Tough Love With More Love Than I’ve Ever Given

6th grade is hard. There are lockers and multiple classrooms and teachers who expect you to take care of yourself.

Alexander didn’t turn in three pieces of homework this week and he’d completed all of them. He’d simply lost them somewhere in the locker or in transition. When I dug into his binders with him I noticed graded homework assignments that were less than stellar not because he didn’t understand but because he didn’t take his time and do good work.

My kids are smart, they were just sort of born that way. There are a lot of smart kids and a lot of smart adults.

What I’ve learned in my lifetime of gifted kids and self esteem pandering is that folks who learn to work hard have the most success. B students who work hard learn more in school than A students who sail through could ever hope to. They learn discipline, they learn study skills, organizational skills and they learn to persevere. My son hadn’t been challenged yet in school. Well, not until Tuesday night.

Tuesday night I saw the mess that was his binder and decided to double check his english homework.


There were tears (I held mine in) and recriminations. He reminded me that he was only in 6th grade and I was getting confused with Jane’s 8th grade work. I told him I didn’t give a shit (quite possibly using exactly that word) and ninety minutes later he’d rewritten his 8 question homework assignment in a satisfactory manner.

To be clear I don’t really care about Tuesday night’s homework. I don’t care if he gets an A, B or even a C. What I do care about is my son learning to work hard and I told him so. At 9:30 in the evening he headed upstairs tired physically and emotionally and I stood in the living room watching him with a heavy heart.

I told him that I push him because he’s worth pushing and that when I ask him to work harder it’s because I want to ensure a successful life for him, one where he can be in control because he has a sturdy foundation. I told him I loved him and that all I want is to be a good mother.

And the most surprising thing happened.

My son looked down at me from the stairwell and said, “I know Mom. Thank you.”

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  1. You’re doing it right, Jess. I’m sure you know that already. When a child knows they are loved, they will go that extra mile, even if they kick and scream a little, because they want to make you proud. Later, that translates into a need to make themselves proud and to do the best they are capable of doing.

  2. Nina S

    My 6th grader thought her Latin test was on Tuesday. It was on Monday. She got 100% anyway, but that isn’t the point, is it? It was the FIRST damn exam of the school year. Either her not getting the date right was just a fluke, OR a scary sign of things to come…It was the latter. She left her study guide in her locker the very next day for her English test. Now we’re talking about the SECOND test of the school year. The next day. I was livid, even tho I knew she’d do well. She has no excuse to do otherwise. The school provides a planner, and she has her own desk, computer, ipad, tools, tutor, and 2 educated parents…there can be no excuses.
    I don’t want to do 6th grade again. And I don’t want to continue to nag my child about organization and responsibility and neatness and to give 100% and take pride in her work (even cleaning the kitchen). But, I will – exhausted and annoyed – I will, for as long as I have to. Afterall, she’ll have to take care of me one day when I’m old. And God forbid she should forget to change my diaper.

  3. Jessica, I can RELATE to this story. My daughter just started 6th grade too. Yesterday she forgot her homework (this never happens). She had to re-do it at school. She was upset with herself. It was the chaos of the new classes, lockers, etc. I told her not to be so hard on herself. It could be a lot worse.

    • I’ll send him to your house next time because while you’re telling them to not be hard on themselves I’m shrieking about the sacrifices I make to send them to private school.
      Probably not particularly productive.

  4. Oh, tears. He knows he is loved, that’s the best thing. Well, doing the homework and working hard is pretty damn important but that last line killed me.

    • Killed me too. It makes me mindful of my authority.

  5. Shannon Bradley-Colleary

    This one brought tears to my eyes. It hits my right between the eyes. I’m walking the balance beam between not trying to kill their spirits and not letting them get by on charm and good looks. The most successful kid in my AP English class in high school was the kid who fought to get in there, worked his ass off and could only make Bs. For the rest of us life had some hard lessons to mete out. Keep kicking ass and taking names Jessica.

  6. Kirsten@barkingdogshoes

    Oh middle school, you rascal. Zits, hormones and messy, messy notebooks. When to let them fail, when to rescue them–that is the question. I was a borderline ADHD kid that couldn’t keep a Trapper Keeper neat–teachers wasted their breath trying to show me how. Funny, I became a middle school teacher that successfully managed a gradebook, lesson plans and 28 hormonal students every 45 minutes. You’re doing a good job, mom. By the way, I have RA too. OUCh.

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