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Jen Hogan: Like their children, parents learn new things every single day

Homework for primary school children really needs to go. After all, x – homework = not enough time for play

We have a similar conversation every few weeks in this house.

It usually happens around the time an exam is approaching and a particularly disinteresting piece of revision needs to be done. It goes something like this: “What’s the point in even learning this stuff [algebra/trigonometry, etc]? We’re never going to use it in real life. Such a waste of time, blah, blah, blah.”

To which I, without hesitation, having lived a full and algebra-filled life, explain it will prove invaluable when trying to work out which packet of dishwasher tablets is the best value when you’re in the middle of the big shop and there’s just too much choice on offer.

So too will Pythagoras help you work out the best way to fit that awkwardly shaped bouncy castle thingy in your back garden when it’s Communion season. “These are life skills you don’t even know you need yet,” I explain. “But glad you will be,” I continue, nodding solemnly like the Jedi master I should have been.

“And Irish?” they ask.

Every time the question strikes like a dagger to my, quite patriotic, heart. “Eh, it’s part of your culture and your identity and it is essential our language is not lost,” I bark, in English. “Plus how else do you think your sister and I managed to have discussions in this house over the years with no one else understanding what we were on about? One day, you’ll want to be able to keep some of your kids in the dark too!”

(We, as in I, interrupt this column to clarify that although I am passionate about the importance of learning Irish, I do not believe that it should be a compulsory Leaving Cert subject, or a barrier in any way to accessing third-level education. And I certainly don’t believe we should be making things more difficult for children, who are already struggling, to access exemptions.)

Every day, as a parent, is a school day. And not just because they’ve a whole new way of doing primary school maths. If I could go back in time to when I started out, I would impart similar wisdom to my younger parent self. Only I hope I’d be more open to hearing it than my children are.

I’d tell myself that yes, you will have the opportunity to sleep again. Though you may not choose it. Revenge procrastination may become your life choice instead, because those pesky teenagers never go to bed, and thanks to this whole “having it all” lark, staying up until stupid o’clock, scrolling mindlessly or watching Ted Lasso is your “me time”.

This is now why you’re always tired.

I’d emphasise the absolute importance of always taking the lunchboxes and beakers out of their schoolbags at the beginning of any midterms, holidays or any extended periods of time out of school because otherwise the chances of you remembering to do it ahead of the night before they return to school is extremely slim, and what you discover at that point won’t be pretty.

I’d say to myself to ignore anyone who tries to tell you there’s no real difference between raising boys and girls. Yes, there is. Most of it revolves around their ability to pee in the actual toilet bowl. A fair bit revolves around the size of your food shop.

I’d explain to myself, that the hardest part to remember is that you’re not their friend, you’re their parent. And though both can feel possible when they’re small, you’ve a job to do and they need you to do it. And sometimes they might really dislike you for it.

But that’s okay, because you’re not their friend. You’re their parent.

I’d tell myself no, disappearing cutlery, plates and cups are not one of life’s great mysteries. You’ll find them all in your teenagers’ rooms.

I’d explain to myself that you’ll find those traits you recognise from yourself and see in your children as they grow, both endearing and infuriating at the same time. And when your own parents point out that something your child does reminds them of you as a child, it is neither a compliment nor an insult. It’s purely them enjoying karma.

And I’d tell myself: yes, your initial suspicions were right. You will grow to hate homework more as an adult than you ever did as a child. Only now it will be coupled with the frustration of knowing how pointless it is for primary school children in particular, and that it really, really needs to go.

After all, x – homework = not enough time for play.

And if play equals children’s work, then that equation is unsolvable. It’s just basic algebra.

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