My boy turns seven in a few weeks and he hates homework. He also hates school. He hates anything that resembles learning. He doesn’t mind learning if it doesn’t feel like learning. The knowledge has to sneak up on him. I suppose many of us are like that.
I’ve been reading this book. It’s called Positive Discipline. It explores a positive and constructive approach to parenting with an emphasis on Adlerian psychology. The recurring theme in this book is that parents and teachers must get away from the belief that in order to make children do better, we must first make them feel worse. The book explores the psychology of misbehavior and the pattern of inflicting “blame, shame, and pain” on a misbehaving child, and that ruling by fear may stop misbehavior in the moment but not in the long run, and that adopting a teamwork approach to problem-solving is a more constructive and nurturing approach. It’s powerful stuff.
I’ve actually been reading this book for some time. I started on it perhaps a year ago, but since my reading time each night is for ten minutes or so after I get into bed at night, it took a while and I only got halfway through. And then my youngest started resisting bedtime, and nights became more difficult and reading time took a hike for a bit.
But I picked the book back up again a few weeks ago and started skimming through what I’d already read in an attempt to catch up, because I really, really want to learn this stuff.
Last night I forgot all about the book. I forgot about Adler. I forgot about the positive time out. I blew it.
When homework time rolled around last night, the struggle commenced. Tears. Hyperventilating. Pleading for a brownie that he didn’t know he wanted until I announced that it was homework time.
And all this was before he ever even wrote his name on his paper.
“Nolan,” I said, taking his head in my hands and looking into his eyes, “it’s OK. Take a deep breath.” He let out a few short pants.
“Again. Take another breath,” I said softly.
Pant, pant, pant.
And then a struggle over which page he would start on. More tears and panting.
This is the routine, four nights a week, for a year-and-a-half, minus one glorious summer, a spring break and two winter holidays. How could I know that last night was the night that I would reach my limit?
“Nolan,” I shouted, “do you know that I hate doing homework with you? I hate it. I absolutely hate it. I hate it. I … hate … it.”
And I kept on as he sobbed. After a year and a half of school, was he surprised that he had homework every night? I mean, did this really come as a shock to him every night?
No, he sniffled.
But I kept on about how hard he makes every evening, how everyone has to do homework, but not everyone cries about it every night. Were it not for this, we could be halfway done with the very page he was protesting. Why would I want to spend my nights doing this? He can just sit right there at the desk and wait for Daddy to come home and help him.
And then I sputtered out and went into the kitchen for a breath…which, ironically, I should have done in the first place.
So, the thing is, this is one of the things I’m trying to solve. My tantrum last night is not a legacy that I care to leave my children. I want a close relationship with both of my kids, and I also want to shape them to be responsible, considerate, smart, loving. And the book doesn’t tell me what to do when their suggestions fail. Or maybe their suggestions are fine, but I fail. Either way, last night was most definitely a fail.
And today I start again, and try to recover from my outburst. Nolan seems fine, but I am not. I pray for patience. I want to get this right. You only get one chance to raise your child. Last night I sucked at it. Tonight, we’ll see.