Convincing kids that it's worth devoting time and effort to schoolwork can be a major source of tension. Here, a mother, Jennifer, and her daughters, Emily and Samantha*, give their views on a typical mother-daughter struggle over homework – showing how understanding other people’s points of view in family disputes can reduce anger and upset on all sides.
Mother-daughter relationship problems and homework: a case study
Mum Jennifer’s point of view: I want Emily to work harder
Jennifer studied hard to earn a university place and become a mathematician. Now she faces a daily battle with her 15-year-old daughter, Emily, about her own studies.
“She is good at arts subjects and mostly does her homework, but she dislikes maths and sciences and either does the work very quickly or not at all,” she says. “Trouble is, I really feel these are important subjects and open many doors in life. In the beginning I tried offering to help, but she said no, so I tried to leave her to it.
“Then I began looking at her homework books when she was out and saw what poor homework she was turning in. Of course she was annoyed I’d looked at her books, but I was just so annoyed at how little effort she was making. We argued about it.”
Daugher Emily's point of view: Mum just criticises me
Emily sees things differently. She explains how her mother offers to 'help' with the work.
“What that really means,” she says, “is her telling me what is wrong. Then she doesn’t seem to understand and gets upset when I get frustrated at not knowing the answer. It makes me feel useless and that mum doesn’t love me because I can’t meet her standards.”
Rather than encouraging her to do better, she says, her mum’s behaviour makes her nervous and rebellious about doing homework.
“Sometimes I feel really bad and useless and I will talk to dad who sympathises with me,” she adds. “But really I want my mum to stop nagging and let me find my own way.”
Sister Samantha's point of view: I can see both sides
Emily sometimes talks with her sister Samantha, 22, who remembers her own homework issues with her mother.
“Emily is more confrontational and she is bothered by the way mum behaves much more than I ever was,” she explains. “I understand my mother wanting to help Emily do well, because she is bright and I know that getting good results has enabled me to get into the career I want.”
She also sees Emily’s frustration. “It would be great if she could speak with our mum about her feelings in the same way she does to me,” says Samantha. “I don’t think mum realises how miserable it makes Emily for them to be quarrelling.”
Samantha has suggested that her parents hire a tutor for Emily or talk to teachers at her school rather than being so intimately involved. “I believe my sister needs to be encouraged,” she adds, “and perhaps that would help Emily’s self-esteem and give her the confidence to know she can do it on her own.”
Strengthening the mother-daughter bond: compromise is the key
What we want for our children, and how we feel we can help them prepare for the future, may conflict with how they see things. This is especially true when we have difficulty understanding why certain things are so important to them. So, what can mums do to help?