post. Like Zoot I could talk about this for hours and hours. my problem is that I give them my son from 7.15 in the morning till 3pm in the afternoon and I’ll be damned if I am going to do any teaching when he gets home. He does his homework, on his own, Far Far away from where I am and I avoid it like the plague because I served my 14 years from kindergarten to graduation thankyouverymuch. I have three children so if I started doing their homework it would be the equivalent of doing 43 years! Yes, a slightly more selfish view of why I don’t do the homework but a close second is how much I want them to have a sense of responsibility and realize that if they do badly in school because they didn’t do their homework or didn’t work hard enough they will suffer the consequences. Mama can’t save them from the world they have to learn to do it themselves. 

  4. Anonymous Jun 10 at 4:40 pm Reply Reply

    Ah, the helicopter parent. It’s a phenomenon that started in the past two decades, I think. Raising children who do not know how to fail, who are entitled and who expect someone to rescue them when they can’t do the work. I have a friend whose son is finishing his first year in college (a great college at that) and she still writes his essays for scholarships, or study abroad programs, doing all the legwork to make sure it gets turned in before deadlines, etc. She’s like his personal secretary. She refers to it as, “I am spending the weekend with T because WE have an essay to complete.” He’s 20 and lives on campus in the dorms! Not at home! She also does his laundry for him on the weekends. I feel sorry for his future wife. I often wonder if this coddling and hand-holding is a mom to a son thing. I still feel many moms treat their boys differently (like mini-husbands that they cater to, emotionally and otherwise) even in this day and age. Girls are often taught to be more resourceful and to figure it out on their own. Thus, I theorize why so many are surpassing boys academically and going on to get the degrees. 

  5. Kathy Jun 10 at 5:29 pm Reply Reply

    Love this article! I do not do my children’s homework, though I will type and already written essay, along with the services you provide in assisting with homework. And, this year I have spent many evening telling my 9-year-old that I will not do his homework as he wails that he needs help. There is only so much help I can give before I am doing it for him. It is at that point that I walk away.
    I want him to be a self-starter, self-reliant and a successful adult. I just wish the judgement I felt when he fails wasn’t so strong.

  6. Jennifer Jun 10 at 10:53 pm Reply Reply

    As a teacher I feel that parents are trying to be their children’s friend and not their parent.
    I actually had a parent say to me “I disliked doing math drills, spelling drills and books reports so i don’t make my child SUFFER that. I rather they have a fun impression of school” I was floored. I wanted to say “are you stupid? you realise you did those for a reason right?” Instead I say ” regardless your child’s weak math and language skills are affecting everything they do. If they can’t read the math word problem they can’t do it. If they can add then science is going to drag them down.” Since the school system I work in doesn’t fail students (they progress through elementary regardless of grades) and they only fail once they enter highschool I think I reserve the right to fail students on projects and tests at least. If they’re not learning personal responsiblity at home it falls to me to try and teach it to them even though I shouldn’t have to.

    On projects I sometimes feel like writing Billy gets a 30 % but Billy’s Mom gets an 80%

  7. Becky Jun 11 at 1:09 pm Reply Reply

    Loved this!

  8. Adriana Jun 11 at 4:41 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you! I agree 100% with you.
    I make sure my kids have time to do their homework, I will review their homework, I will answer questions- but I will not do it for them. If they forget an important worksheet or book at school they can’t do the homework. That’s on them not me.
    Not sure what the teacher wanted me to do when she emailed me at 10am to tell me my son didn’t finish his homework from the night before. Since I’m required to initial his homework every night- I knew that. He left his book at school. Seriously…

  9. ERin Jun 11 at 5:39 pm Reply Reply

    I do not have kids.  When I was growing up, it never occurred to me not to do my work, and do it well.  I loved school, and failing never entered my head as a possibility.  My parents were a lot like you: I had everything necessary, and they wouldn’t let me work during the school year (beyond babysitting jobs) because school was my job.  

    I am now a high school teacher.  I would not give parents like you a failing grade.  I would give parents who allow their children to go to bed at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday night a failing grade.  I would give parents who send their kids to school with 2 liters of Mountain Dew and reeking of cigarette smoke a failing grade.  I would give parents who never return my phone calls or emails a failing grade.  

    I think that the teachers who contact you about incomplete homework and the like are not judging you like you might think.  Many times, I have to have uncomfortable phone calls because my administration requires me to make and log parent contact about certain issues.  I think it’s stupid, the parents think it’s stupid, and everyone knows it doesn’t help anything.  

    I think that NCLB has created a system in which children aren’t allowed to fail, so schools don’t fail them.  Now everyone is suffering the consequences.

  10. Criss Jun 12 at 12:33 am Reply Reply

    As a former teacher who spent 10+ yrs in public education (elementary and high school, high and low SES schools), I wish all my parents had shared your philosophy.
    I admire the parents who let their children do the work — and let them suffer the consequences when they don’t. The only time I got peeved at the parent who was not involved “enough” was when that parent came to me demanding that I change the grade or give hir darling special treatment and allow hir to turn in the assignment late.
    I love the idea of a politician wanting to give parents grades, or rather the blame, for how their children do in school, when 98% of the problems are thanks to polticians and administrators, NOT teachers, parents, or students.

  11. pogita Jun 13 at 8:34 am Reply Reply

    I teach at the university level. Thank you for letting your children fail and take the consequences in elementary school. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have SEVERAL students a semester who threaten to “involve” their parents when they get a poor grade. These students expect me to edit their papers and listen to the world’s most ridiculous excuses. They will be entering the work force in three years. Ack! I hope they don’t expect their parents to intervene in the hiring process. Anyway. The parents who do their children’s schoolwork for them are handicapping their children. Congrats to the parent who expects the child to do his or her own work and face the consequences when they don’t.
     

  12. Randi Jun 13 at 4:43 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for this wonderful post!

  13. Emma Jun 14 at 2:37 pm Reply Reply

    I had an argument with my mother about this just last week, with me taking the same position as you, and her saying that the parents should be involved – to the point of questioning bad grades when the parents didn’t agree with the grade … but the thing is, I don’t remember her being at all involved with my homework/grades when I was a kid! In fact, she let me watch TV all afternoon, and then I’d have to stay up all night finishing assignments, which did (eventually) teach me better time management skills. It’s a relief to hear that I am not in fact crazy for the very strong views I have about school being the kid’s job, not mine.

  14. heidi Jun 15 at 9:34 am Reply Reply

    I currently have a 7th grader who is failing 3 classes because of handing in homework late. (2 days late you get a zero but it still needs to be handed in.) Most of his test grades are B’s. I WILL NOT do his homework for him. I will ask if he has any. I will supply all the necessary items for him to do it and I will be available to answer questions, etc. I agree with you all, my stand is he needs to learn this lesson NOW. Hope he has fun in summer school this summer.

  15. Jessica Jun 15 at 2:11 pm Reply Reply

    Wow! I had no idea that parents were doing their child’s homework. How is that learning? My son is not yet in school, but I will certainly not be doing his homework. I don’t actually agree with homework for the most part, but I doubt I can find a homework free school! But I will be involved and encourage him to take responsibility. There will be consequences for bad grades from us, as parents, as well. I don’t think teachers are the only ones responsible for my child’s education. I am, and so is he! If he ever came to me and asked me to talk to his teacher into changing his grade when he made the mistake, I’d be appalled!

  16. Sid Jun 16 at 2:48 pm Reply Reply

    Timely post. I just finished reading this piece: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/how-to-land-your-kid-in-therapy/8555/ I agree with the comment above that I did my time in school and I’m sure as hell not going back to it. That said, I’m already feeling self-conscious at playgrounds when I’m the only one not following my kid around clapping every time she goes down the slide. I can only imagine how fun it will be to be the parent who “let’s her kid fail”.

  17. Melani Jun 26 at 5:41 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t do my children’s homework…I will help understanding a new concept in math/english (usually with the help of google) but projects and general homework? They are most assuredly on their own. I will say that it’s hard to go to the school and see other kids’ projects where it’s obvious the parent did the work. I’m sure the teachers realize that but I feel like screaming–my daughter’s project is awesome and she did it all. by. herself. I just feel like the kids that do do it on their own don’t get the credit they deserve when seeing these outstanding projects that an adult created.

  18. Lisa Jun 28 at 9:27 am Reply Reply

    Love this post! As a parent of two – one who has finished high school and is now in college and one who is in middle school – I have seen both sides. With my son, I admit to being a helicopter parent – I helped with projects, reports, etc., never so far as to take an AR test but close and I see the error of my ways, big time! He is not a self starter and is so lazy when it comes to school. I know I played a part in that and tried to correct it to late. With my daughter, I refuse to do more than buy the supplies she needs and maybe nag a little and I can already see she is a much different student. She is a self starter and eager to learn. Is it the difference in boys and girls? Who knows. I just know I did not do my son any favors and now he is having to pay the consequence a little late. I think we have just about ruined their generation. I work at a local community college and you would not believe the helicopter parents I interact with every day. It amazes me the parents that hold their kids hands thru college. I too wonder how they will ever get a job and be productive.

  19. Casey Jun 28 at 9:32 am Reply Reply

    All I really have to say is : Amen.

    My kid isn’t in school yet, and though my schedule will allow me to be more involved than some other full-time-job-holding mothers (I work at night mostly), I 100% plan to let my son fail in order to learn important lessons on managing himself and motivating himself. I will be there to help and for support, but he will be the one doing the work.

    I will not be holding his hand through college graduation.

  20. Nicki Jun 28 at 9:57 am Reply Reply

    Despite being a fairly smart child, I was lazy and my mom (classic enabler) would often write my reports and I would complain about having to copy them.  I wasn’t taught to cook, clean, do laundry, or pick up after myself…. in other words, no personal responsibility.

    I am determined to that my kids will not be like me.  It is often difficult to leave things for them to do but I am not going to follow them to school or do their college work for them.

    If this makes me a bad or mean mom then so be it.

  21. Susie Jun 28 at 10:57 am Reply Reply

    Working at a school, I do find it infuriating when the children saunter into class every day 20 minutes late. I’d love to be able to hold the parents responsible for that somehow. You can hear the school bell ring from about a block away and yet 30% of the student body is still strolling up to the school a good 10 minutes beyond that. (As an aide, I start at 8:30 and usually arrive at school around 8:15. Students are supposed to be in their seats at 8:05). The parents are not even rushing! Or apologetic. It’s completely disrespectul and disrupts class for everyone else.
    In terms of homework, I’m a big believer in the kids being responsible for that on their own. However, the number of students who don’t bother to do it is pretty ridiculous. And many of the ones who don’t do it are precisely the ones who need the practice. I would like to see those parents responsible for making sure it gets done, since obviously their kids aren’t making it happen. These children are falling behind, farther and farther every day. And then the same parents who don’t pay any attention to homework all year long complain bitterly when the teacher recommends their child be held back. And more often than not, the parent wins, and the child is sent on to the next grade, where he or she arrives late every day, doesn’t do their homework and learns even less.

  22. Lucinda Jun 28 at 11:33 am Reply Reply

    The thing that concerns me the most is the unfair position it puts the teacher in.  Teachers generally want to enlist the help of parents, to work in partnership.  Requiring teachers to grade parents automatically puts them in an authoritative position and that will only hinder the relationship.  I think this proposal will do exactly the opposite of what is intended.

  23. Susie Jun 28 at 11:49 am Reply Reply

    I should clarify: this is an elementary school, which is why I hold parents responsible for getting kids to school on time. My 1st and 2nd graders are the ONLY kids in school who actually walk by themselves. All the other kids have parents who walk with them or drive them. The kids who ride the bus (about 10%) all get there on time of course.

  24. hennifer Jun 28 at 12:37 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for this post. My son is going into the 5th grade and I have never done is homework for him and sometimes I struggle because I can’t figure out how NOT to do his homework, it seems the only way sometimes but we always figure it out and he gets the grades he gets, fairly decent ones too. He is a smart boy but isn’t very motivated. Sometimes I feel really guilty because he’s in daycare and I’ve started forcing him to do his homework there, or at least start it because otherwise our evening is nothing but griping. Not sure it really worked either. I try to be there for the important events, awards etc but yeah, I’m not able nor find it necessary to be there for every little celebration. Especially when cupcake parties make me SO mad anyway… Move away from the sugar!!! Oh wait lol

  25. Dawn Jun 28 at 1:00 pm Reply Reply

    I’m with you 100% on this topic. My line was, “I already passed Grade 4. I don’t have to do it again.” I would explain concepts until the cows came home, I would check work and suggest how they might go about discovering where they went wrong, or how to check that their answer was right, I would find visual ways to present information that my learning disabled child was having trouble comprehending when presented only auditorily, but I would not do the work as that teaches a child nothing except learned helplessness and how to pass the buck. Have teachers (and the school system lost their minds?) What is the point of getting good grades when you’re not the one earning them? By the same token, you already know how to take the required writing implement with you to class. And how did you learn that? By suffering the consequences when you didn’t. The only way for your son or any child will learn that is the hard way, the same as we did. That teacher is nuts.And that’s my rant for today.

  26. edj Jun 28 at 11:22 pm Reply Reply

    Yes yes yes yes yes! My kids were, until this year, in French schools (we raised them in Africa) and their French homework was pretty quickly beyond me. So I couldn’t even help them with homework had I wanted to! I was surprised this year, with 2 in Jr Hi and one in HS, here in America, how much the school seemed to expect my involvement. I will admit I didn’t even make it to all the extracurricular activities, and I didn’t volunteer once. My kids are doing fine. People regularly comment on how mature they are.

  27. Casey Jun 29 at 9:46 am Reply Reply

    As a teacher reading this I am highly interested in viewing the other side of the story. I agree in some ways parents should be made aware of how their parenting is affecting their child. Helicopter parents who do their child’s work for them are just as bad as the ones who do no monitoring what so ever. Both hurt the child since neither get the desired outcome for the purpose of homework. Homework is given because it is to help your child practice the skills taught in that day. That being said if the parent does the homework or allows the child to practice wrong/ not do it that child is getting nothing from that homework. It is also my belief that you providing is plenty the child needs to be responsible themseleves for making sure that they have what they need. Especially once they are past 2nd grade. I was teaching Kindergarten this year and I make it my child’s responisibility to make sure their parents recieve information from their folders. There needs to be a delicate balance between invovled and overinvovled… both extremes annoying teachers to no end.

  28. MJB Jun 29 at 4:31 pm Reply Reply

    I’m with you. You can tell the projects that were done by a elementary-aged kid and those that were done by a graphic artist father or a scientist mother (or both). How much has the kid really learned if he doesn’t do the work?

    Like you, I do proofread, but only if the paper is done by early evening. I will not stay up into the wee hours. I won’t type. I’ll help my children brainstorm or suggest resource materials, but only if they ask for help.

    Our teachers, thankfully, discourage parents from doing too much. The teachers told 7th grader parents at conferences that this was the year to let their kids fail before grades started counting for college.

    If they wait until the last minute, don’t help. They’ll learn to budget their time for the next project. That is a more important lesson than anything they will learn in class. The teachers want the kids to be prepared for the challenges of high school AP classes and college.

    That said, I do have to encourage parents to volunteer, if possible. Classes can’t go on field trips without enough adults – some places require one adult per 10 kids, for example. If you have close to 30 kids in a class, you need adult chaperones.

    Our school has a high number of immigrants, and volunteers are needed to help bring reading levels up to grade level. (However, I do get ticked at parents who “volunteer” and only spend time with their own child.)

    To show you how bad “helicopter parenting” has gotten, my college counselor friend said that many parents follow their children to college and go with them to classes on the first day! One mom called to complain about her 35-year-old daughter’s grades!

  29. MamaTech Jun 30 at 5:22 pm Reply Reply

    If parents are going to get a report card, it needs to be on the 3 R’s of what I believe (and I’m fairly certain every teacher wishes) parents should teach their children:
    RESPONSIBILITY for oneself; RESPECT for others; and the difference between RIGHT and wrong. These are values that children should be taught from birth, and how well they learn them BEFORE they get into the classroom makes the educational 3 R’s much much easier to handle. I have no doubt that if THAT were the case, Chris, you’d probably earn straight A’s.

  30. Carrie Jul 03 at 10:37 am Reply Reply

    I agree with you completely, Chris.
    This has been a tough year for my kids. Third term, son got a D in Chemistry — it broke my heart, but that’s what he earned. I did hire a tutor to work with him because I could no more help with Chem homework than I could fly the space shuttle.

    In the last 10 days of my daughters 4th grade year this June, there were 6 events parents were expected to attend. My husband made it to one. I made it to one. Why couldn’t I go to more? I was too busy being a teacher, unable to take personal days in the final weeks of school. I’d probably get a D as a parent because I was being an A level teacher.

  31. Hadassah Jul 18 at 11:57 am Reply Reply

    Thank you for this post, Chris. As a teacher, I am frustrated by the number of parents who swoop in to protect their children from feeling the consequences of their actions. I have had some parents who always, always, always have an excuse for their child’s missing assignments / late work / poor test scores / lack of preparedness in class. They are not helping the child. His future boss is not going to accept a phone call from Mommy explaining why it really isn’t his fault that he didn’t complete the project on time.

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