Q: I homeschool my two children, ages 7 and 9. The school day lasts from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., after which they usually do homework for an hour or two. During homework time, they constantly ask me to go over material we’ve already covered during school. This prevents me from getting my own work done. I find myself being interrupted frequently, and I have to admit, I’ve lost it on a couple of occasions. What should I do?
A: You should tell your children that after 2 p.m., you no longer are their teacher — you’re their mother and you don’t intend to reteach material you taught during school.
Look at it this way: If they were attending regular school, they wouldn’t have access to their teachers after school hours. Likewise, in your homeschooling situation, they shouldn’t be able to have their teacher on demand after school hours.
As things stands, they don’t have to give you their full attention during the school day. Furthermore, you’ve given them permission to come to you any time they experience the slightest amount of frustration concerning homework.
That circumvents the development of perseverance, which is one of homework’s seven hidden values. Under the circumstances, the effectiveness of homeschooling is significantly reduced, and your stress level is significantly increased. If you don’t put an end to this, you’re going to continue to have periodic cerebral meltdowns.
This is a mother-child boundary issue, as are many contemporary parenting issues. Instead of you being in control of whether you are in the role of mother or teacher at any given time, you’re allowing your children to make that determination.
In any relationship, clearly defined boundaries are essential to mutual respect. Without those boundaries, one party will begin to take advantage of the other person and take the enabling for granted, as your kids are clearly doing.
In the vernacular, they’re manipulating you, but not consciously. They’re simply doing what you’re allowing them to do. You open the gate; they run through it.
The solution to this problem is for you to establish clear definitions of what your children can and cannot expect from their mom after school. Begin by limiting the number of school-related questions you will answer after 2 p.m. to two per child (maybe three for the younger one). Tell them that after they’ve finished as much of their homework as they can, each of them can bring you two (or three) questions, but that you’ll spend no more than a total of 10 minutes per child answering them. After the 10 minutes, they’re on their own.
If you enforce this dispassionately, I guarantee your kids will begin to pay better attention during school hours and eventually all but stop asking after-school questions. Additionally, you’ll be able to get your mom work done. Independence in a parent-child relationship is always a mutual thing.
Rosemond, a family psychologist, answers questions on his website, www.rosemond.com.