Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Looking Back and Looking Forward as an Empty Nester

I'm about to be an empty nester, and I am reflecting back on my youngest son's experiences in public school.  Here Sam was in middle school:

And, here he is now, about to graduate from high school:

School has been a struggle for Sam.  He is not in that top 20% academically.  I don't think he will be upset if I share that he has been in the Resource program since middle school. He has proudly, openly proclaimed that Resource saved him in both middle and high school. In addition to seeking out Resource services, probably the best thing I ever did for Sam (beginning in middle school) was to back off and stop micro-managing his homework.  

I, admittedly, hovered over him in elementary school WAY TOO MUCH. (Having a teaching background, I felt entitled to hover.) I'm actually embarrassed at how much I stepped in and "helped" him with homework.  I brought him to tears more than once during some marathon homework sessions.  I even made a video once of him crying when he was supposed to be doing homework and showed it to him. (I know, BAD PARENTING MOMENT, I'm truly ashamed I did that. I'm so sorry Sam!)

I finally backed off and woke up when I saw what homework was doing to both my sons in middle school - crushing their spirits.  And that's when I took an unpopular stand on homework and helped initiate a change in the homework policy in my son's district, back in 2007.  This blog was created out of that homework policy research.

Since then, parents will see me and ask, "Hey, whatever happened with the homework policy?  You did so much work on that and my son/daughter still gets busywork.  Why don't the teachers follow the policy?"

What I've learned through the years is what I knew from the beginning.  In their lifetime, our kids will have some truly excellent, creative, innovative, nurturing, intelligent, dedicated teachers (and both of my boys have) and they will also unfortunately experience some very non-exceptional teachers (and both of my boys have).  We parents have little or no control over what teachers our kids end up with.  But, as long as they are still living in our homes, we do have control over how we interact with them at the end of the school day.

Here are some concrete things I did to stop micro-managing my kids and let them take control of their own learning:
  • I turned off the daily email feature on School Snoop (a.k.a. School Loop)
  • I looked at School Loop only once per quarter or less
  • I stopped asking them how much homework they had after school
  • I didn't ask them when they had tests or quizzes or papers or projects due
  • I didn't freak out when they said they failed or did really badly on a test or assignment
  • I let them decide what classes they wanted to take
  • I focused on the content of what they were learning instead of the grade
  • I encouraged them to contact their own teachers with questions and frustrations instead of my doing it
  • I encouraged them to seek out other students for support or help
  • I empathized with them when they were frustrated about too much busywork
  • I empathized with them when they were frustrated about a difficult teacher or administrator experience
  • I stopped signing them up for too many after school activities
  • I stopped sending them to tutors, eventually (this took a while for me to figure out)
  • I encouraged down time and free play
  • I didn't require them to build a resume for college
  • I celebrated with them when they had little or no homework
  • I celebrated with them when they experienced a great teacher or teaching moment

Did both of my boys fail some tests and assignments and not get straight A's? Yep.  Did either one end up with a 4.8 GPA?  Nope.  Did they both get into college?  Yep.  

I'd like to share with you that Sam, my Resource student son, got into a small, private school (Sierra Nevada College) that gave him a hefty academic scholarship because his GPA was over a 3.0. Sam didn't beat himself up academically to be in the top 20% of his class, and his grades are just over average, he took no honors or advanced classes, and yet he still found a college that seems to be a good fit for him and is giving him a half-tuition scholarship for his efforts.  

There is a right fit for every type of learner out there.  And, it doesn't have to be college.  It can be a gap year, or internship, or work, or whatever speaks to your child.  And, realize that kids may start out in college and not finish at the same school or even finish at all.  Whatever happens with their educational journey, I hope I can remember my list of things that I did to be a supportive, non-hovering, non-judgmental parent and just keep encouraging them along the way.



  1. This post brought tears to my eyes, first because I know and love your family, and second because as parents we sometimes learn the lessons we need to learn just a little too late. My lessons were also learned in middle school when I was shocked and amazed at how much homework my two boys got and how difficult it seemed to be. Fortunately my kids experienced some amazing teachers and had some great experiences as well and I eventually learned to let them take control of their own work and did not put pressure on them to take any advanced courses. They were where they needed to be, challenged but still able to have success. My youngest son graduates from high school in two days and my middle son graduated two years ago. They both got into several colleges, one has chosen to take another path at this time and the other is still deciding where he wants to be next year. One thing I know for sure is that giving your kids control managing their own schedule starting early on (with some guidance, and lots of support and encouragement) will make everyone's life less stressful and hopefully teach your child that they are in control of their own successes and failures. Thanks for continuing to bring us these great posts Kerry and best of luck to you next year Sam, Congratulations!

  2. Thank you so much! It is so good to read about your son's success as my son is about to start his middle school journey in the fall. I feel the same way about homework, downtime, advanced courses, etc. It's so good to hear that your son graduated and got into college and that every child's educational journey is different. THANK YOU!

  3. You have also given them the skills to make decisions, deal with different types of personalities, and take responsibility for themselves. Plus knowing they did it. Yes with support but they did it (or didn't). Best road to healthly,productive, good adults.

  4. I just discovered your blog and I applaud your efforts to bring sanity back to homework practices in our district. I say that as a parent of three kids who almost never have to be reminded to finish homework or projects, and a credentialed teacher currently working as a para in our district. I know the stakes are about to get higher as my twins enter middle school. I am always excited to discover like-minded individuals in our community who have positive stories to share about taking the pressure off and raising children who take charge of their own educational journey, whatever it may be. Thank you!

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  7. Good initiative taken by author.

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