Those Who Can, Teach – Those Who Can’t, Don’t Teach Because It Causes Their Children Emotional Pain

My major complaint about my Dad was that he was the worst teacher in the world. I think this was because of two things:

1) He was too smart to ever understand how/why I didn’t understand something.
2) He had absolutely NO patience.

Spoiler Alert: Those traits were evidently genetic. And those genetics were passed on to me.

I learned early on with E that I was AWFUL at helping with homework because I was just like my Dad. Because, I had been on the receiving end of that “help” I remembered how awful it was and basically, E and I parted ways early on when it came to homework help. He became incredibly self-sufficient because I was very openly not good at helping him. I didn’t want him to have fear/anxiety like I did, so I helped when I could, but I mainly encouraged him to use resources at his school. Or I’d offer to pay tutors. I didn’t want to torment him, so I just avoided it at all.

When he got to high school I tried to help again because I earned money in college tutoring high school kids in math. That I can teach. I don’t know why, but I learned to be very good at explaining math concepts at the high school level. It took me awhile to convince him to trust me, but eventually he did and I did actually sometimes help him. YAY!

But for 12 years of education – that’s kinda the only successes I have in terms of teaching him. A few sessions with high school math. And that’s it.


I’m trying my best to do things differently with Nikki and Wes. I’m banking on my old age equating with more wisdom. (HA!) I’m trying to harness a greater power. I’m trying to take what I know from experience – that being taught by someone like me is AWFUL – and I’m trying to use that as motivation to be better.

And many days it works.

But man, when it doesn’t? It fails EXTRAORDINARILY.

My teaching the kids is basically like dealing with an addiction. I have to be aware and focused every moment on not giving in to my natural tendencies to lose patience and get frustrated. If I’m not entirely focused on being patient, then I’ll lose my shit and tears get shed and then I do the best part ever:

I yell at them for crying.

Isn’t that the best? When you yell, “STOP CRYING!”

If there’s a moment you feel the most shitty as a parent? It’s that moment right there. Screaming at your beautiful child – who you made cry – to STOP CRYING ALREADY!

And in those ugly moments, there’s the part of me that’s the crazy parent with the patience deficiency yelling about how the kids, “SHOULD GET THIS ALREADY! WE GO OVER THIS EVERY DAY! OH MY GOD!” – that’s the genetics screaming. Then, there’s the part of me that was the receiving end of it as a child, and she’s cowering inside of me, remembering what it was like to be yelled at when I couldn’t understand something. But she’s terrified and won’t shut the loud and yelling me up before it’s too late.

SO. I have to really be focused. Homework time has to be designated and sectioned out. It has to be monitored and I really can’t try to do a million things while they do their homework because – if I’m distracted – the horrible teacher who yells and screams in me? She comes out in a moment’s notice. And once she’s out? There’s no pulling her back in.

And the child in me that was terrified of my Dad in those moments? HATES ME GREATLY for becoming him so easily.

It’s all about the focus.

And lately, aside for a bad moment Monday night, I’ve been doing a really good job. We get home, the kids have snack, and then I focus on them for an hour or so. The most I’ll do is write my Lenten letters, or do some organizing. I used to try to keep my laptop out and work some but my job is too much of a distraction. I can’t be in MOM MODE and WEB DEV MODE at the same time. It’s too easy to get frustrated as a Mom. So, I stopped keeping my laptop at the homework table and I bring something easier for me to work on. Letters. Calendar. Etc. If there’s something for work that needs my attention? The homework time waits. Last night we didn’t do homework until closer to 5pm for that reason. I learned the hard way that the part of my brain required to look at code is the same part I need to maintain patience helping with homework.

I really try to only think about what they’re working on. I focus on ways I can help or perspectives to take to understand their frustrations. I’ve downloaded a lot of worksheets and stuff because I’m just not good at teaching, so I pull resources from elsewhere for reinforcement. I know my limits and instead of just saying the same thing over and over, I try to find things online that take a different angle.

Focus. That’s the key. AND IT IS EXHAUSTING. I can only do it for an hour a day. I can only watch Wesley write his “b” and his “d” backwards for the millionth time one hour a day. I can only help Nikki find the adverb for one hour a day. I can only listen to Wes struggle reading books with 19 occurrences of the word “little” for one hour a day. ONE HOUR. And it wears me the hell out.

There is no world where I could do it for longer. I couldn’t teach. I couldn’t homeschool. Not and still have any mental energy left for anything else…EVER. An hour of focusing on being the best me I can be, and to not slip into the angry frustration that sits there waiting, and hour of holding that off KILLS ME.

So…if you homeschool? If you’re a teacher? I need you to truly know that there is NO WAY I could do that. At least not and still function the rest of the day. I’d have to go catatonic as soon as the teaching was over, just to emotionally recover for the next day.


We still haven’t done the science fair yet, for this very reason. That’s too much. I’m not ready yet. Wesley did the above project on Neil deGrasse Tyson two weeks ago and that was simple and spread out over a week and it STILL nearly killed me. I was proud because I let him do tons of it himself. It looks like a Kindergarten project. But MAN it killed me because I wanted it to look better. I wanted it to be done on a computer, and maybe have more academic details, and maybe some citations and maybe…

You see where I’m going.

But I stayed focused, I kept him enjoying it (mostly), and other than me looking up the four “facts” he needed to have, he did it all. I printed the facts up but he had to write them. I proofed it, but he had to make the corrections. He chose the pictures. He did the gluing and the writing and even some of the mess-ups that left holes in the cardboard.

But there was NO yelling. NO frustrations. And I’m still more proud of that than I am with my recent 12-hour run.

Being patient and curbing those instincts to LOSE YOUR SHIT is exhausting. Seriously. Keeping that calm voice, taking that deep breath when you’re about to correct something for the 14th time, it is harder building a web page, or running a marathon, or baking a cake. It is the hardest part of parenting to me. The homework.

Anyone else? Anyone else thing Homework Time is the hardest time in the world to be a parent? Or is it just me and those in my genetic line with the tendency to go BATSHIT INSANE if the kid doesn’t understand something after the first time.

Just me? Please tell me it’s not just me.

20 thoughts on “Those Who Can, Teach – Those Who Can’t, Don’t Teach Because It Causes Their Children Emotional Pain”

  1. Oh, lordy, yes.

    So far, I only have a first grader, but I’m with you on the whole scene. I have to be in the room with her, paying enough attention, but not too much attention. I can be folding laundry, or blogging, but not reading blogs. And I have to concentrate very hard to remind myself that she’s SIX and she might not remember to put a capital letter at the beginning of EVERY SENTENCE. YES, EVERY ONE. GOD.

  2. I used to homeschool. But math work? You describe me to a tee in your post. My kids are in school now ( many reasons ) and my daughter STILL won’t let me help her with math. And I KNOW I would be more patient now – I’m older and wiser and I can understand what I did wrong – but nope, won’t do math or really any homework with me.

  3. I’m a teacher. I don’t go catatonic at the end of every teaching session, but by the time Winter Break or Spring Break or Summer roll around??? Let’s just say there’s a reason teachers need that time off TOO!!!

  4. I have very limited experience since my oldest is in kindergarten right now, but I agree – when they’re reading the same darn word for the 10th time on one page and they still don’t get it, that’s when my patience leaves me. My husband is much worse, so that’s why I’m the main homework helper. When the two of them work together it’s almost always guaranteed to end in tears.

    I like the tip about finding worksheets that explain concepts in a different way if they’re struggling. I’ll have to keep that one in my pocket for later use.

  5. You are SO not the only one. I have a tendency to just want to do everything myself for my daughter as opposed to sitting there explaining it to her. But I am usually able to control myself. 🙂 Ha! In college I was initially majoring in elementary education. One semester of student teaching made me drop that major faster than you can say HELL NO!

  6. My dad used to make me cry when he helped me with homework, especially math (which came easily to him; not so for me). He had little patience and just could not understand why I wasn’t getting something when it was so easy for him. While I didn’t inherit the math ability, I DID inherit the ‘no patience, no sympathy’ part when trying to help my kids with their homework and like you, have to work REALLY HARD to overcome that so I don’t scar them for life like my dad did me (he didn’t mean it, I know. I just came to realize I couldn’t let him help me with homework, and later, when learning drive. When I realized those things, we were good). If I can, I hand them off to my husband, who is much better at homework help!

  7. Don’t get me started on the learning to drive thing. It did not go well with Dad and I didn’t teach E either. Because not only do I not have patience, but I also have SEVERE driving anxiety. E took driver’s ed and got experience with everyone else BUT me.

    Sometimes its just about finding what works to keep from scarring your children. 🙂

  8. It is not just you. I completely feel your pain. Homework time is so hard in our house, too. Just yesterday my son and I had a very difficult time with homework and it tainted out whole afternoon and evening. And I make him do those summer bridge books so we don’t get the summer off from the fun.
    I am the same way with the yelling and I feel horrible afterwards. I swear that I will never do it again but then I do. I try so hard, but then I slip up. I hate myself afterwards. I used to work in early intervention with kids birth to three years old and I was much more patient with them. I don’t know why my son and I butt heads so badly and often. It really stinks.
    We may need to call on you for math tutoring. I stink at math and he is already surpassing me. He’s only in the 4th grade!

  9. Oh my God, I was just thinking these same thoughts yesterday. Actually the one I almost put on Facebook was “kindergarten homework can SUCK IT”. It is so very overwhelming for me to try to help at the kindergarten level, and that makes me nervous about all of the other grades! I’m glad someone else admits to being frustrated. My husband just looks at me like “it’s kindergarten, how hard could it be?” I work from home too and it is very hard to separate Mom mode and work mode. I feel ya! So yes, there is someone out there (probably an hour earlier because of the time difference) yelling at their kid to stop crying too! I am working on my patience, but yes, it is exhausting.

  10. Oy, I am a homeschooling mama and I still yell like this sometimes (more often than i care to admit). I don’t mean to, obviously, but like you said, I have to be constantly aware of my reactions and emotions. And by the 9869 time I’ve correct the same thing, I start thinking “Why are they getting this? It is plain as can be. They have sense, I am being clear. What is the *&^ issue?” Sometimes I just have to hand off schoolwork to their dad to help them with.

    Wes’s project looks fantastic.

  11. I have been reading your blog forever and had to leave a comment today. Thank you for writing this post and sharing your experience. I thought I was the only one who felt and acted that way regarding homework. Knowing your strategies for coping are very helpful. Thank you for your honesty.

  12. I wonder if the issue is that we learned some of these concepts so long ago that they’re essentially second nature to us?

    I don’t have kids, but I’ve tried to help my niece and other kids for whom I’ve babysat with their homework before, so I can absolutely see what you’re saying. I’ve also worked with co-workers on learning Excel and found it much much easier to teach the adults. I wonder if it’s because my brain has retained more of the “how did I learn it” process.

    Likewise, I’ve studied foreign languages and could much more easily teach the grammar rules of those than I could English. Explaining English would be like having to explain how to breathe!

  13. Not just you as the comments above say. I have lots of patience because I have no kids and I choose when & whom to tutor.

    I wanted to say though, that when I was a kid I heard the threat “stop crying or I’ll give you something to really cry about!” So at least you don’t do that.

  14. I think the most important part about something like this is realizing what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and trying to stop it. Seriously, that’s a huge step and something to be proud of. Also, I’m a librarian and one of the things my system offers is free online tutoring through a company called BrainFuse. It’s mostly teachers moonlighting (they’re all background-checked) and you sign in, choose the grade and subject, and chat live with a tutor. I don’t know that it would help at this point, but I always recommend it to people for when the math homework becomes something that you vaguely remember knowing at some point but have no clue now.

  15. I do teach-college science, because anything below that drives me batty. Mind ye, I’m teaching high school level material right now, but adults just don’t pull the same tricks as kids (usually). I t sounds like you’re giving an amazing amount of attention both to them and to how to give them your best. My oldest is 5 and I’m already in fear of the homework to come.

    There’s a picture making the rounds at work right now showing a 3-part cardboard display on how science fairs ruin families. I can’t find it on the internet, but given where I’ve seen it, all of the science and nursing faculty are right there with you.

  16. Oh Kim…I AM a teacher, and I get this way with my own children (but not my students!). Everything you wrote resonated. EVERY.THING. Yelled at kids for crying? Check. Inability to separate my working mom self to focus on teaching mom self? Check. Want to make the project perfect because look how smart my kid is? CHECK! We just had to do a big project (2nd grade) and the teacher made the parents sign a form saying that they would let the kids do the work themselves. The holier than thou me happily signed, but then I had to actually follow through. It was really hard, but ended up being a great experience for me and the kiddo. He learned that he has to be accountable for his work (and check the rubric to make sure he is doing what needs to be done) and I learned he can do it all by himself. A win!

    By the way, Wes’ project looks fantastic! His printing is very good for his age and he was able to keep his points organized really nicely. Very neat and easy to read! Way to go, Wes!!

  17. i was just like that with homework as well, but the one i was the worst with? driving lessons. bah. that was the ultimate torture for me, and after MULTIPLE attempts at it and trying to improve with each one? i decided the best decision for everyone was to pay others to teach her. best decision ever. 🙂

  18. Me. To a T.

    With my different children it is different problems, although I don’t think I have ever yelled at them for not ‘getting it’. My problem is my ADHD son acts like he has it and then 2 seconds later is asking for help again because he only caught 5 of the 20 words I said to explain something. Drives me batty. Or he just plain gives me attitude after asking for my help. I realize that kind of goes with the territory of teenagers, but still!! Then after 3 hours of Algebra and yelling and crying he tells me, you should teach because you’re better at explaining things than my teacher. I told him, it’s only because I had 3 hours with him and not 40 minutes.

    My daughter who is in Kindergarden gets the, “Stop crying” being yelled at her. Seriously. Who does that. Yells at a child for not paying attention or trying to get out of doing the work, and then when they break into tears for being screamed at, gets yelled at to stop crying. Yeah, this person does it too.

  19. Thank you for writing this. I seriously just googled “how to not lose my shit doing homework with my kid”. I was desperate. I was sure there would be no search results. Found this. Exactly exactly how I feel. Bad parent, cowering child inside. All of it. Thanks.

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