Why I Leave Homework Help To My Spouse

by Wendy Wisner
Gladskikh Tatiana / Shutterstock

The hours between 4 and 7 p.m. are the bane of every parent’s existence. The witching hour (or hours) is real, and it doesn’t end after you have babies in the house. I don’t know if it’s because we’re hungry then, exhausted, moody, so done with the day, or a combination of all of the above, but everyone in my house has at least one meltdown during those hours, including me.

The other problem is that I have so much to get done in those hours, but I have zero energy left to do a thing, and a house full of whiners up my ass.

Sound familiar?

Here’s what it’s like for me. First, I have to make dinner. Dinner is sort of a joke around here because my kids pretty much eat continuously from 3 p.m. until bedtime. But there is a distinctive meal called dinner thrown in there somewhere, even though I feel like I’m pretty much fetching food for them for six hours straight.

Then, there’s the clean-up. The endless freaking clean-up. There is always, always a load of dishes to unload, and then an entire load of dishes to be put in. There are lunch boxes to open, clean out, and pack for the next day. There are clothes and toys to be picked up off the floor (which basically involves me telling my kids every 10 minutes for an hour put stuff away until they finally do). There are permission slips to sign, teachers to email, and a million stories from my kids’ days for me listen to and process. (I’m basically a social worker, therapist, and motivational speaker, all rolled into one.)

On top of all this is homework. Fucking homework. I’m not sure who hates homework more, parents or kids.

Why do elementary kids get homework again? Numerous studies have shown that there actually isn’t much point to it, at least in the early years. Maybe it’s so kids get some practice being disciplined and self-motivated? Whatever it’s supposed to accomplish, it isn’t working very well, at least for us.

My son is a good student, and I am grateful for that. Schoolwork comes pretty effortlessly to him, and he excels academically. But homework? The kid is in school for six hours a day doing work. I totally get it that he doesn’t want to do anything more, especially when most of what he gets for homework is more of the same kind of thing he does at school.

I know most teachers don’t have a choice in the matter and are mostly following orders in terms of assigning homework. I have actually given my son the choice not to do it every night, but he sincerely wants to get it done (what a nerd!). The only problem is that it’s like pulling teeth to get him to do it — which is definitely ironic considering he’s the one who wants to get it done.

So what should amount to no more than 15 minutes of actual work turns into at least an hour of begging, pleading, cajoling, ignoring, and then finally saying, “Just don’t do it then!” (This is usually when he does it — reverse psychology for the win!)

After I told you all the shit I need to get done in those after school hours, you better believe that I will have no part in any of that homework nonsense. None. So that’s where my husband (that saint) comes in.

My husband is a high school English teacher, which means that he spends all day trying to get a room full of sleepy, moody teenagers to do their work. Sometimes he comes home pretty spent, but he knows what his jobs are for the evening: take out the trash, cover our 3-year-old with kisses, and help our 9-year-old with his goddamn homework.

Thankfully, he gets that I’ve got plenty to do — plenty — and being in charge of homework help is a drop in the bucket. Granted, some days homework help can be pure hell. If he’s tired from work, and our son is tired from school, it’s a real shit show. Other times, the homework itself has everyone scratching their heads and wanting to call it quits (hello, Common Core math, WTF?).

But on occasion, it can be a time for him to bond with our son. They actually have a thing where they like to pick out the ridiculous math questions — you know, the ones that make no sense or seem to lack in basic grammar. Other times, they’ll make a game of the homework to break up the monotony.

All in all, most days it works out okay, as far as these things go. And it’s definitely a fair division of labor between my husband and me. Yes, homework has its own special place in hell for us all, but my husband knows he’s getting off pretty scot-free when he compares it to all the stuff I have to do each evening.

I know that I am actually really lucky to have a partner who is home at a reasonable hour and is willing to step up the plate when it comes to homework help. But honestly, like everything else, it’s funny to have to even mention when your spouse “helps” with something like that. If your partner is there during those hellish evening hours, he or she should obviously be doing something, and if you hate homework help as much as I do, don’t be shy about outsourcing it to your partner.

This school year, my son will be in fourth grade, and we’re going to try to step back a few steps when it comes to homework help. Eventually, our son needs to take more responsibility for getting it done on his own schedule, with less help (begging) from us.

So yeah, we’ll see how that goes. But if it doesn’t exactly work out (ya think?), my husband will be right back there, sitting down at the kitchen table, bleary-eyed, trying to figure out the new-fangled way of doing long division while my son complains that we don’t have enough pencil sharpeners in the house.

And yeah, I’ll be standing at the sink, as usual, doing yet another load of dishes, peering at my husband and son out of the corner of my eye, feeling very glad that I don’t ever have to do a long division problem again in my life, and falling deeper in love with my husband for being the one who does.