Why I Let My Son Skip His Homework

My son is only six years old but, as any of you parents know, the current public education system is, well, hard core. School has become about grades and test scores and meeting common core standards. Gone are the days of cutting and pasting and making All About Me posters. Homework, even in first grade, is a big deal. And it’s a big deal to me that my son follows the rules and does what he is asked (when he’s asked to do it). He gets a package every Monday that has to be completed by Friday. It’s a doable amount of work and I love that there aren’t daily deadlines but sometimes, like last week, we still find ourselves in the weeds. For a number of reasons (a busier-than-normal after-school schedule, the fact that I have an eight-week old, my husband’s new job making him MIA every morning and night), Thursday rolled around and we hadn’t found time to finish. Actually, we found time but it didn’t always coincide with my son being able to focus. I mentioned that he’s a six-year-old boy, right? And a tad “bouncey” as his teacher kindly put it. Normally he’s enthusiastic about homework and can do much of it on his own but for some reason (Murphy’s law of parenting?) last week was like pulling teeth. And I just didn’t have the bandwidth to pull teeth.

So there I was on Thursday at 6 p.m., baby in one hand, making dinner in the other, my four-year-old whining about whatever non-issue she decided to make an issue of and I’m barking at my son to focus: “You know what 15 minus nine is, Alex, think about it! Yes, you have to show the work! Draw those little counter things! C’mon bud, you have to do this!!!” And then it hit me: No he doesn’t. And neither did I. His teacher had told the parents at “Meet the Teacher” night that she would rather we send a note and take extra time with assignments than force our kids to read/write/add/subtract when they’re not at their best. She said all kids work differently and she knows that life can sometimes get in the way of homework (one of the mothers applauded at this). I volunteer in the class whenever I can so she also knows our family has been going through a transition. So I sent her a note. I had a pang of guilt for a second (I’m not one to miss deadlines and I certainly don’t want my kids to think it’s OK) but I got over it quickly. I told my son we would sit quietly together over the weekend and get the last two pages done—plus the optional “brain builders.” Instead of the stress-inducing homework struggle, we had a calm dinner, played a game of foosball, read three big bedtime books and the kids were out cold by 7:45 p.m. I needed that and so did they.

Sure, I could have set an alarm to get him up early. I could have fed him the answers. I could have told him to do what he could on his own and let him face the consequences (are there consequences in first grade?! Probably!). But honestly it’s more important to me that he actually learn something than just get it done on time. And I don’t want homework to become a stressful thing for him. Not yet, anyway. I know we’re not supposed to bail out our kids so that they come to expect it. Trust me, it goes against everything I believe in to enable my children in that way (I’m definitely the mom who lets her kids fall at the playground without rushing over to them). And being a conscientious student is important in this house. I know that means turning in work on time. But he’s six. And I was tired. And he was tired. And we were having a rough week. I do realize that I have to find a better weekday balance and carve out more consistent space for homework (asking for more time won’t become a habit) but in the meantime if someone is offering me a little slack in the parenting department, I’m going to take it. Would you?