Homework: Why is the Monkey on Mom’s Back?

“WE already have a science project,” said one mom.

Another asked, “Who did YOU get for language arts?”

It was Back-to-School Night at the middle school, and there were a whole host of parents who seemed to think they were entering the sixth grade as well.

One mom asked, “How much time should WE be spending on homework each night?”

Excuse me? WE?

Get a grip lady. I hated sixth grade the first time I did it. I have no intentions of repeating it.

Yes, I’m one of the slackers. One of those parents who stands in the back of the room wondering why in the heck my kid’s homework should have anything to do with me.

The Back-to-School Night crowd seemed pretty evenly divided between the Hoverers – who tracked every assignment- and the Hassled- slackers like like me who can barely manage our own lives and who defensively cling to the mantra, “My parents weren’t involved in my schoolwork.”

And therein lies the great parenting quagmire: When do you manage, and when do you let go?

It shows up at every age, from chores and sibling conflicts to schoolwork and table manners. How do you know when to step in and when to step back?

Parenting expert Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, says, “Parenting is not intuitive; just because we’re smart and educated and loving doesn’t mean we have the tools to handle these things.”

Now they tell me. Who knew that being a parent meant agonizing over whether or not to stay up until midnight re-gluing a Styrofoam solar system or letting your kid turn in a ring-less Saturn? (And fail out of school, and never go to college, and probably wind up as a pole dancer living in your basement.)

McCready says, “As parents, we often wait until things go wrong, and then we clamp down. But it doesn’t work, because whether it’s nagging a 5-year-old to clean his room or a 20-year-old to pay her light bill, as long as the parent ‘owns’ the issue, the child is never going to take personal responsibility for it.”

In our case, the great sixth-grade homework debacle actually came to a head late one night after a few missed assignments resulted in a fight, some tears (I’m not saying whose), and a child determined to prove that her mother wasn’t going to control her life.

Enter the parenting coach, McCready, whose company provides online education for parents of toddlers to teen, and who was willing to a do one on with me.

While I was vindicated to learn that all those parents who micromanage everything, are actually setting their kids up to be dependent little whiners, who never learn to do a damn thing for themselves. (OK, those are my words, not McCready’s but I’m pretty sure that’s what she meant)

I also realized that my own laissez-faire attitude may be a bit too hands-off for this particular situation. McCready says that the secret is getting the monkey off your back and onto your kid’s where it belongs. But moving the monkey does take some work on the parents part. McCready offers these tips:

1. Set Crystal Clear Expectations: Be specific about what a “clean room” means to you.

2. Take Time for Training: Set her up for success. If she hasn’t unloaded the dishwasher before, take 10 minutes to train her on the steps from A to Z.

3. Reveal in Advance: Let kids know – in advance – the consequence for not doing the behavior/task.

4. Repeat Back: You want your child to repeat back the consequence – not YOU.

So with McCready’s coaching, we’ve created a homework schedule, done a little study skills training, and established clear consequences, consequences that my middle-schooler repeated back to me, versus me nagging her a million times.

Is it hard work?

You better believe it is. It’s harder than ignoring, and it’s harder than hovering.

But it beats staying up all night working on a !@%$#%@ science project.

Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, syndicated columnist, and business consultant. A popular keynote speaker, she is the founder and principal of McLeod & More, Inc., a training and consulting firm specializing is leadership development, selling skills and conflict management. Her newest book The Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret To Resolving Conflicts Large and Small is scheduled for release Jan 5, 2010 from Penguin Putnam. More info:

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