Jill Stahl Tyler: Yet another important parent lesson learned

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I have a confession to make. I suppose it's not a surprise to anyone, and I imagine that many — or even all — parents can make this same confession.

I worry about my children's grades.

Sometimes, too, I worry that their school achievements are a reflection directly back on me, as their mother.

Of course, I tell them what is most important is that they are learning. Progressing. Moving forward. Building on what they already know. Understanding how to find information, how to use it, not necessarily memorizing and parroting back.

I even believe what I'm telling them. I look back at what I did in my formal education sometimes. It is painfully obvious to me that the most important part of my four years of college had little to do with the classroom stuff. (I've used the required microbiology class a sum total of twice after graduation, thank you very much for those painful hours in both lecture and lab.)

No, the most important thing I took with me was organizational skills. I still use the planning methods I stumbled across while trying to cram everything into my life. I still make lists of all the errands, and plan my route accordingly. I still look to my calendar and stuff in yet one more thing that interests me. (And yes, most everything still interests me, too.)

Ever heard that "Children are gifts from God"? That's so easy to believe when their angelic little faces stare up at yours with adoration, perhaps as you are enjoying some family outing together on a perfect day.

It's a whole lot harder when they are happily playing Fortnight in the basement for hours... and I know that there are homework assignments languishing.

I started this past semester with admonitions that homework needed to be done. I progressed to sneaky little questions, designed to prod their memory about what was important. Then, I made statements of encouragement. I shared emails and calls from teachers about their concerns that the "lack of progress" would eventually lead to "serious problems."

Eventually, I reached the most dreaded of all mom things.

I nagged.

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And oh, I am good at nagging. I am able to find a way to bring up the problem in the morning... in the car.... at supper... even (gasp) in front of their friends.

But... the patterns continued. Fortnight. Overnights with friends. Nights out for sports. Nights of Netflix. Nights of tears with fears as homework was attempted, not understood and deemed a judgement on abilities to succeed in life. Nights filled with avoidance and minimal familial interaction. Nights where I woke up in a cold panic, wondering where I am failing and how I am supposed to be a "good parent."

Finally, one day, a wiser head prevailed. It was, not surprisingly, through the voice of my husband. He stated the obvious: our efforts didn't work. This was not our responsibility. It was the child's.

And what is the most important lesson we parents need to teach? Good ol' responsibility. They go out into the world, and sure, their book learning might be very helpful — even necessary — in many situations. But day in and day out, they have to understand that with actions come consequences.

So, in my last gasp of trying to convince our offspring of the gravity of this situation, I resorted to what I hoped would inspire much guilt — and movement forward. I said that I was done. It was no longer my responsibility to worry about grades or homework or completion of assignments. I was available if requested to look over something. But I would no longer confirm, check, or cajole — nor lay awake at night, panicked. Whatever happened from this point forward was not on me.

Now, at this point in the retelling of the story, I would love to say that there was an immediate change. But this is not a fairy tale. My memory of the moment is admittedly a bit foggy, because I was infinitely more emotional about this than the recipients.

My tongue is bloody from being bitten for the rest of the semester. My husband's shoulder is bruised from when I prodded him to speak up as deadlines grew increasingly tighter, and the communications from the teachers more urgent. (By the way, we have great systems in our schools to make sure kids don't fall through the cracks. A shout out to all those staff who really give it their best!)

There were also moments when invitations for fun were turned down, and books were pulled out. Times where the computer was being used for completing assignments, and Grey's Anatomy was not being streamed. There were nights where their two good things included statements like, "getting that proficiency finished" instead of "we had a sub and didn't have to do anything." And moments when the Facetime really was necessary for homework, not just an excuse to be able to keep the phone by their sides.

In short, there were definite attempts — by all children and by both parents — to meet responsibilities head on.

We have just finished the semester. The grades are not back yet. We don't know if the efforts paid off in their grades.

But I'm learning; so are they. And I guess that's the most important lesson that we were all supposed to get.

Jill Stahl Tyler is parent to four kids this year, a college sophomore, a high school senior and sophomore, and an eighth grader. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board. Contact her at jill@globalcow.com.


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