Domestic mental cruelty comes in many guises and to my mind includes the supervision of children’s homework! A word that now sends chills – and pills more often than not – down me. Described as ‘parent assisted learning’ to be done in the home and an invaluable support of the schoolday? Pah! An unnecessary strain on familial relations and a prescription for parental insanity more like.
I recall how naively as a new, inexperienced parent I longed for the day that our young offspring could dress themselves, feed unaided, and climb in and out of the buggy, car, or bed without assistance. Phew, the hard labour was over. We watched beaming with pride as the little ones grew bigger, blissfully unaware that as they lurch from pre-school to infant years and on to junior then senior status, there looms a clear and present terror to be negotiated and one that will last throughout their schooling. Years, many years – sob. [Visualise this author now rocking back and forth and moaning gently at the prospect]
Carers of tender tikes still nursery-bound look away now – try and enjoy what innocence you have left before the madness begins. From reception class forward, no longer will you ferret through the school bag in search of letters of praise, party invitations, ‘playground star’ certificates. Nope. Henceforth you will learn to view with suspicion and fear bags thrown in the hallway spewing papers and exercise books, forms and charts. Oh yes, dear reader, the homework years are upon you – be afraid.
For sure this form of ritual torture for loving parents has been devised by a truly Machiavellian mind. This weekly dishing out of tasks to students of tender to teen ages – verbal, written or mathematical it matters not – is a cunning strategy for slowly but clearly eroding the sanity of any right-minded adult. The torturous process of completing the homework – and remember it is the child who should be fulfilling the paperwork and not you, tempting as it maybe – will involve cajoling, encouraging, bribing then threatening (usually in that order) your reluctant enfant terrible. How quickly the novelty passes of pleasing teacher by knowing the spellings, the times tables, the capital cities of the world… How rapidly they learn that they prefer their energies to spent in more ego-centric activities. Not more work, they cry, its soooo unfair. Let them take responsibility for their actions, or lack of? They’ll suffer their punishments and learn to work willingly at the kitchen table? It’s not that simple, quick or painless. For what your kids don’t do, you will be charged as guilty. You will face the prospect of missives from the school, summonses perhaps, and uncomfortable parent/teacher interviews.The shame, the indignity, the frustration is awful, and that is the unfairness you wail. But still you bear the brunt. In an era where ‘middle England’ demands that every word, inkspot, calculation is measured and rated in the pursuit of tabling the academic process, homework has taken on an super-importance of its own.
Not that the little treasures themselves care. Tantrums, tears, melt-downs (yours, not theirs most often) will become the norm as you endeavor to follow the timetable. Missed instructions, forgotten books, lost papers… this is what your evenings will be reduced to. Prepare the darkened room and the soothing head compress. Me? I find I get best results when clutching a glass of the coldest white wine available… and ear-plugs so I can’t hear myself shouting!