I had an interesting conversation this week with a buddy of mine. Both of us joked about being “single parents” for a few days — meaning we were completely in charge of our kids and our households while our partners were doing other things.
We both ended the week overwhelmed and completely exhausted.
Sure, our kids were washed and fed and warm from the beginning to the end of our stints as single parents, but we’re both behind in our professional responsibilities, our living rooms aren’t particularly clean, and there wasn’t a heck of a lot of “Leave it to Beaver” moments going on in our homes over the last few days.
What struck both of us was how ridiculous our “challenging week” really was.
We are both well paid professionals who didn’t have to worry about where the money for meals was going to come from and with the flexibility in our schedules to sneak out of work early if needed to tackle family tasks that didn’t get done the night before. Our kids are healthy, we have reliable transportation, and we live in safe neighborhoods where it is easy to access everyday needs like groceries.
And most importantly, we knew that our single parenting experience was going to come to an end in just a few short days. While we both walked into Friday completely wiped out, neither of us had to sustain that same level of parenting momentum over the long term.
The entire experience has gotten me thinking about all of the single parent families that I serve.
If I struggled as the sole parent and provider of my family for just a few days, imagine how hard things must be for moms and dads who have raised kids alone for years and years. The daily GRIND that left me overwhelmed in a week is a daily REALITY for parents raising kids without partners.
And that daily reality is only compounded by poverty. When you lack access to reliable transportation or ready groceries or the resources to pay for the basic needs that middle class families take for granted, simple parenting tasks like feeding the kids becomes exponentially more difficult.
Given those circumstances, can we REALLY be surprised when some of the students in our classrooms struggle to complete the homework that we assign them?
We huff and puff about the importance of every project that we assign. We make a big deal about missing tasks. We say things like “homework teaches responsibility” and “in the real world you won’t get away without completing assignments given to you by your bosses” without any real sense for the inherent challenges that some of our families face.
YOU try getting your kid to complete some random worksheet on fractions after working for ten hours and then catching the #6 bus to the Central Terminal for a 10 minute walk to your apartment. Or YOU try getting your kid to complete a ten slide presentation on an important moment during the Civil War when you aren’t sure how you are going to pay the electric bill this month.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that homework is inherently unfair.
Kids lucky enough to live in stable families with two parents and enough resources to make daily survival a given are far more likely to complete the tasks that you expect them to complete. Their dioramas will be perfect, their papers will be wrinkle-free and neatly stored in the proper sections of their binders, and their dinner table conversation will enrich and extend the learning that they are doing at school.
Kids with single parents who are working long hours to pay the bills are far more likely to struggle to give your tasks the time and attention that YOU think they deserve — and that has nothing to do with intellectual ability, moral character, or inherent desire. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that “the real world” is a helluva’ lot harder for some families than it is for others.
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