A mother and daughter doing homework(Photo: Courtesy of Essence)

When my daughter, Khaya, entered kindergarten at a Brooklyn charter school two years ago, I knew her homework would be considerable. Her school, like many others, strongly believes that nightly reinforcement of the day's lesson helps to ensure each child's educational success. But teachers promised no less than 40 minutes of work per night. During registration week, the school went so far as to have Khaya, my husband and me sign a "homework contract," pledging our commitment to Khaya's completing every assignment. As I blithely scribbled my name, I thought, This is only elementary school. How hard could all this be?

Fast-forward to the present. I can now say that homework represents the most trying part of my day. I get home after 7:00 P.M. each night, feeling spent after a long workday and a one-hour commute to Brooklyn from Manhattan. By then, I have little energy -- and let's face it, desire -- to work with Khaya, now in second grade, and my son, Nile, who is in kindergarten. Even if their exercises consist of simple addition and coloring, getting them to write a basic sentence can take an eternity when the kids are tired and hungry. At low points, I've relied on a glass of moscato for reinforcement or just finished the homework myself by forging their handwriting. While I'm not proud of these actions, at the time I felt completely at a loss.

I know I'm not alone. For many parents, particularly those who are employed, helping their child with homework can feel like a trying second job. With parents working long hours and kids participating in after-school activities, the window to get homework done is shrinking, causing stress to families who are facing a time crunch. It's particularly tough for parents impacted by the economic slowdown, who might be working multiple jobs to pay bills. And while one hurdle is finding the energy to attend to homework, the other is ensuring that your child actually completes the assignment correctly -- and in a timely fashion. "Students seem to be getting more homework, and the work that they're getting is more advanced," says Otha Thornton, president-elect of the National Parent Teacher Association, the largest volunteer child advocacy association in the U.S. "It's harder to keep up with everything."

But today's parents don't need to feel beaten down by the prospect of homework. They can employ numerous strategies to avoid teary brawls with their children and meet the challenge head-on. Here are a few parent-tested and -approved ideas:

Take a Breather

For Jatosha Sanders, a single mother of three from Charlotte, North Carolina, it's all about the approach. Although she's often fatigued after her long day as a call center associate, she has discovered a way to rejuvenate before she dives in to assist son D.J., 16, and daughter Jamani, 10, with their assignments. "When I get home, my kids know that they're not allowed to talk to me for 15 to 20 minutes, because I need to have a little time for myself," says Sanders, whose daughter Janique, 19, also lives at home. "My job is emotionally draining -- I'm talking to customers all day and helping them with problems. When I get home, I don't want to talk right away. I walk in, hug the kids and do things like take off my work clothes and check e-mail until I can calm myself down. After I've had a little break, I can go into homework mode feeling less edgy than I did when I walked in the door."