Homework Hell: Angela, Masen, Gayle

Drill Sergeant Mom

"I have two boys: Masen and Bailey. My 12-year-old son, Masen, is a seventh grader, and we've always had trouble with him doing his homework. It can take him up to six hours," says Angela. 

Her mom, Gayle, says, "I get the feeling she's like a drill sergeant, standing over [Masen]. It's like she's on a mission sometimes to change Masen into somebody that she wants him to be instead of letting him be who he is."

Angela defends her behavior. "I might be overly aggressive because I watch over his shoulder, making sure he's writing properly, making sure it's the correct spelling. I'm continuously picking on him, going, ‘Are you done? Are you done? Are you done?'" she recounts. "I can get angry at the drop of a pin. I do once in a while cuss. I have gotten into their faces, and I have yelled in their faces."

Her aunt, Cindi, weighs in. "I do think that Angela sets really high goals and standards for Masen. I think he's a very laid-back child, and doesn't always live up to those expectations," she says. "There was a time when I witnessed Angela's rage. She came into their room, and she was already angry. That anger was directed at Masen. It was just very intimidating, a very high degree of frustration and anger and rage. It was in-your-face rage. I could see that he was totally crushed."

"What do you want him to do that he's not doing?" Dr. Phil asks Angela. 

She replies, "I want him to be able to be a kid, and have part in our family. When he does homework, it takes away from him doing anything.

"You want him to work faster?" Dr. Phil probes. 

Angela explains her dilemma. "When he comes home after school and he starts homework at 4 o'clock or 5 o'clock, and then goes until 10 o'clock at night because he's not focusing or tasking, it takes away from his personal life," she says. "I continually nag on him: ‘Are you close to getting done? Are you focusing? Are you getting finished? Are you concentrating?'"

"Do you think he's just not very smart?" Dr. Phil asks. 

"No. I think he's a smart child. I don't think he's a traditional child. I don't think he's a book learner," she replies. "I don't think he likes to sit and do the homework."

Angela explains that Masen was an honor roll student for the first two semesters of sixth grade, but after that, his grades started slipping.

Addressing Gayle, Dr. Phil says, "What do you think is going on here?"

"I think he gets frustrated with Angela standing over him and nitpicking. Everything has to be exact," she replies.

Turning to Angela, Dr. Phil says, "Are you smart enough to figure out that what you're doing is not helping?"

"Obviously, I'm here," she replies.

 

"Have you said to him, ‘At least I have one good kid in school?'" Dr. Phil asks. 

Angela looks astonished. "Nope," she replies. "I am extremely cautious of how I speak to my son. And some of the footage actually offends because it portrays, I don't think it portrays me quite well."

Dr. Phil turns to Angela's aunt, Cindi, in the audience. "You witnessed a 45-minute screamfest right in his face."

"I don't know if it was 45 minutes, but it went on way too long," she replies.

Angela chimes in, "I'm not saying that that's not happened."

"You're saying [the video footage] doesn't portray you right. They're saying you take a drill sergeant approach," Dr. Phil tells Angela. "We want to fix this problem, and if you're part of the problem, you need to be honest with yourself about that. And it sounds to me that the people here who love you [and Masen] are saying you're not helping by putting pressure on."

"I disagree in regards to how it was portrayed [on the videotape]," Angela says. "I do get in their face. It's not a constant, everyday thing."

"What is it you want to change in the way it was portrayed?" Dr. Phil asks. 

Angela answers, "I want to learn how to back off from Masen. I don't want to sit there and pick."

"You said you weren't portrayed properly in that tape. Tell me what was not portrayed properly. I think it was actually very generous, considering what your actual interaction patterns with him are, and the effect I think it's having," Dr. Phil points out. 

"It comes across that I am constantly on him. I am not constantly on him, because I am extremely aware of how I talk to him, and I try to pull back," Angela says. "I don't try to sit there and nag on him all the time. I try to find different strategies."

"How's his self-esteem?" Dr. Phil asks Angela. 

Angela replies that Masen's self-esteem may be lower than it should be. "I think I take away from that," she tells Dr. Phil. 

Gayle interjects, "I think, Ange, you are a good mother and you try hard. I think sometimes you don't realize, we grew up with our mother saying things that she didn't realize what she was saying, and it sticks with you and hurts."

"I completely agree," Angela says. 

Gayle explains how she once heard Angela saying that she wished Masen could be as good in school as his brother Bailey is. Angela gives her an incredulous stare. "I didn't say [Bailey] was smarter than him," Angela says. "Bailey goes in and he gets his homework done."

"You seem very defensive about your role in it," Dr. Phil observes. "You guys are telling it straight up that you are a drill sergeant, that you nitpick at him, that you've made fun of some of his work, that you favor one of your children over the other, in terms of his schoolwork, his ability and efficiencies, and that is creating a problem with this child."

"I'm in complete agreement with you," Angela says.

Dr. Phil explains that stress and pressure don't help mental efficiency. He reads a quote attributed to Angela: "'At least I have one good kid in school. Too bad the other one can't be as smart.'"

When Angela looks at her mom aghast, Dr. Phil asks Gayle, "Did she say that or not?"

"Yes," Gayle replies.

Dr. Phil turns to Angela. "Why do you look at me like I made this up?" he asks.  

Angela explains that she is very conscious not to belittle her children. "If that's how I act, obviously, I need help. If any parent does that, it's horrid," she says. 

"It is very painful for you to hear those things repeated back to you," Dr. Phil points out. 

"It's not repeated, though. That's the problem," Angela replies.  

"So, your mom is misrepresenting this?"

"I feel so, yes," Angela responds. 

Dr. Phil gets right to the point with Angela. "Is this about how you look, or is this about helping your son? Because it seems to me that you're really worried about your appearance and image, and not discussing one thing about your son," he says sternly. 

"I want to learn how to help my son be better in school and work through these things, for me not to nitpick, and be a stress or a burden on my son," she says. 

"Then you need to acknowledge that you need to back off, because what you're doing is not helping, it's hurting. You are contributing to his intellectual inefficiency," Dr. Phil says. 

Reiterating that she doesn't like how she's being portrayed, Angela says, "I agree that I should back off. I don't agree that I call my child names."

Cindi shares her thoughts. "I think part of it is that Ange has got a perception of how much she wants to be a good mother, and how hard she's working at it," she tells Dr. Phil. "There's almost two Angelas. There's this very nurturing, loving, Angela. There's two wonderful children, and they didn't get that way by accident. There's one side of her that's very nurturing and very good. It's the other side that we're concerned about and definitely needs to be addressed."