Homework. Am I the Problem?

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Every weekday it’s the same.

I sit with them at the kitchen table. Papers and crumbs strewn about, an open box of pencils, half with erasers worn all the way down.

One girl sits on her bottom, biting her lip, concentrating, writing neatly, not saying a word. she works quickly, efficiently, methodically. Her work is perfect. She rarely needs any help.

The other girl half sits, half stands. standing on one leg with her other knee bent and resting on the chair despite my requests for her to sit down. She pulls one arm in and out of her shirt. In and out. In and out. In and out. Sometimes she chews the end of her sleeve. She has trouble focusing. Her handwriting is messy, sloppy. It seems like she just isn’t paying attention.

She writes letters backwards or gets them confused, not sure which it is. When we practice writing spelling words, she has to write each word three times in a row. The first time she’ll get it right (maybe). Then, even when the same word is still right in front of her, she gets mixed up on the second attempt. And the third. Which explains why so many erasers are worn down to nubs.

I feel guilty when I get so easily frustrated. They are twins. They have the same homework. But I’m still sitting at the table with one long after the other has finished. I find myself with clenched fists, sighing out of sheer exasperation, and feeling the familiar ache in my left shoulder slide on in. Homework is hard. And this is only first grade.

Is it me or is it her? Is it my fault? Do i expect her to be “better” because her sister doesn’t struggle at all? Probably. I didn’t anticipate her having this hard of a time. Two kids at such opposite ends of the spectrum. Just because they’re twins doesn’t mean they are the same. Or, could there be a real problem?

Or am I the real problem?


psssst. My co-founders of The Gay Dad Project and I will be featured on an internet talk radio show tomorrow (Wednesday) at 10-11 a.m. Pacific, 1-2 p.m. Eastern: The Coming Out Lounge, with host Rick Clemons. You will even be able to call in and ask questions: 877-864-4869.

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  • Frauke

    You are not the problem. My mom works as a teacher in several primary schools where it is her job to especially help those children who have the same problems your daughter has. She describe the very same problem to me: Children that are smart but have the greatest problems when it comes to writing. Or to remember the first syllables when reading a long word. Or when it comes to Mathematics and they have a problem with adding tow numbers when the result will be higher than 10. Or…

    You see, there cna be as many problems as there can be children. It does absolutely not mean that the child is stupid. It just means that the child has a problem with writing. Like other people have a problem with sports or fast reflexes in video games or with drawing lifelike pictures or with having ideas for writing a book or… Again: As many problems as there are people.
    A family member of me had big problems with his language when he came to primary school, his teacher was one of the very few persons who understood what he said when he was talking. My mom went from doctor to doctor, from one specialist to another who should help him. In the end it was some slightly dislocated vertebra in his neck; once in place he became a very good student, studied with amazing grades and now has a great job. (I don’t think that this is the problem your daughter has, though).

    I am absolutely not a specialist for children’s problems when it comes to reading, I only pick up little informations I get from my mum when she tells me from her day at school. So I can only suggest that you try to find a specialist, a teacher trained for problems like this, to help your daughter. I could imagine that the simple writing and rewriting is not the best way to help her. And most importantly: Stay calm. It is not her fault. She doesn’t make mistakes because she wants to but because she has problems with the writing. There’s no ill intend behind it. Frustration maybe, but who would not be frustrated in her case?

    I wish you two (three, or better: your family) the best luck with this.

  • Christi

    My problem is similar…but so different at the same time! My girls are 5 1/2 years apart. Tacha is in 6th grade, Ilisabeth started Kindergarten this year. Tacha has ALWAYS struggled with math and had a struggle with reading and writing at first (now she gets it and LOVES to read!). Ilisabeth, on the other hand, “gets” virtually everything immediately. I mean, like, before you even explain it to her. Seriously.
    Which makes Tacha feel terrible…I know…and I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know how to build my oldest daughter’s self-esteem in double time because we didn’t envision this problem. We’ve been working on self-esteem all along, but to have her baby sister come along and just effortlessly move through the basics has pretty well undone everything that we had accomplished. :(
    If you find an answer, please share it. I am just…I don’t know…very discouraged. Ugh.

  • http://www.deepestworth.com/ Shannon

    I know this could be really difficult with twins. My brother’s twins present the exact same dilemma. One excels at school effortlessly and the other struggles. The one that struggles at school excels at sports, and the one that excels at school struggles with sports. The difference is sports are a choice and school is not.
    I face the homework battle with my youngest child and often feel like I am failing (and I am a former teacher). My older two children sailed through their homework without help, so this is new territory for me. I don’t want to expect too much or too little of her. And I get soooo frustrated at times, because sometimes it just seems she is being stubborn. I guess what I am saying is that you are not alone in this. It works better for usif I get up from the table and let her do her thing until she asks for help.
    Also, in my teaching and parenting experience, having difficulty copying words and making letters backwards is not really a warning sign unless it persisits through second grade. So maybe it’s best to view the child who excels as the exception and the child who struggles a bit as the norm.

  • http://twitter.com/aboleyn aboleyn

    My son is now in 7th grade, but homework in 1st grade was a nightmare. It was supposed to take 20 minutes, it took 2 hours of tears. He used to come home from school miserable saying all he heard when the teacher spoke was blah blah blah. He was diagnosed as having a learning disability and ADHD. We struggled with the decision to medicate. It wasn’t easy, but with the help of our doctor and the school we found the right tools to help him. We also always explained to him that everyone learns differently. It doesn’t make you stupid, in fact he is really very bright. He now excels in math and just got an A on his latest Science test. It was just a matter of finding the right way for him to learn. Breaking down his spelling words on index cards instead of a list was a tremendous help. He was so easily distracted by a full page of spelling words he couldn’t concentrate on one, but having just one word at a time in front of him made a world of difference. Finding what works for your daughter so she feels less frustrated can be a lot of trial and error, but once you do and she starts to feel more positive about homework you will see a dramatic change. I can’t even tell you all the silly songs (we made up raps) and other things we used to do together to get him past the frustration so he could enjoy learning.

  • Shoshana Martyniak

    I asked my mom, the best speech and language pathologist you’ll ever meet, to comment. However, first graders are still really really young. The expectations that parents have these days are simply unfair and unfounded. Just because one of your child excels in one area early doesn’t mean the other child has a problem. Asking a first grader to spell by writing down words out of context is a very confusing task. In my own kid’s class last year, some of the kids took spelling tests by writing words and some took by circling. Quite frankly, I find the whole concept of spelling tests in first grade a bit odd since many first graders can’t really read yet. And, speaking of reading, many first graders can’t read at the start of first. She’s only at the beginning. None of her “problems” are actually problems. Many children have to move around while doing work. It’s called kinestetic learning. First graders are still little kids. Little kids simply move around a lot..that is in their nature. Additionally, Flipping letters is completely age appropriate.
    I think the biggest problem is that you’re working yourself up with worry and that is leaving you frustrated. What’s most important is that both girls feel they are doing the best job they can do. If for one of them it means sitting quietly and doing her work quickly than good for her. But, it’s just as fine that the other one needs to move around. It’s even fine that she doesn’t get everything right. The point of school is to learn. We don’t always learn things instantly and we can’t all be the best at everything.
    As I told you before, excelling at school equal happiness. Being normal at school or being on target with your age is perfectly acceptable. The more you compare them the more unhappy you’ll become and more importantly the more unhappy they’ll become.
    Maybe, since one can do work quietly and quickly, she should do it on her own in a different spot. Then, the other one can have a place to move around and take time.
    Don’t ever feel guilty for worry, just know that you don’t need to worry so much. You have two adorable lovable funny girls who are very different from each other. They both have wonderful things to offer the world. They will both grow into themselves and things will eventually make more sense.

  • http://twitter.com/GalitBreen Galit Breen

    Two important things – you are *not* alone and talk to her teacher. It shouldn’t be such a struggle for her. maybe it’s too much right now? I’m not a big fan of homework – especially at this point in the year when kids are still adjusting,e specially first graders! Sending you relaxing thoughts, friend!

    (*And again: You’re so not alone!)

  • http://twitter.com/goodgirlgonered Andrea B

    I know I only have the one, but I so feel this. I am moved by your frustration and emotion and I have felt it myself when my kiddo just fidgets and moves around so much and writes on the wrong line or writes her letters all over the place. We’re only in K, but it’s seeming like it’s critical so soon. All of it seems so soon. I don’t think you’re the problem, but I don’t think she is, either. I think her actions lead to your reactions – which we do as moms. And then we try to figure it all out day by day. I’m probably not making much sense, but as someone who has had to walk away during not even hw time, but writing the books she’s read time? omg – seriously I’ve walked into another room so as not to get overwhelmed with her. And it’s just kindergarten and 1st grade. Sigh. Sending you hugs. Great post, mama.

  • http://bocafrau.com/ Susi Kleiman

    Erin, I don’t think you are the problem. I have had the same thoughts many times over with my children… my first born has pretty much sailed through school and I never had to help too much other than supervise. Than my daughter started 2 years later and things were completely different. I could see myself sitting at that table, just like you. Hang in there! The change for us came when we put the children in private school and they are treated as individuals and get the help they need. I know, this is not an option for everyone and I’m very lucky that we have it!

  • Lady Jennie

    Homework is so frustrating, especially when you’re trying to juggle more than one kid. I’ve got my three, two of whom have school homework, all of whom have English with me (I go easy on them, but the youngest demands it because he doesn’t yet have school homework) and then music. And it’s all so demanding here. I think the problem is trying to handle more than one, not you or them.

  • http://twitter.com/JackieCross Jackie Park-Cross

    I don’t know what I can say to make things better that others haven’t already said… wow! There are some great responses!
    That said, I have 3 girls… all different from one another and when they were younger homework was certainly a challenge. It was difficult for them, difficult for me, and after having spent all day at school having to sit still, work, and pay attention it gets hard when they’re home and want to play.
    It does get better! That is the good news! Now, I don’t have to do much other than ask if they have homework and if it’s done.

  • IzzyMom

    It’s not you.

    My son is in 2nd grade and we have the exact same issues whenever writing is involved.

    He can read perfectly and do math with no help at all but the writing…it comes with lots of re-writing and sometimes tears of frustration. His teachers insist he just needs to practice more so we do and it makes no difference.

    He’s also very fidgety and often stands up at his desk to do his work, which doesn’t seem to bother is teachers but they don’t like him fidgeting while they are talking and teaching, which is understandable because he misses things.

    I made him stress ball (one balloon inside another and filled with flour via a funnel. Everyone loves them) that he squeezes with one hand while working or listening to the teacher talk and it helps him stay focused a bit more.

  • http://twitter.com/MomMadeItLookEZ Jennifer Williams

    I’m having some of the same issues with Cady, but she is in second grade. In Kindergarten and first grade her teachers assured me, “it’s developmental, give her time.” So I did. By the end of last year her teacher said we need to start investigating dyslexia testing this year. At the beginning of the school year I told her new teacher. She gave me the skeptical side eye, until last week. She agrees that she needs to be tested and is presenting Cady’s case at the committee meeting this week. Even still I will probably have to fight to have her tested because her grades are still good (A’s and B’s). What the committee can’t see is my girl crying in the car on the way home because “you just don’t understand how hard it is and I’m trying to do my very best.” It is killing me.

  • http://twitter.com/PamelotH PamelaFaganHutchins

    Sounds a lot like my ADHD son…not to say that is the issue but I definitely don’t think it’s you, darlin’. Hugs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/smartinez03 Stephanie Marie Martinez

    It’s not you. I don’t know what to say other then that.

  • ShellyKramer

    The only thing that is the problem is that you’re measuring them with the same stick, Erin. And that’s wrong – for twins or for ANY child (says the mother of four). Each child is different and unique. Each has her own strengths and weaknesses. One will be a better reader/comprehender. One will get math more easily. One will excel at science and the other might hate it. One will be sporty and the other not. But expecting them to have the same skills and develop at the same time is unrealistic – no matter what, no matter what age. And expecting that of twins put so much pressure on them – when they already HAVE pressure by virtue of the fact that they’re twins. They will always measure one another because of that, and they will be measured by society because of that. And one time or another (and probably often) they will be judged “prettier” or “skinnier” or “smarter” or “more successful” than one another … it’s invariable. And so hard.

    Be patient. Build her self confidence and talk with her about the things she kicks ass at that her sister isn’t as good at. Quietly. In just a conversation between the two of you. Help her. Give her all the help she needs and be understanding of the fact that some concepts are harder for her to master. That doesn’t make her inadequate in any way, it just means she’s wired differently. And give her time – she’ll get there.

    I remember when one of mine wasn’t grasping sight words and reading as well as her sister and I felt sorry for her, because her sister was a rock star. Today, just one grade later, that girl is reading better than her sister is, grading higher on testing than her sister is and basically kicking butt. But she got there via a different route and at a different pace than her sister. And that end result? AWESOME.

    So hang in there. You are part of the problem because you’re stressing about it and that, inevitably (and even when you think it doesn’t) is palpable and something that she feels, even if you don’t intend for that to be the case. Relax. Help her get there, at her pace and in her way. And she will. She’ll get there just fine.

    By the way, when I took the ACT tests in high school I graded out in the “she should probably go to beauty school” category. And I was a straight A student who had a screwed up family life and didn’t give a crap about what I scored on that stupid test. And I turned out kinda sorta okay.

    So don’t judge her too harshly or worry about her too much because of where she is now — that kid is going to grow up and be AWESOME. And wicked smart. I just know it.