Logging On

I’m hearing more and more about these disturbing things called “homework logs.” And “reading logs.” And school projects parents and kids are expected to complete TOGETHER.

Hrmmmm. Charlotte is not quite two, but I’m already looking ahead to her entering the public school system. And those scary little homework logs. And what seems to be confusion between parental tuned-in-ness and parental make-sure-it’s-done-right-and-on-time-ness.

I think we’re in the midst of a bizarre phase of overachieving child-rearing that is wacky. The MORE we do for our kids—the longer we breastfeed, the more stimulating activities we sign kids up for, the more organic their food, the more we question every single thing the pediatrician says—the more we LOVE them. Or, translation: the better parents we are.

But I want to make the case for LESS. Hear me out.

When I was at Costco a couple weeks ago, I passed a man who apparently had run into an acquaintance, and he was talking annoyingly loudly and with perverse pride about how (overly) involved he was in his kid’s life. “I go through each of her classes, and say ‘What homework do you have’ and I sit there and make sure she does it and ……” A disinterested adolescent whom I assume was the child in question stood with her arms crossed, in that charming way that moody teen girls do.

Ever judgmental about other parents’ child-rearing practices, I rolled my eyes. What’s the point of trying to get a kid into college if he or she won’t be able to function once they get there?

My parents were not perfect, but self-sufficiency is one thing they nailed in raising my brother and me. Part of this contribution to our independence was the simple fact that both parents worked full-time. We were responsible for rolling out of bed, getting ready, and getting to the bus stop on time. My dad views our 8-year never-missing-the-bus streak one of his greatest parental accomplishments. We never missed the bus. Not once. (We were home alone in the mornings and early evenings beginning when I was in fourth grade. Rather young, I now realize.) What would have happened if we missed the bus? “Oh, probably nothing,” my dad now admits. But of course Tyler and I thought the ramifications would be absolutely horrifying. So we never risked it.

As for schoolwork? Why, that was our responsibility. Tyler was innately smarter than me, so he could maintain high grades with good test scores, charm, in-class participation, and plain old smarts. He just had to add a tiny bit of homework, and voila. A lovely little transcript. Me? I had to work at it. Hard. Regardless of how we approached schoolwork, my parents were hands off. Sure, if we needed help or a trip to the library or craft store (is there any greater waste of time than creating freaking shoebox dioramas?), the parental units stepped in. But remembering deadlines and due dates, project components, and homework was purely my responsibility. So, I took responsibility for it.

And you know what? It meant that my successes were MY successes. My parents never acted like academic success was worthless—to the contrary, they LOVED it when I succeeded. They were proud. And because each success belonged to me and me alone—my smarts, my effort, my drive, my creativity—I built on each success, moving steadily forward. I knew I could do what I needed to do.

And by the time I arrived at a competitive liberal arts college, I was ready. I did very, very well in college.

I’m currently reading NurtureShock, and a chapter delineates how much evidence shows children’s future achievement to be highly correlated with their “stick-to-it-ness”—their work ethic, their determination to keep working at something to get it right. I think there’s a lot of truth in that. And I'm sort of stunned that my dad in particular picked up on it. Before this trendy book. For example, while oodles of my school friends were getting paid for grades ($100 for each A, $50 for each B, and so on), my dad ABSOULTELY refused.

“For starters,” he said, “Grading is subjective. Different teachers grade differently. Second, grades don’t mean shit.”

Imagine saying this to your bookish adolescent, whose sole talent is getting good grades and making teachers happy.

Dad would continue, “I’d much rather see you work your ass off in an AP class and get a C than coast through a different class and get an A. Grades. Don’t. Mean. Shit.”

And I can’t believe I’m typing this, but my dad was right. In high school, I did consistently well writing papers. It drove some of my classmates loony, and I was told—on several occasions (and in college, too): “It just comes easily to you.”

No, it didn’t. As a high schooler, I’d stare at my computer screen, trying to concoct the perfect sentence. The perfect argument. The perfect paper. In college, I started papers weeks in advance, as I needed a ton of time to flesh out thoughts, do my research, rework sentences, finesse the style. In college and grad school, I wasn’t writing about concrete things, like geology. These weren’t reports. I had to sift through extraordinarily complex theory, philosophy, politics, historical context, and connect it all back to whatever literature I was dealing with at the time. Not easy. Sometimes, I just had to take the time to think think think through something tricky. And it occurred to me, in reading NurturShock, that the reason I was good at writing was due in large part to my stick-to-it-ness. And not once in high school, college, or grad school did I request an extension. If I got sick, well, at least my paper was already almost finished.

Chris and I have discussed how best to handle Charlotte’s school years, and I’m sure we’ve got a complicated road ahead of us. School is different now than when we were kids. We’ll have to negotiate through the excessive child-centered cesspool of dependency, among a billion other things, and do the best we can. It frightens me.

But hear this: Nurturing independence does NOT equate to disinterest or lack of involvement. After all, my mom read to my brother and me for years. I want to read books to Charlotte when she’s thirty! But I cannot justify robbing her of the satisfaction of knowing she alone achieved a job well done. And on the flip side, she needs to be allowed to fail. Ensuring that she does every little school-related thing correctly not only short-changes her sense of accomplishment, it creates a false environment. The real word does not function with mommies and daddies checking to make sure you saw all your patients, or correctly engineered that building, or remembered to show up for a deposition. In real life, you can fail. You WILL fail, now and then. How will you proceed?

The long and the short of it is this: Charlotte will be given every advantage. She lives in a safe neighborhood, has access to top-notch education from preschool through college, has parents who adore her and each other, and all of her material needs will be met. Thus, that kid needs to be equipped not to squander it. To whom much is given, much is expected.

And that? That is why I don’t want to sign any homework logs.


  1. OH, I am SO over homework logs. It's the story of my life. The good news is that I think you've inspired me to write a blog about it. Thanks!

    And thanks for stopping by the book club!


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