As a working mom, my kids fell behind academically. I changed one major thing about how I parent and they started to excel.

  • It's easy to feel as if you're not doing enough for your kids and their education.

  • As a mother, I've tried to make education fun by playing games and screening documentaries.

  • This is an adapted excerpt from "A+ Parenting: The Surprisingly Fun Guide to Raising Surprisingly Smart Kids" by Eva Moskowitz and Eric Grannis.

I've always cared deeply about my work, first as an elected official and then now as the founder and leader of Success Academy, a network of what are now 53 charter schools serving 20,000 students, but I've also cared deeply about parenting my three children, and therein lies the rub of every working parent.

When parenting, I felt I should be working; when working, I felt I should be parenting. I would notice that other children whose mothers seemed to spend more time with them were more verbal or knew how to read before they went to school, while my children barely knew their letters.

These are symptoms of what I call "parental inadequacy syndrome," which is the nagging feeling that you are never doing enough for your kids, who will forever be at a terrible disadvantage compared with children who had the good fortune to be born to more competent and devoted parents.

If any of this sounds familiar, then I have some important messages for you.

First, there is no such thing as a perfect parent

It's reasonable to have other priorities in life that you balance with parenting. If you had a moral obligation to sacrifice yourself utterly for your children, then they would presumably have the same obligation to their children — an endless parenting Ponzi scheme in which every generation sacrifices for the next one.

More importantly, you can be a pretty imperfect parent and still have your children turn out fine. I know this from personal experience. My husband and I both worked hard while bringing up our children, and while it is true that they learned to read a bit later than some children whose parents had more time to spend with them, all three of them ended up well-adjusted, hardworking, and academically successful.

The key to our success, I believe, was engaging in activities that were both enjoyable and educational

These activities were not costly endeavors and included playing board games like backgammon, chess, and monopoly; watching classic films and science documentaries; listening to comedy albums, short stories, and songs; visiting natural history and science museums; playing parlor games like Fishbowl and Charades; having lively dinnertime conversations; and solving logical puzzles.

At first, we did these things largely for fun and because we remembered them from our own childhoods, but we came to realize that they were having an enormous impact on our children's intellectual development.

When they talked about history, politics, or science, they would draw upon information they'd gleaned from a science program we'd watched, a museum we'd visited, or a dinnertime conversation we'd had. When they made a witty remark, we'd notice how it was a variation on a comedy routine to which we'd listened. And when they took tests, we saw how they summoned the intensity, concentration, and competitive zeal they'd developed from playing board games.

In all the intellectual progress they made, we could see the fingerprints of the activities in which we'd engaged as a family.

Too many people think that learning must always be drudgery

People think that only studying vocabulary lists and writing five-paragraph essays is educational. When children enjoy learning, it's actually more educational for them because they are more engaged.

Moreover, if you can find "educational" activities your whole family enjoys, you'll find yourself naturally spending more time with your children. And you don't have to engage in these activities every day or all day long on weekends, but finding some time to do some of the things adds up and will have a big impact on your children.

Eva Moskowitz is an advocate for children's educational futures and is the CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, a network of public charter schools that's one of the fastest-growing and highest-performing in the US.

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