The homework hour is a very challenging part of our day…Probably the hardest hour in our home. So, in efforts to go back to school like a boss, I’ve called in the big guns. My friend Ellen, has served as an inspiration to me as she has transitioned her family’s homework hour from dreadful to delightful. I hope her thoughts will encourage you.
I am now two years into the world of having a house full of school-aged children. For so long this season felt sort of like a pink, sparkly, magical unicorn. And yet, I’m here. I am also now three years into the world of having three sets of homework assignments to navigate. There are many afternoons when that part of this season doesn’t feel like a magical and wonderful unicorn. In fact, once we got fully into this part of our family life, facing an afternoon full of math worksheets and reading logs and projects that probably require glitter started to make me feel restless, frustrated and rushed day after day.
Here are a few things I have done to redeem that time:
1. Ask for help. When our afternoons became the battleground for frustration day after day, I decided to ask for advice. I sat across from a dear woman who had been mentoring me for a few years and laid all of my failure feelings out. I asked her to tell me what I could do better and what I should realistically expect from that time. We came up with a plan that felt manageable and hopeful.
2. Manage expectations. Over time, I had come to see homework time as a small spot in my day where I could maybe get a few mindless chores done or even a little bit of mindless scrolling on a screen. Some days that works, but I noticed that I was always trying to finish what I was doing reallyquicklyoookaaaaay? before I would jump in to help on whatever the afternoon work held. And then I would be flustered and frustrated that I didn’t seem to be getting anything done very well.
I decided to shift my expectations. I made a plan to just sit down at the table where we were doing homework. I decided not to look at computer or phone screens. I keep a book handy and I’m simply present. I don’t have to help on every single step of the assignments that my children bring home daily, but I am accessible and available.
3. Figure out what brings me to the table. It’s hard to stop everything at the end of the day. There are always dishes to wash and laundry to fold and all kinds of work to do. Also, helping a 6th grader figure out prime factorization or a 1st grader on the journey to become an independent reader? Sometimes I end up in more tears than the actual 1st or 6th grader.
I decided to make it a time I could look forward to. I clear off the dining room table before we sit down. I love fresh flowers, so sometimes I stuff a bunch into a jar and put them in the middle. I light a musky, earthy and wonderful candle. I put the acoustic guitar station on pandora and let it play in the background (because apparently I am old). It helps.
4. Hold it all loosely. I really love my routines, which means I might struggle a little with being spontaneous. In fact, I can start to feel all twitterpated when life doesn’t cooperate with my comfortable way of walking through my day. I also have three school-aged children and a husband working for a parachurch ministry. Life rarely cooperates with my expectations.
I have to hold my afternoons loosely. Sometimes I have to cook dinner during our homework hours so I ask my short stacks to sprawl out on the kitchen floor. Sometimes one child has guitar practice so another one does homework on a music stand in the hallway. Sometimes we have baseball or basketball or what have you and we just have to get all the things done anyway I can. Sometimes I have work I have to do so we just have to put our heads down and barrel through.
There’s one thing I hold onto, though. My goal is to be present (accessible and available) when and where I can. When I feel restless, frustrated and fed up: I admit it, apologize and tell everyone (especially myself) that we will try again next time. And then I let it go and start fresh the next day because I know that it’s not about my performance but my presence any way I can give it.
To hear more encouragement from Ellen, follow her on Instagram @sweetwaterellie.