Here’s to You Mom – Parenting a Teen With Learning Disabilities
Parenting humbles you.
“I would never,” said I, ten years ago, “do my child’s homework.” Those are smug words, and those are stupid words. “Never say never.”
Through no virtue of my own, I cracked the code of reading and math early, and so found the classroom a rewarding place to be. I cried at the end of first grade (and second grade and third grade) because I would miss going to school all summer. I have vivid summer memories of being curled on my grandmother’s couch, joyfully completing page after page of a skills workbook that I ASKED MY MOM TO BUY FOR ME at K-Mart. Are you feeling me? Are you getting a sense of how much I loved school?
So, of all the fears that I faced when I became a mom, preparing my children for school was not one of them. I consciously raised my daughters in a literate-rich environment, limiting screen time, traveling to museums and libraries, exploring their interests, and encouraging their curiosity.
Travel back in time. See me cuddled on the couch with a toddler on my lap and a child at my side. See their joy as we pour over book after book after book. Ask me, “Will you ever do your child’s homework?”
“Ha!” I scoff. “I will never do my child’s homework.”
Slap me. Say to me, “Those are smug words. Those are stupid words. Never say never.”
Despite my confidence that my children were school-ready, I did not factor in dyslexia or ADHD or teachers overwhelmed with the task of preparing students to perform on a battery of tests that will judge their school and themselves. Unlike my own public schooling (did I even have homework until junior high?), my first- and third-grade daughters came home with their backpacks crammed with worksheets to complete each and every night.
While my younger daughter would whip through her assignments, my third-grade daughter would break down. To her, homework was a nightmare. Home was where she was successful. She could build cool Lego structures, create stop-motion videos, tell an insane number of knock-knock jokes, and help make dinner. Bringing hours of painful homework into this sanctuary seemed sacrilegious. She was crushed. I was crushed. Our family system was crushed.
Eventually, I learned to set a timer. She would work for twenty minutes, a half hour at most. After she painstakingly completed about half of any minutia sent home, I would dry her tears and attach a note to her homework:
“Good morning! My child worked on this for 20 minutes, and she seems to understand the concept. She needs some downtime now. Please contact me with any concerns. (SMILEY FACE)”
I write out the word “smiley face” because I can not capitalize an emoji. For some reason, including the smile seemed like a non-negotiable in the pleasantries we exchanged. Without the little grin, I feared she may actually access the subtext of my note:
“Hello, Crazy Person. My daughter, who as you know is dyslexic and dysgraphic and has ADHD, just spent twenty minutes sobbing at our dining room table in order to COPY sentences correctly from a thirty-year old textbook. Are you FREAKING KIDDING ME? We aren’t spending another second on this ridiculous piece of busywork. Talk about me in the teacher’s lounge – I could care less.
I loathed homework.
I wrote dozens of notes. Throughout the years, however, I learned other ways to advocate and accommodate her learning. I would scan pages of grammar workbooks for her to circle nouns and underline prepositions rather than having her rewrite every sentence. I would act as her scribe, copying down what she wanted to write. Once she had an amazing teacher who differentiated homework for her. I had a humbling and intimate look of what it was like when reading and writing did not come easily to you, and how school could become a place of fear and pain for children who struggle with learning.
Sometimes a note or other intervention would not fit the occasion. So sometimes, I did the work. I sat next to her and gave her the answers. I typed the paragraph. I found and highlighted the answer in the text. I read the book aloud to her. I lied to my husband that she completed her homework. It’s all true. Yet, she still learned, she still developed perseverance, and she is still an absolutely fabulous person.
She’s come a long way, that little girl who cried every night at the table during third grade – she’s now a freshman in high school. She completes most of her homework in study hall or after school before practice. She rarely needs support at home. We (fingers crossed) have passed through the shadow.
For those of you in the trenches of elementary school homework overload, I see you. There’s no judgement. Do what you need to do – write a note, solve a math problem, color the diagram, stop the madness.
Here’s to you –
Who honor family time over hours of homework time,
Who cut-out, glue, and glitter a country project,
Who practice forging your child’s sloppy “2” so that you can fix the math homework,
Who say, “Enough is enough!” and pull out Jenga instead of reviewing math facts,
Who fill in your child’s reading log while she plays with her sister.
I would never (intentionally) impede my child’s access to learning or character development. But do their homework? In a heartbeat.