I've been looking for excuses not to do homework since I was a kid. I had the obvious (and gratefully accepted) hiatus when I grew up and left uni, but then I had a child and he went to school and once again homework dodging became part of my daily dance.
It's not that I actually have to do my son's homework, as I remind him often enough, it's just that he needs a little, er, supervision. Added to which, I think it's important to take an interest in his homework. Call me old-fashioned but I think respecting his day and what he's doing at school teaches him a little about respecting me and others and what we do.
But I have to admit that homework is no lark, even if you aren't actually doing it. I constantly have to remind myself, on seeing his finished product, that he is 14 and I am 47. He needs to work to his standard not mine. As a perfectionist, it's a hard pill to swallow. A hard, bitter, sticking-in-the-throat pill.
Except when it comes to maths.
I am petrified of maths. You may have seen the internet meme that reads "If you have 4 pencils and I have 7 apples, how many pancakes will fit on the roof? Purple, because aliens don't wear hats. " That describes my brain on maths.
I'm not proud that I've brought my frustration about an inability to do maths with me to my son's homework. I am, however, relieved that he got his maths ability from his father, who is a mighty number nerd (but I still love him very much).
My son, with all his 14-year -old swagger, laughs as my face tenses up when he tells me he's got a test on ratios and statistics and I start to sweat. He's learned not to mention fractions in front of me.
So far he's going okay. His maths is at a much higher level than mine and I am learning to take deep breaths as I glance at his page of squiggles and numbers and mutter reassuring stuff. So far he has been unaffected by my trauma, or so I thought until I read these ominous lines in a recent post on The New York Times
"A common impairment with lifelong consequences turns out to be highly contagious between parent and child, a new study shows.
The impairment? Math anxiety.
Means of transmission? Homework help.
Children of highly math-anxious parents learned less math and were more likely to develop math anxiety themselves, but only when their parents provided frequent help on math homework, according to a study of first- and second-graders, published in Psychological Science."
The article explained that the more parents like me tried to help their kids the worse their children did in math. And of course this leads to further math anxiety.
"The parents are not out to sabotage their kids," it went on to say "But we have to ensure their input is productive. They need to have an awareness of their own math anxiety and that what you say is important." For example, comforting a homework-distressed child by saying, " 'I'm not a math person either, and that's O.K.,' is not a good message to convey."
Okay, so it turns out that I am not just bad at maths, I am not good at conveying the right message. I am sure researchers agree going pale and clenching fists is not the most positive message to pass on.
After reading as much about the study as I can, without getting nauseated at the sight of the word maths, I think the message to me is simple: Stop doing homework with your son.
At 47, this is indeed a welcome message to me. At 14, it will be a delightful message to my son.
If you hear joyous shouting coming from my home this afternoon that will be my son's reaction to me breaking the news. The deathly silence which will surely follow is when I continue to pester him about the other parts of his day.