School Project Wars—Turning Our House into the Hatfields and McCoys

I will eventually post my homemade Christmas gift round-up, but we still have family to see in the next couple of weeks, and I can’t spoil the surprises yet. In the meantime, I am engaged in a Mexican standoff with my husband and G-Man, and it will be interesting to see who prevails. To understand the meaning behind our good-natured feud, you first have to understand a little something about G-Man.

G-Man is an exceptionally smart kid, so much so that he almost has it too easy in life. 99% of the time, G-Man brings home no homework, because he finishes it all in class. On the very rare occasion he does have homework, he has the assignment completed in 10 minutes or less. This may sound like heaven for a frazzled mom, because I never have to micromanage him. I can’t remember the last time I even checked his assignments. He just excels, without any help from me.

However, G-Man’s life of ease creates an unfortunate side effect; anytime he has to expend more than 10 minutes of effort, such as on a book report or science project, he transforms into a stubborn, mouthy, bull-headed, teary, long-suffering victim who is just oh so put-upon! To end his torture, he will rush through projects with sloppy effort, and then dissolve into a tantrum when I make him go back and do it better.

Before you think it’s just a G-Man problem, I have a confession to make. As a pseudo-OCD person who tends to be more than a little Type-A, working on a school project with me is probably a lot like a scene from The Great Santini. I want to done, I want it done right the first time, and I expect a good grade on it. End of discussion. As a result, I turn into a harpy, helicopter parent who gives way too much direction, and G-Man and I end up waging war at the dinner table. It doesn’t help matters that so many of his peers’ projects have clearly too much parental involvement, and I fear that if I don’t direct G-Man, his efforts will be compared to those of an impressive project (one we all know deep down no 5th grade child could have done), and found lacking. I am always struggling with trying to find the balance between helping him and doing too much for him. I’ve grown to hate school projects with the fire of a thousand suns.

So, this equation is volatile enough, but then you throw my husband into the mix…also known as the peanut gallery. As a stay-at-home mom, I manage all school stuff and rightly so. That’s in the job description. On any given day, my husband couldn’t tell you what the kids are working on, what their homework is or what projects are on the horizon. Even when he does see us working on a project, he doesn’t know the first thing about the requirements, but more specifically, he has no idea the amount of work I have to do in helping the kids, like picking topics, shuttling them to and from the library and operating the glue gun for yet another wildlife habitat diorama. And let’s not forget all those trips to Hobby Lobby for modeling clay, fake moss and poster board.

What my husband does have, however, is an uncanny ability to walk into the room just as G-Man and I are descending into hysterics. At that point, he dispenses his backseat driver commentary without actually sitting down to take a tour through Project Hell with us.

That’s the way I see it, at least. He sees it as me being Attila the Hun with G-Man, and that my drill sergeant-esque approach is unnecessary and unproductive. I say I get the job done and he has no clue what it takes; he says I make everyone neurotic. I think maybe we’re both half right.

But, after the last project was another arduous gauntlet that ended in me feeling like it was Mom versus the rest of the house, I threw my hands up. I announced to the entire brood that I was DONE. Done-da-da-da-da-DONE!! You know that huge social studies project coming up? The one that requires a report, a visual display and an oral presentation? The one that has a full packet of instructions and guidelines, rules and regulations? Well, peeps, I wash my hands of that. Ya’ll think it’s so easy, and I’m just soooo mean, you can figure it out for yourselves. I told my husband that this project is between him and G-Man. They can do it together, and he will get a dose of how much work these things really are. If G-Man fails, it’s not on me. If you think it’s so easy Jack, have at it.

But here’s the thing…as much as I had hoped to seethe in my self-righteous indignation, a deeper part of me believes that we will all learn something from this experience. For my husband and G-Man, I hope that they learn and appreciate that these projects take extensive time and effort, regardless of which parent is helping, and that my making him do it is not “being mean,” that it’s just freaking life, guys (wishful thinking, I know). I want my husband to see that our struggles are not just a “me” problem, and that managing the kids’ school work isn’t as easy as it looks. I want G-Man to see that trading out parental supervisors won’t yield a quick and effortless project; the work will still be there no matter which parent helps him.

To be completely honest, I also grudgingly admit that I hope my husband is successful in getting G-Man to put together a project that reflects his true efforts, and not my helicopter tendencies and strict directions. Even if I do “get the job done,” I admit that I don’t think I’m teaching G-Man to be independent and self-motivated to succeed. If anything, I may be doing him a great disservice and enabling him.

In the coming weeks, we’ll see how it plays out, but in the meantime, I may choke to death from biting my tongue and keeping my mouth shut. When I do feel the need to open my mouth, I’ll pour a glass of wine and go find something brain-rotting to watch on TV instead. Seems like I win, either way, don’t ya think?

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