Assignments on Breaks are Breaking Me!
Why do their professors do this the one time I get to see them all year?
By Priscilla Beth Baker
Here’s a common scenario when your child comes home for Thanksgiving, spring break, or even just the weekend – you barely see them because they are either streaming Netflix, sleeping, seeing high school friends, or buried in writing papers, assignments, or prepping for exams. The “quality time” you were hoping for? Not so much. The best you can hope for is sometimes a 20-minute family dinner that you spent 90 minutes preparing where everyone utters monosyllables and gets up in a flurry of non-gratitude and even less help. The Norman Rockwell rendition of the family dinner you envisioned all those weeks your child was away is rarely ever the case.
You can probably embrace the first three activities they are engaging in while they are home pretty readily. After all, they deserve some rest and downtime after all their hard work during the semester. But the fourth? The “buried in homework” part? A lot of us take issue with that. Shouldn’t they get a breather from all the work so they can spend time with family, decompress, just step away from the academics and be a coddled kid for a few days?
Quite simply, the answer is no.
As hard as this is for us to embrace as parents, our kids have now entered stage one of “the real world” which includes having to do things we don’t necessarily want to do at inconvenient times for no pay for the greater good. The “greater good” in this case is your child’s current academic standing and future career. And your attitude sets the tone for theirs.
Ask yourself the following: if you had a deadline at work and a family vacation immediately preceding that, would your boss care (or even care to know) that you were in Turks & Caicos on the beach with an umbrella drink only hours before if you had a legal brief due at 8 am on Monday? Would they accept said legal brief at 3 pm on Tuesday instead? The answer is a resounding no.
Remember that your child’s current job is school. And they need to treat it just like you treat your job. With tenacity and a sense of obligation and pride in the outcome. This is the message you want to send your child when they are home.
They will complain about their workload– vociferously. Resist agreeing. Resist repeatedly suggesting that they “take a break.” Resist commiserating or affirming their negative feelings. Resist giving them even subtle grief about the amount of time they are not spending with you. None of these reactions is helpful. Each one, in its own way, will create more anxiety for your child plus an added layer of guilt that you are feeling neglected amidst all the other stress they are managing.
And remember, professors, don’t assign work over breaks to punish your kids. The rhythm of a semester is cyclical. There are only a certain number of weeks to get all of those tests, quizzes, projects, and papers in and there is absolutely no way of avoiding breaks. You should also keep in mind that your child will often put things off until those lengthier breaks because the day-to-day work has put them in the position of getting behind. Or they haven’t had the opportunity to have those lengthy blocks of time to get more involved assignments done. Your home is the most productive place to do that.
The best thing you can do for your children when they are home for break and buried in work is to ask them if they need another cup of coffee, bring them some homemade cookies, pat them on the head and tell them how proud you are of them and just leave them alone. To do anything else, you run the risk of them feeling like they shouldn’t have come home in the first place. And who wants that? Even if you only get in a quality hour or two while they are under your roof, you’ve given them the gift of your boundless support and faith in their ability. Nothing measures up to that.
And, don’t forget that you will have extra time over winter break.
Priscilla Beth Baker currently works as an academic advisor at a large university and has two college-aged sons of her own. She is also a former high school English teacher and educational writer for Prestwick House Publishing.