I am pretty sure that our daughter just pulled off the greatest homework heist of all time. Don’t get me wrong. I hate homework, too. I am an elementary school teacher and I’ve seen the research behind it. Basically, it has no effect on learning. It’s useless. It’s also a part of life and something that my reluctant daughter must learn to do, no matter how stringently she protests.
She’s hidden her assignment sheets. She’s “lost” important papers in her backpack. She has feigned absolute ignorance as to knowing what an assignment sheet is even for. She tells us that her teacher refuses to let her take her homework home from school. She tells her teacher that her parents refuse to let her complete her homework. Somehow, none of this is her fault.
Our daughter is a very bright girl, and it didn’t take long for her to figure out that we email back and forth with her teacher. So the homework tug-of-war continued. I found that if I sat close to her and prompted her with questions, she calmed a bit. I think doing any kind of independent work triggers a feeling of abandonment or a feeling of simply not being smart enough. I felt like we were getting a pretty good system down.
Then, last night, she came home insisting she had to go to the chorus concert that was starting in 30 minutes. It’s true, there was a school concert. The only trouble is, she hadn’t joined chorus at the beginning of the school year. In the elementary school, students can choose to give up their Wednesday recess for choir practice. They don’t need a permission slip to join, they just sign themselves up. I vaguely remember her saying at the beginning of the school year that she wasn’t going to do it because she didn’t want to give up recess.
Last night my husband and I looked at each other in confusion. The concert was right there on the calendar. Mary seemed astonished and a little hurt that we had “forgotten” she was a part of the chorus. Needless to say, we felt awful. The family rushed through dinner and I fished out her fanciest dress and did her hair. She went to the concert, alright.
The problem was, she wasn’t part of the group. Her name wasn’t on the program. The choral teacher let her up onstage but professed that Mary had never joined chorus or been to practice. To our daughter’s credit she sang in the concert. She performed songs she had never practiced and she looked competent doing it.
This kind of lying is not at all uncommon in kids with traumatic backgrounds. When any kind of fear response is triggered, they launch into activities they believe will protect them or keep them safe. I have to give her credit for this one. It took some serious planning. She is a smart girl. Of course, we had to work on her homework the next day before school.
So is homework completion the thing we are working the hardest on? Not at all. Is it honesty? Again, not at all. It’s safety. We want her to feel safe. My husband and I spoke to her teacher about alternate ways for her to complete her homework. We discussed options to help us communicate better. And we included our daughter in the conversation. After all, she is the one with the fear.
But can I tell you all a secret? I sort of wished I could give her a high-five. I could never have pulled this one off!
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.