I blame my mother.

I don’t think you can blame your parents for everything, but there are certain things that they should certainly be blamed for. This, for example.

And this.

Recently I was sharing a story with my in-laws that I have not shared with anyone since the 7th grade. And this is it. In grade 6, I was put in a special group of students who had the privilege of taking a special field trip to see the junior high science fair. Basically, the 6th grade teachers chose the students who were most likely to succeed, who were most likely to participate in the science fair themselves the next year. The best and the brightest. That was me.

The next year, it was time for me to shine. Time for me to prove that I was still among the best and the brightest. All I needed was one really great sciencey idea!

And now I’ll take a moment to ask some very serious questions. Where was my teacher to help me out? Where were the resources to help inspire the students? Where were the handouts of 101 science experiment ideas? Where were the book suggestions? Where was the screening process of actually submitting your science project idea to the teacher and getting it approved? Where was the necessary intervention when students came up with really bad ideas?

Where was my mother, who had gone through this with three kids already?

Abandoned to myself and my own not-so-sciencey brain, I procrastinated until probably the day before, at which point, I decided that my science project would be to test the boiling point of different juices. I don’t remember all the specifics. I just remember that at least grape juice was involved. Probably orange juice and apple juice, too. And I remember not discovering anything significant at all. In fact, they all boiled at about the same temperature.

When the time came to present my findings to the class, I set up my charts and graphs and set out three cups of grape juice, and probably orange juice and apple juice. And I let the whole class know that after running my experiments, I found that X juice boiled at X temperature, Y juice boiled at Y temperature, and Z juice boiled at Z temperature. And then my teacher, that teacher who wasn’t around to kindly suggest to me that I choose another experiment before it was too late, asked me in front of the whole class what the application of my findings was. And I wasn’t too dumb to know that there was absolutely no practical application of my findings. But I couldn’t admit that in front of the class. So I announced to everyone that if you have a baby who still likes drinks to be warmed up, and he is crying and wants juice, you should choose grape juice because it has the lowest boiling point. By one degree.

My project didn’t make it into the science fair.

Mike has a tragic story of failure at the Pinewood Derby, where stronger parental intervention might have made his car good enough to actually cross the finish line.

The fact is that in my junior high, the parents of my fellow students were likely highly involved in their children’s science projects. Likewise at the Pinewood Derby. And you can bet that when Little O and his future siblings are old enough, I’m going to make sure they have the greatest science projects and Mike will make sure they have the fastest, best-looking derby cars. (And luckily for us, we’ll have the Internet to help us out—a resource our parents never had.)

But where do you draw the line? How do you stop yourself from taking over the science project completely? How do you maintain an appropriate level of involvement in your children’s projects where you are there to help, but allow them to do the bulk of the work and have the bulk of the success or failure?

What ideas or experiences have you had along these lines?

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  1. Lindsey Johnson :

    Ah…the old science fair. My mom had a friend who was the science teacher at our local high school. He helped me out with every detail of the project–except actually doing it for me. I won. What can I say?

    Um, next time I see you, I’m going to show you the pics from my childhood. You’ll feel SO much better about yours. I promise. :)

  2. Petit Elefant :

    I’m one of those who lets my kids do it on their own, and if they fail, they learn and move on. I don’t set them up to fail, but I’m definitely not one of those parents who does the science fair project for my kid. No way, Jose.

  3. Jennie :

    The whole time I was reading your story, I was going, “Oh my gosh! I could be telling this story!” Your “experiment” was actually MORE scientific than mine. What my friend and I ended up doing was basically a research paper on Strange Undersea Creatures, complete with amazing diorama. (Yes, I was more artistically inclined than scientifically.) ;)

  4. the emily :

    My Dad has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and basically did all of my science experiments for me–and one that was surprisingly similar to yours actually won the New Mexico state competition. I still feel bad that I let my dad do all the work, but he loved it. As for me, I will help and guide, but my kid is doing the work, period.

  5. Jenny :

    I will take my kids to the library to get books for projects and edit their papers and give feedback but I will not be doing any actual work. I think it’s ok to help your kids, but you need to be helping them, not letting them help you. If my kid was planning some sucky science fair project I might be like, hey, have you thought of this or this, but I mean, in the end it’s their project. Is that mean?

    I would much rather my kids make fun of the kids whose parents did everything for them and be all bitter than actually have them be those children.

  6. KJ :

    I think Allison and I should post pre-adolescent photos of ourselves, too.

  7. Petit Elefant :


    That is just a scary thought. sigh. I suppose I might have some bad perm shots out there too. I’ll see what I can scare up.

  8. Vanessa :

    Have you read Confessions of a Slacker Mom yet? I am learning a lot of things and she makes some wonderfully points. Do I think I will take every point and do everything thing to the same intensity? No. BUT it has taught me worlds. You should read it. I prob. won’t reiterate things very clearly. PS I have some pretty AWESOME pictures of myself and a perm back in the day, you totally have to see.

  9. Amber! :

    If we are blaming parents…my mother made my clothing up until Jr. High. I looked horrendous. She also would buy clothing for me that was too large so she could wear them. So, this really was a bit off topic, but I feel better for posting!