Today, I was at the gym waiting for my daughter to finish her gym class.  It’s an hour-long class and armed with my coffee shop coffee, I sat down to do some writing.  But I got distracted – at the next table, a battle was in full swing.  I stared intently at my laptop and pretend to type in a feeble attempt to hide my eavesdropping on the quarreling mother and son.

A boy (no more than 7 or 8-years-old) was pleading with his mother to not cancel an appointment (perhaps with a playmate or an outing to somewhere fun).

Tearful and obviously very upset, he pleaded desperately with his mother to reinstate points that she had forfeited because he was not doing his homework properly.  But mom was a tough cookie. She retorted that if he had done his work properly, she would not have to instate any penalty. The more he begged her to take back her punishment, the firmer was her “NO.”

Boy: “Please, mummy, please.  One more chance.”

Mom: “If you finish your homework, I’ll see.”  

Boy: “But there’s so much.”

Mom: “It’s 15 words, if you take 10 minutes for 5 words, you’ll be done in half an hour.”

Boy groans: “But mom, I have that and then there’s more (pointing to more worksheets).”

Mom: “Well, if you don’t finish your work, you leave me with no choice. My decision is final.”

Mother and son homework battle

The boy knew he was not going to win.  So, resigned to his fate, he starts to do his work – writing furiously and in deep concentration.  Meanwhile, mom is still agitated; mumbling and grumbling about the length of time he was taking to do a bit of work (Why do you take 10 hours to do a 10-minute work).

The boy asked the mother to please “stop” (grumbling).  That riled the mother even more; she slammed together her things, told the boy she was going to run some errand, and walked off in a huff, leaving him to “do” his homework.

In a moment of deja vu, I am reminded of the many times I have used the same bullying tactics to get my son to do his homework?  How often had I said those same lines to him?  But, it is for his own good right?  He has to do all those worksheets in order to excel in school.  Which mother wants her child to fail?  If she doesn’t push him, who will?

Nevertheless, my heart goes out to the poor boy.  After all, the school holidays had just begun (literally 5 days ago) and he has homework?!  What happened to play during the holidays?  He should be out playing, watching TV, hanging out with friends, anything but studying. He looked like an intelligent boy, surely he can’t have done too badly in class?

Why can’t we see eye to eye?

Anyone who has gone through Singapore education understands the intense pressure; and yes, it starts from Primary (grade) One. And as Singaporeans, we are proud that our education system, rigid as it may be, has produced excellent scholars and is widely known for its excellent foundation for further studies.  As Asian parents, we want our kids to excel academically because that’s where the bright future lies (so we’ve been told by our parents and we can’t seem to get it out of our head).  We know that schools use grades to weed out the best from the average.  So, we pound on the importance of getting good marks for our kids.

Unfortunately, our children, especially those in the lower primary don’t understand and frankly,  don’t really care about those dastardly grades.  They want to know when they can play with their friends when they can watch the telly and when is the release of the latest computer game.  They can’t understand why they need to do more homework than is necessary.  And the moms can’t understand why their kids don’t get the importance of getting GOOD grades.

I don’t really know how the mantra to “prepare our kids for the future” started, but start it did and it took on a life of its own. We start sending our kids to enrichment classes as early as we can (as young as 15 months). And if that’s not sufficient preparation, we have a wide selection of brain training institutions where we can send our kids to ensure that their brains are in optimal state to process and learn in primary school. Training starts as early as 2 months and there is a long waiting list at some institutions.

At the end of the day, our kids may do their extra assignments begrudgingly (they don’t really have a choice).  When they get the grades we expect, we are over the moon – see, we are right, those extra worksheets help.  But when they don’t get the desired grades, we pile on more work and hire tutors who give them more work (we don’t really have a choice, they’ve got to keep up).

Sometimes I wonder what kind of future we are preparing them for that we have to push them so much in the present.  Where do we draw the line between preparation and pushing too far?  Are we pushing for their sake or for our own agenda? Perhaps it is our expectation that needs managing. What do you think?

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