Back to School: Self-Reliance and Responsibility

Self-reliance and responsibility are part of the education experience

By Jeremy Bangs

I think I was 24 years old by the time I could watch a back-to-school commercial without my gut wadding itself into a fist.

Before that, those ads were a harbinger of things to come that I didn’t like. They meant summer was over, homework was back and bedtime was serious business for the first time in months. In other words, the beginning of a new school year cramped my style.

It wasn’t until my daughter started kindergarten five years ago that I was forced once more to take notice of those three words. My gut was a fist. My style, again, was cramped.

Getting the kids back to school can be really stressful for parents. We have to pack lunches (and a snack), navigate carpool lanes, figure out how to stay on top of event schedules, brush up on the “new math” so we can answer homework questions and so on.

We have enough to do as parents. But for a long time, I borrowed extra stress from my daughter. I took, as my responsibility, to make sure her homework was in her backpack and that she understood her assignments and knew exactly what needed to be done and when. My record is not spotless in these areas.

So far, I’ve managed to send my daughter off to school without her homework once every school year. When she was in first grade and lived to hang upside-down from the monkey bars, I sent her to school without the requisite shorts under her skirt. When she started wearing glasses, it took at least six months for me to recognize that something was missing when we left the house in the morning.

All of these things happened during the first month of the school year. And each instance kicked off a fit of self-loathing that only other parents can truly understand. At times, I’ve been more stressed out than my kid about these things and it’s miserable.

But I’ve decided this year will be different. As I write this just 72 hours ahead of Livvy’s embarkation of her fourth-grade year, I’m more relaxed. Why? Because I’ve gradually offloaded some of the responsibility to my daughter. It’s not that I’m shirking my responsibility as a dad. It’s that taking responsibility for your fourth-grade self is part of the education process.

Here’s a true/false quiz:

·   A fourth-grader showing up to school without her homework is dad’s fault. Answer: False.

·   Understanding the homework assignment is the student’s responsibility. Answer: True.

·   It’s up to mom and dad to rescue the student if she forgets her homework at home. Answer: False

It has taken me years to answer these questions correctly. In fact, the light bulb didn’t come on until I was talking to a friend one day and said, “I forgot Livvy’s glasses again.”

He quickly corrected me. “You didn’t forget her glasses. She forgot her glasses.”

Here’s the thing: school doesn’t just teach kids how to read, write and do math in new and sometimes unrecognizable ways. It teaches them life skills. It teaches them how to conduct themselves in a setting that isn’t as comfortable or, in some ways, as forgiving as home.

If my daughter doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do on a homework project, it’s up to her to ask her teacher about it.

If she leaves a homework assignment in her desk and is in a panic about what to say tomorrow when she doesn’t have it done, that’s not such a bad thing. She’s learning, painfully, to be pretty dang sure she doesn’t forget it again because panic sucks.

And if she goes to school without her glasses, that’s on her.

We’ve had these conversations several times, especially last year. I’m sure we’ll have them again this year. These are not easy conversations with a kid who is a pleaser. But that’s also part of her education: mistakes happen and as long as you don’t make a habit of repeating them and you’re contrite as you go about fixing them, you’ll survive.

If you have back-to-school anxiety, take a minute to reflect. Consider how you might be taking on the stress that rightfully belongs to your kid and how you both might be better served by coaching your kid through the school experience.


Jeremy Bangs is a single father of a 9-year-old daughter. He spent more than 17 years as a writer, photographer and managing editor for community newspapers along Colorado’s Front Range.



Jordan Langdon