By Guest Blogger Marisa Tomasic, , Ph.D

As a mother of a newly married daughter and a college freshman, I often find myself reflecting on the things that I might’ve done differently throughout my motherhood journey. I pondered these things in real time too, during the days of spelling tests, math worksheets, science projects, and seemingly endless trails of other homework assignments.  I thought about them on the way home from baseball practices and basketball games, wondering if we’d be pulling yet another late-nighter.  Could I have done things better, more efficiently and effectively, like the “other” moms who always seemed to “get it?”

When homework was extending well into prime time and approaching the late night news,  and on the nights when my grade school children’s bedtime was more like that of a college kid’s, thoughts about my parenting skills wavered between the pride of being an easy-going, “don’t sweat the small stuff” mom, and woefully believing that the parenting boat had sailed, and I was standing abandoned on the dock.  As a psychologist, I’d developed an overly-confident attitude about parenting, as if having a Ph.D. in psychology undoubtedly ensured that I’d have the  market cornered on this segment of “adulting.”  Needless to say, I was very quickly humbled.

I can emphatically state that homework was often a force with a true life of its own in our household.  Power struggles, unclear instructions, missing worksheets, no sharpened pencils to be found,  tired and hungry kiddos, evening activities, and other distractions could make for a perfect storm. I always knew that we were in for a night of serious hunkering down when the backpacks appeared bulkier than usual and the evening schedule also included practices, games, and school events.  My children always seemed to have much more homework than I ever did as a student in the 70’s, especially up through middle school.  I think they were nearly ready for high school before I conceded that finding the ideal, streamlined, low-stress, homework routine might not exist.  I did realize, however, that this integral part of student life shouldn’t have to result in bonafide family meltdowns.

If had a chance to do a few things differently during my children’s grade school years,  there are clearly areas that could’ve benefited from a little extra steadfastness and a splash of creativity.

Designate Quiet Work Times

One thing that I might’ve done differently to ensure that homework didn’t morph into a dirty word in our home was to have a period before dinner that was consistently and persistently designated as work time.  Wrapping up homework before dinner or shortly after allows for family time in the evening and minimizes the tension of knowing that an agenda awaits after evening events.  After a snack and rest period for regrouping (which my children always needed), I would’ve had them complete their assignments in a peaceful space with minimal distraction and would’ve stuck to it!

Far too often I caved and allowed them to work in the place of their choosing, which was usually the couch or floor, not far from where the TV was tuned to their favorite kids’ channel cartoons.  My motives back then were to keep tension low and homework drama to a manageable level.  However, by being overly lenient,  I ultimately sacrificed part of my backbone and a heap of fortitude in the process.

Keep Supplies Stocked and Available

If I could do it all again, I would’ve kept a better-stocked bin of pencils, trimmers, rulers, scissors, extra paper, glue and markers accessible and ready to go in order to eliminate the stress of searching through drawers and messy backpacks.  I found that additional homework frustration resulted from having to search the house for needed supplies, and often at the last minute.  Nothing beats running out for that needed glue stick or pack of construction paper, hoping to make it before the store lights are turned off.  I would’ve made sure that we paid attention to things earlier, without allowing procrastination to derail and detract.  It also never hurts to pick up a few poster boards and extra pocket folders. . . . just in case. (insert smile)

Enlist Help from Homework Groups and Tutors

A homework group was started at our school long after my daughter was off to high school and just prior to my son’s graduation from eighth grade.  I would have absolutely utilized this resource had it been available for them.  Its objective was to allow students to complete, or at least get a jump start on, that day’s homework assignments, with a teacher and other students  present to answer questions.

Although it’s tempting to view something like a homework group or tutoring as a means of avoiding potential parent/child power struggles at home, it’s important to realize that it’s perfectly reasonable to want to use the best means available to help our kids as they navigate the learning process.  Finding a great tutor can be an extremely useful resource for ensuring that kids are learning from their homework assignments.  An additional advantage of tutoring is the provision of extra attention that some children require, especially in challenging subject areas.  Tutoring can also alleviate some of the pressure  parents feel when they’re not exactly sure how to solve homework questions, or when they have evening jobs. TMoM has a great list of local tutors HERE on their Triad-Area Tutoring Directory.

In the end, my children have  blossomed into wonderfully sweet, caring, intelligent, faithful, and responsible young adults, with dreams and aspirations that seem to stretch to infinity. We managed to survive the homework battles, and those years have  passed way too quickly.  Hopefully, the kids learned a little about problem-solving and can chalk up a bit of their resourcefulness to their  part in taming the homework beast.

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