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September 17, 2014

The WOTHM and School Struggles

Whenever I think about writing another WOTHM / coping post, I think I must have already said all that needs to be said on the topic, right? (For the newbies, WOTHM=Work Outside The Home Mom) But of course, not. Because life is always moving forward and there will be a new challenge just around the corner, pretty much all the time.

My new challenge involves my baby girl and school. I don't know if it was always this way or if it's a change in the way school is done now from when I was a kid. For your frame of reference, however, these days, parents are expected to be pretty involved in homework for the kids up through a certain grade. Reading WITH them, Reading TO them, having THEM read to you, correcting and working through math problems and grammar exercises are all things I have had to spend some time with each of my kids up through about 4th or 5th grade.

I've been pretty lucky that Sarah and Dani were strong readers and able to do a lot of this on their own earlier than some kids. Dani never liked being read to (still does not like to be read to) and prefers not to read aloud. I suspect this is because she is a speed reader and it slows down her experience to be read to or to have to read aloud. Sarah enjoys being read to and reading aloud and we did this through 4th grade. Now that she is in middle school, however, she does her reading independently. I try to read whatever book she is reading so we can discuss it, if she wants to. As she has gotten older, there is less time for that anyway, so it's a sort of no pressure situation. I say I've been lucky because I haven't had to spend as much time with kids and homework the past couple of years and I have seen that as good because I work full-time and then all the kids have their activities and I've added some of my own. The time just doesn't seem to be there.

This year, the luck ends. I feel like a failure right now because I see that my Helen is struggling a bit in 3rd grade. Helen has never been one to read without being assigned. She reads quite well. She's fun to listen to as she reads aloud as she uses proper intonation and inflection. But she does not really like to read. I think she runs into a problem I had as a kid where the material wasn't interesting enough to keep her focused and she will read a paragraph and still not know what she just read because her mind wandered. So she has to re-read it and that makes her mad. Her comprehension skills are not strong either and this impacts not only her reading, but her grammar and her math word problem computations. I feel like a failure because I haven't spent the kind of time with Helen that she needs.

My sweet girl, who wants to be "just like her mommy"
more than anything in the whole world
Our schedule is hectic, no doubt. Craig heads off to work shortly after I get home (and sometimes before I get home). Sarah has volleyball games and practices in the afternoons/evenings. Dani has cross country practices and swim practices all nights of the week except Wednesday. Dominic has a worksheet to complete a couple of nights a week and Vincent just needs regular attention so he's not zoning out watching a screen all evening. You notice that I didn't include anything with Helen in that list. That is how busy we are without spending extra time with Helen on her homework. And I've been working out in the mornings so I still get it in while I can't go in the afternoons/evenings right now.

This is where the rubber meets the road with regard to a WOTHM's life. It's all about balance and sometimes, there just isn't any. I had to have a serious talk with Helen last night, putting a plan together to help her strengthen her skills. We'll be doubling up the amount of time I spend with her reading each night and we'll be doing about 5 extra math word problems each night. I may even throw in flash cards for her addition and subtraction math facts because she's not fast enough with those. This will be in addition to extra spelling and handwriting practice that I already had recognized she would need.

Helen said I was "being mean" and I had to reassure her that no, I am not angry and no, I am not being mean. I had to tell her, "I am being your mommy. I have to help you." And then...I hugged her while she cried. I know her tears were those of disappointment -- she thought she'd disappointed me. And so I hugged her and said, "I love you" over and over because the last thing I want her to fear is that doing poorly in school would ever make me not love her. And I told her that, too.

Then...I sat at my computer screen for about 10 minutes. And I cried. I cried because it feels like I have failed my daughter. I cried because I love her so. I cried because I worry that even with a plan in place, she might still not improve -- and that scares the bejeezus out of me. I cried because I see so much of myself in Helen and I knew exactly why she was crying and why she thought I was being mean. Because when I was a kid and I didn't live up to people's expectations -- it hurt. I didn't want Helen to hurt. I want to expect great things from Helen, but I don't want to expect the wrong great things of her. I cried because I face week after week of having to run myself ragged to get the kids to school, get myself to work, get the kids to activities, scrape the money together to pay for those activities -- all the while trying to keep myself sane, healthy and as together as possible. And...I am not going to lie to you. Sometimes it feels absolutely impossible.

This post isn't going to have any answers. this post is simply laying it out there that I have struggles that feel insurmountable on a fairly regular basis and my only option is to power through. I can cry and worry that no matter how well I execute my plan to help Helen that she will still fail. But in the end, I must still power through that plan and try my best. I must set benchmarks against which to measure Helen's progress and I must also assess my expectations of Helen and be sure I am aligning them with HER personality and HER gifts and not her older sisters'.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment in expectations, however, has to be my own. It's tempting to start to believe everyone when they tell you they "don't know how you do it" and how "incredible" you must be to have so much together. It really is tempting...and sometimes you do start to believe it. But then the dose of humility that must, and always does, come slaps you across the face and you realize that you haven't been doing one or more of the things you need to do to continue to raise your family, keep your home in shape, and maintain forward traction in life. And it's time to reassess and change up the plan.

So that's where I am today. Just like with weight loss or getting better at CrossFit, I am choosing to look at the next day as a new beginning. So what we were doing wasn't working? Let's try this and see if it does. I just wish that when it was time to change things up, it wasn't so much like throwing a bunch of stuff to a wall and seeing what sticks. But I suppose that's life sometimes.



  1. I so needed this today. I am struggling with the same thing with my first grader. Its his first year of having homework every night and its not going well. Its meltdowns and tears and hours gone by to finish one small thing and on top of it I am working and have two other little ones at home that need attention and one in my tummy ready to come out any day. Activities have taken a back seat, as has any sort of family time or play time. I feel like, this is insane, its first grade! He should be able to come home and relax and play and spend time with his family! Not be stressed out and spending the whole night doing more work. So frustrating, and so hard when Ive had a long day at work etc and just want to relax as well. I guess we just keep taking it a day at a time, and figure out what works for us, and maybe have a chat with the teacher. Thanks for posting this.

    1. I feel you. I remember when I was pregnant with #4 and Sarah was in 2nd grade. It seemed like we had so much to do and I wondered how on earth I would ever help all of my children with school work.

      something else I didn't put in the post, but remembered later -- as a child, I didn't start having homework until 4th grade. I remember it because it was a big deal to get homework. We actually bragged about it, "We get to start having homework this year!!"

      I am not sure I understand why we have homework in the lower grades. But...I guess I might not know of Helen's struggles if we didn't, so there's that.

  2. I am right where you are! My second oldest, Eli, is in second grade. He is in football and cross country. He takes piano lessons one day a week. My oldest is in football and take piano. Everything was easy with my oldest. Eli has homework every day now, and there is no way for me to get out of helping him. He doesn't read as well as my oldest did, or even as well as my kindergartener. My husband works second shift as well, so it's just me tackling EVERYTHING with the 5 kids in the evenings (and one on the way). I go to bed exhausted every evening. We just pray God helps us to find the day-to-day answers and help us with issues that arise. And yes, I think that's just how life goes. I hate regret and the last thing I want to do is to look at my child as a grown adult and wish I would've done something better for him when he's at the age he's at now. Have you looked into tutoring? We have a free program in this area that I thought about looking into.

    1. Oops...I replied to Meg's comment and was thinking of yours (having someone in 2nd grade!) But still applies :)

  3. I hear SAHM complain about too much homework and about their youngsters complaining about homework. If kids liked doing their homework it would be called homeplay. I don't know why homework is given to such young children. It seems unnatural. I say this as a person who holds a teaching certificate, so it's not like I'm anti-education. I know for me, 3rd grade was when school became more about work and less about the joy of learning. I know there's at least one book out there about a lot homework doesn't really do much good. Everyone needs time to play and relax with loved ones. It's great you are so involved and invested in your children's learning. Your young daughter could very well be reading some poorly-written books. And if you aren't interested in the subject matter, then that makes reading a real turn off. At some point, somebody has to do laundry, grocery shop, and do something about something. I don't think Helen will fail. You never know when or at what age something will click with a child, and he or she just takes off. On the other hand, it's crucial to master the basics. Well, I'm no help at all.

    1. Oh, I definitely agree that the homework issue is most likely not a WOTHM-specific issue. I was just thinking of my experience and how I feel like I could do a better job if I were home just maybe 2 or 3 more hours each day.

      and as I mentioned in another comment, I remember there was NO homework assigned to us as kids until we were in 4th grade. And by then we were all like, "Yay! We get homework this year!!" hahaha

  4. I tried watching an animated video on how to make a time machine. I figure I could build you one to give you an extra few hours, however, I didn't understand the video. Science is not my strong point.


Thank you for reading. I enjoy reading other perspectives, please feel free to share yours. :)