A few years ago, a close friend and I discovered quite abruptly that we have very different ideas about what it means for a parent to be involved in their child’s education. My son Jonathan was a sophomore in high school at the time and my friend had two elementary-aged daughters. The primary points we discussed were homework assignments and regular communication with teachers/administrators. This was a relevant topic for me, as it represented many of the struggles I was facing with my son at that time.
Although homework had not presented much of an issue for Jonathan during elementary and middle school, in high school he developed a great aversion to it. From the very first six-week marking period of his freshman year, it became a topic of constant conversation for us. And no longer were his “I finished it at school” or “We don’t have any tonight” answers cutting it. I received regular emails from his instructors and counselors, encouraging me to stay active and aware of his schoolwork and to, by all means, hold him accountable.
We (the educators and I) worked together with Jonathan in an effort to break him of these habits and bring his grades back up. We approached a rewards systems (as suggested by his guidance counselor) on a level a fifteen-year old would respond to, taking into account Jonathan’s history of behavioral disorders. We had a weekly sign-off sheet of completions, and Jonathan had a weekly reward to be gained in the event he accomplished everything expected of him. I wholeheartedly involved myself in the process and remained hopeful for a resolution. I gave praise when earned and lowered the boom when necessary.
It never once occurred to me that what I was doing was wrong. From the time Jonathan entered the school system (and even to a particular degree during the daycare/preschool years), I was encouraged to be involved with my student. I was told to be available for help with homework, for awards ceremonies and choir rehearsals and football practice and parent-teacher conferences. Basically, I needed to just get used to the fact that for the next thirteen years or so, I would be going to school all over again.
But then, near the inevitable end of my child’s school career, I had introduced to me an entirely different perspective on the situation. My friend (who was nearing the end of her own educational career with a Master’s degree in psychology) informed me that I should have had no involvement with Jonathan’s homework; that it was strictly and completely Jonathan’s responsibility to get himself through high school, to sink or swim, upon his own merits. She even was so bold as to say that I was greatly hindering his progress and asked if I intended to follow him out into the world and continue to influence his decisions and actions.
Her line of thinking was that the lessons to be gleaned in independent learning should be the primary motivator in determining how involved a parent should be with their high schooler’s homework. It was decided (by her) that my extensive involvement—in spite of the fact that it was initiated and encouraged by the educators—was actually worsening the situation. I should have, instead, allowed Jonathan to flunk out with no input or consequences from me. Then, he would be left to learn from the consequences of his actions, or lack thereof.
I completely disagreed (and still do, for the record), and for various reasons. Primarily, I couldn’t imagine what in the hell I was supposed to do with him if he was allowed to flunk out of school. Would I have been expected to support him? Or, God forbid, kick him out into the world with no support whatsoever? Furthermore, and another question she could not answer despite her rigid stance, what in the world would she have had me say to the school administrators who initiated and encouraged my involvement? Sorry, but it’s not my job to help my son succeed at school. If I don’t cut him loose now, I’ll never be free of the responsibility. I’m sorry, but I just can’t swallow it.
I only raised one child, and I believe firmly that I was exactly the parent he and I determined I needed to be to get the job done. We had our failures and our successes, but through it all, we were a team.
Today he is approaching a turn in the Armed Forces and looking forward to entering a career in law enforcement down the road. Sometimes he thanks me for pushing him, and constantly reminding him that the world wasn’t just about him, even when he wanted it to be.