A friend of mine told me she dreads parents evening. She’s a high flying career woman and a mum to two lovely boys. Infact, if the measure of a woman is the loveliness of her children then this friend is mum of the year because her boys are fabulous…in public anyway! And yet she’s filled with guilt at parents evening because she walks away having been told, or at least perceiving that she’s been told she’s not doing enough for her childs’ education. My response to her (and this is my actual response) was this…
“Darling you bat that one straight back. You are the boss and you’re delegating the education bit to the school. They should be teaching him the academic bits. You are teaching your boy that women can be strong, independent, equal to men and that they are important to society – if that’s not an important lesson then go dig a hole in the Fairfield and throw yourself in it because it is everything that you hold dear. If they need you to teach your child maths then they are not doing their bloody job! Slam down your glass of Chablis and storm out of there!!!!”
How exciting that she gets Chablis at parents evening! She’s focusing on the wrong things here!!! OK, she probably doesn’t and I don’t know if the school is actually saying these things or if she’s only feeling like this from what is being implied, but regardless her feelings are real. Society has supported this bright girl through an education, continued to support her through an ascent in her career but when she needs society the most, when she becomes a mother, society becomes judgmental?
I heard another tale recently of a little girl who is incredibly bright who has been put into the second set for maths. She is performing a year ahead of the national average. When her mum looked into it, the difference between the first and second set is not apparent in the children, but in their mothers. The first set children all have mothers who no longer work AND they are also receiving tutoring. These children are aged 6 & 7.
The girls in the second set have mums with careers. Mums who were the children in the first set once upon a time.
And this isn’t a new story. The kids who have stay at home mums are often ahead in reading compared to the mums who have careers, simply because the kids have a parent there who is pushing the child along everyday, where career mum can only do it at the weekend. The gap is stark.
And yet here we are, bringing up our little girls to have careers.
What are we teaching our little girls? If you want to be a high achiever you have to have a stay at home mum?
The evidence is clear that a child who reaches the top of the class early on in their academic career is likely to stay there. It’s much harder for a child to climb to the top later on, although it’s not impossible.
The Sutton Trust Tool Kit, a myth busting evidence based publication from a renowned education ‘Do Tank’ states that
On homework – “It is more valuable at secondary school level and much less effective for children of primary school age.”
More of a case for me is the Finnish school model. Finland is widely recognized as having the best education system in the world. They don’t do homework. Even in high school. There’s no point – kids can’t concentrate for that long. You just end up with grumpy kids and quite frankly life is to short.
So homework in primary school aged children is not particularly effective in terms of academic achievement the studies and real life finds, yet it seems to be particularly wonderful at making our high flying women feel bad and putting their children on the back foot against those who have a stay at home mum. Whilst the children of the high flying women most likely have the capacity to be as impressive as their mothers, they may not feel that’s the case when, aged 6, they see others doing better than them. What conclusions are they drawing about themselves?
I am a working mum. I work full time hours, but I work for myself so those hours are flexible. I work until 9pm most nights. My kids are too tired to do homework in the week so it’s the weekends. I don’t want to spend 30 minutes arguing with my child every weekend. I want to take her to a museum. I want to explore a shop and add up the prices to see if we have enough money. I want to talk to her about why the people in the town have different coloured skin. I want to talk to her about how old people are when they die. I want to go to the library. I want to watch a movie and eat popcorn. I want to review that movie with her and decide if it’s a keeper or we bin it. I want to have some fun with her. I want to play the piano for her. Are these things not important too? There are only so many hours in the day.
There has long been an argument that homework is biased against families that work. I think we can take that argument one step forward and say that homework is a paradox to women whilst we continue to be the primary carers of children. We are encouraging our girls to get to the top, but the best way there is with a stay at home mum. I would argue that the homework paradox is sexist. It has long been argued that schools need the input of the parents, but if we were to take the parents out of the ‘academic input’ equation then we level the playing field for all children, regardless of socio economic background or mothers level of education. In a world that needs to make changes if it is ever to be truly fair, this seems to me to be the low hanging fruit.
PS Parenting is a real skill that is very much undervalued. I look after my kids during the school holidays and it takes me a couple of days to gear back up into it. I forget how demanding and tiring it is. You have to be on your game constantly. Being at work is so much easier. Full time parents – you have my full and undying respect. I hope that being a full time parent remains a choice open to everyone, men and women, for now and forever, because although I believe it’s the hardest choice for many families it’s the right one. Too many families don’t get a choice – that’s the crime.
PPS The kids who race through the reading levels thanks to a stay at home mum (or dad, but in the UK the majority of stay at home parents are mums) may seem to be ahead, but in reality their rapid ascent may be doing them more harm than good. It’s not how quickly a child learns to read, it’s more about your child becoming a reader for pleasure. The latter are proven to get better exam results. Reading improves exam results – the trick is they’ve got to still be reading when they sit those exams at 16. If you’ve demanded and nagged and yelled at them to read at the age of 6 they may not be forming the conclusion that reading is a pleasurable activity. Literally letting your child dive into a story will earn them a whole grade, they have fun doing it and you don’t need to nag. If your little one is learning to read right now don’t feel pressured to go through the levels. Instead try to enjoy the story. Laugh at the silly bits. Show your child that reading is fun. That is a much more important lesson.