I can vividly remember sitting down to do my homework at the kitchen table as a kid while my mom or dad made dinner, squeezing every possible math problem in before they forced me to put my things aside and set the table. Despite either one or both of my parents always being within a few feet of me as I wrote out spelling words and answered social studies questions, never once did either of my parents help me complete my work at any point during my school career.
And that's not to say that I never asked — trust me, I asked — they just never agreed. They weren't being lazy, they weren't feigning ignorance (my dad's an engineer, the man knows his math), they weren't trying to be hard on me, and before you suggest it, yes, they definitely did care about my education and grades; they just didn't believe in helping me solve problems I was equipped to on my own.
Their thought process was this: If I needed help with a part of my homework, I was either being lazy or I was actually confused about something. If it was laziness, they could tell, and I'd get an eye roll and a "Nice try, kid." If it was confusion, they'd argue that I a) should have had notes or instructions somewhere that would help me to figure it out, or b) either forgot or misunderstood whatever it was my teacher explained that day, and that was on me.
They just didn't believe in helping me solve problems I was equipped to on my own.
It was usually the former, and I'd flip through my notebook only to find the exact information I needed to solve my issue, but sometimes it was the latter. In those cases I'd just have to own up to the fact that I either wasn't paying attention in class or that I should have advocated for myself when I didn't understand something I was being taught by asking for extra help. My parents would tell me to do my best in figuring it out with the information I had available to me, and to go into class the next day ready to focus and learn.
Of course, if I was extremely frustrated with something, they'd come look over my shoulder to see what I was working on, but rather than help me outright, they'd encourage me to take a deep breath and put what I was working on aside for a bit. I'd either move to a new subject, take a 10-minute break, or walk my dog then go back to it later. Most of the time, I was able to figure it out with clear eyes, but if not, I'd write myself a note about what was confusing me so that I could go over it with my teacher the next day.
And looking back now, I get it. My parents had already gone through school in the '50s and '60s, and they'd earned their diplomas without help from their parents (my mom's parents didn't even speak English back then, so she was truly on her own there). To them, it was a no-brainer that I'd be brought up the same way, solving my own problems and working to understand my various curricula, which I'd be tested on without anyone there to help me.
I understand that it can be tempting as a parent to help your child with something they're struggling with (especially looking at you, lawnmower parents). They might feel overwhelmed by their workload or that they just "don't get" certain things. Their projects might seem too intricate for them to complete alone and their math problems might have to be solved in some backward way. Their assignment book may seem more full than you can ever remember yours being, and their backpacks probably seem way too heavy for their little frames. I get it, I really do, but I also get why my parents did what they did for me, and I'm so grateful to them.
Problem-solving is a daily part of life for every human.
Rather than do any type of work for me, which wouldn't have helped me to learn at all, they gave me the skills to work through any issue and to help calm myself down if I was feeling frustrated or stressed. And damn, has that paid off ten-fold, because those skills translate to so much more than elementary school homework — problem-solving is a daily part of life for every human.
So if you have a little kid — or even a big kid — at home who often feels like they need help when completing their homework or a school project, think twice before doing the work for them or even assisting them in a way that would give them the answers. Instead, take a few minutes in these situations to help motivate them and equip them with something so much more valuable: the skills to help themselves. "Good job!" stickers on homework that a parent did have nothing on the knowledge that a child can successfully problem-solve their way through life.