Late Night Mathematics OakleyOriginals via Compfight


When it came to homework, Bob and I still had baggage to unpack. For me, homework and my performance in school was the “currency” of our family. It was almost a matter of life and death, and certainly the primary connection to my mother. Doing well in school was the ticket to gaining her acceptance and approval. Homework and school performance were not major issues for Bob. He struggled in school, but it did not seem to be of great concern to his parents or, if it was, they didn’t know what to do about it. They didn’t connect his difficulties with the fact that he spent four years of grade school and junior high trying to learn subjects taught in Russian by teachers who spoke Czech. He spoke and understood little of either. By the time he was fourteen he could barely write a letter in English. We approached homework differently, again based on our experiences as children.

Aaron and I had conflicts of epic proportions over homework. I felt that homework and super grades should be the center of his existence. That’s how it had been for me, and I thought it should be that way for him. As a young adult, Aaron wrote the following account of our struggles over homework:

Homework. Homework. Homework. For my parents and me it was a bone of contention dating back to the ice age—well, at least back to elementary school. It seemed I was always fighting with my parents about doing my homework and practicing, more poignantly with Mom. My father, ever so appropriately, named these battles “power struggles.” They were quite nasty and in fact left both parties, my mom and me, feeling rather discouraged about the mother–son relationship. My mom, who had been valedictorian of her class, ever since kindergarten wanted and expected that I follow suit and make school the most important thing in my life. I had other ideas. Sports and social life got most of my good attention. Interchanges about schoolwork seemed to be the first real chance for mother and son to understand that our respective personalities were quite different.

The battles diminished and finally ceased altogether when I came to respect our differences. Still, as Aaron reports, I did impart in him the need for discipline and good study habits, which he has carried with him. Here’s his take on the academic front:

Though it may have seemed like a negative experience, I believe that overall it provided an arena in which my mother and I could begin to develop a relationship that was less adult–child and more adult–adult. The years between elementary and high school were very painful. But the battles seemed to move from being emotionally charged and antagonistic to rational and compromising. It took no small effort, but the results placed me well ahead of the game in college. I had come to understand that I didn’t have to let my grades suffer while my social and athletic prowess thrived. Away from the eyes of my parents I excelled in all those areas at once. Much to my surprise I had developed the skills necessary to allow a peaceful co-existence of academic achievement and athletic success. It was a triumph for me though I didn’t like to admit it. I was very happy that I was able to handle the workload in college and actually do very well.

Where was Dad during this time? During homework battles he was a voice of reason. The struggles I had with my dad were more around sports and the grandiose ideas he had for me. But when it came to homework, my dad’s rational and calming influence helped my mother and me come to grips with our struggles and ultimately our relationship. Dad’s perspective was important, though I never realized it then. He wanted me to excel in school but he understood my desires and my personality. His support gave me the confidence to fight and explain to Mom my side of the story. My father was the one who alerted us to the possibility that something else was going on besides homework. Our struggles were a proving ground, an arena in which mother and son could grow and develop our relationship. Dad’s gentling influence helped me to negotiate for what I wanted and find an acceptable compromise. Mom offered a similar sort of calming influence when it came to the struggles with my dad over sports and his grandiose ideas for me.