I know I have changed a huge amount throughout the eleven years of our home-educating journey. I know I have grown as a person, as a mama, and as a friend. I know that I have learnt a great deal from the good times, but far more from the not so great times.
The road we have traveled hasn't all been sweetness and light, but that is to be expected. Home-education isn't some magical formula that takes all the bad parts of life away. It doesn't magically create an off button for your children. It doesn't miraculously make siblings get along without any squabbles, and nor does it assist you in gaining that parenting manual that is on almost every parents wishlist soon after experiencing a birth. But I have found that it does help build strong bonds and relationships which go some way to helping with this whole parenting malarkey, and the ever evolving process as a parent doesn't seem to cease.
When I look back to the person I was pre-mama days (shhh, nearly 19 years ago but we won’t mention that), I shudder and smile in equal measure. I was so very different, rather more – erm, perhaps compliant is the word. I was very much a mainstream mama, following the path that was dictated and not daring to question what I was told. I had hospital births as I didn’t know any different. I vaccinated my children without a thought or query because it was the ‘done thing’. I followed the health visitors regime of weigh-ins and developmental checks to the letter, and I had never heard of co-sleeping or babywearing. It was just a natural progression that my children would go to nursery, then pre-school and on to primary.
Before I knew it I had two children in school and I was seemingly happy with my lot. Five days out of seven I was bumbling along with everyone else, trying to get the children up and ready for school on time with a good breakfast inside of them, whilst I made the pack lunches and fumbled around looking for misplaced PE kits or book bags. Upon leaving the house it wasn’t long before I would find myself getting cross with the small people for not walking fast enough, stop dilly dallying was a common verbal command – after all, we couldn’t be late!!
My afternoons consisted of the school pick-up, the ‘what did you do today’ conversations, the spelling test revision, the book scheme book reading, the parent teacher book writing, and the preparation for the next day.
And tired children.
Uniforms needed to be checked and washed, PE kits likewise, any letters from the school had to be read and acted on appropriately (which often involved sending in some money for a trip or fundraising cause), and I seemed to spend my time stressing about ‘things being right’.
Then, we found out about home-education. What a revelation that was! At first it was very much a temporary solution to a problem we were facing at school. I never gave any thought to the long term future, after all, we were only going to be home-educating for 6 months or so, 12 months tops.
Eleven (ELEVEN?!) years on and what a journey we have taken.
When we first started out, I would play teacher. I worked out a subject timetable, we had proper lessons at set times and we even kept to scheduled breaks and lunchtime.
It was a ridiculous strategy, I know that now, but at the time I thought that was how it needed to be done. I figured that this was the blueprint for learning in many areas of the world. Children were sat at desks and were instructed to do things in order to learn them. Simples.
But this darn thing called life kept getting in the way.
I soon learnt that this structured day thing wasn’t going to work for us. When the sun was shining we wanted to be exploring rock pools or orienteering on Dartmoor. When it was cold and wet we wanted to be snuggled in front of a fire reading a good book or playing board games. We soon developed a network of friends and were often invited to their various homes for a social meet, or for a park trip or museum visit.
Whilst sitting at the table with pen in hand things still didn’t go to plan. We would start studying one topic and discussion would lead us in another direction. Our geography lessons would transform into history ones. Our religious education lessons would develop into history, then geography, then science. I became more and more frustrated that my timetable wasn’t been kept to and my lesson plans were being abused. I just didn’t understand it, why wasn’t it working for us when it worked for schools?
The answer was of course that in our case my children were being allowed freedom. They were able to think for themselves. They were able to develop their own thought processes by asking as many questions as they felt the need to. They could ponder, query, and discuss to their hearts content. They didn’t have to put up their hands and wait for the opportunity to speak to arise. They didn’t have to ask for permission to go off on a tangent, or get told that now wasn’t the time.
But here’s the thing. As their ‘teacher’ I didn’t have to worry about time-restrictions and following the curriculum. I didn’t have to fret that we didn’t fulfill the lesson plan brief, or that targets hadn’t been met. I didn’t have to buy the gazillion workbooks and textbooks. We didn’t need the ‘educational materials’ that I had bought in a ‘must have this so I can be a good home-educator’ frenzy. I had set unrealistic goals and expectations in order to ‘prove’ to the world (or so it felt) that I could do a good job, and it was so unnecessary.
So so very unnecessary.
I was putting so much pressure upon myself that I was forgetting to enjoy our journey.
I needed to let go of the reins. I needed to sit back and watch. And I did so. I sat and witnessed my children grow their wings and fly. Not just fly, but soar.
The day I sat back and evaluated our journey was the day I changed as a mama.
It was that powerful.
Not only did I change as a mama, but our day to day living was shaken up, dusted down, and wiggled and jiggled about.
I started to analyse EVERYTHING. I researched everything. I devoured so many books, magazines and websites that related to child development, learning, and parenting. I started looking at my relationship with my children. How did I relate to them? In what areas did I feel the need to control them? I looked at the battles we had and analysed any confrontations. I realised that I could change these things too.
I started to let go of reins again.
I became more relaxed about food and bedtimes. The children began to have choices when it came to what they ate and when. The cupboards became ‘open house’ for them to help themselves as and when they wished to. I pictured the children pigging out on endless supplies of sweet stuff, but was surprised when I noticed that things like cereals and fruit were disappearing too – and they still all chose to keep the family dinner around the table time as they liked it – they still do now, even the teens at 16 and 18. The bedtime routine vanished, replaced by trust. The children were given the opportunity to self-regulate their needs for food fuel and sleep, in return we gained a much more relaxed and less pressured household.
This was such a stark contrast to my own upbringing it was at times scary.
I felt like I was exploring a whole new world.
It felt like a big risk.
I was walking away from the education system safety net and would have no one else to blame if my children weren’t able to read or write.
I was allowing my children the freedom that some parents would throw their hands up in horror at, and many of those parents weren’t afraid of telling me their opinion loud and proud.
But it was ok. Really, it was ok.
As time went by I could see our family evolving.
I could see confidence, self-motivation, and gorgeous relationships brewing.
Above all else, I could see joy.
Joy, happiness, and clarity.
The relationship between myself and my children grew closer and became more fulfilling. The relationships between the siblings grew strong. We became friends with a mutual respect for each other.
I had my lightbulb moment.
The realisation that this parenting malarkey doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t have to be days filled with battle of wills explosions and forced compliance.
I DIDN’T HAVE TO PARENT AS I HAD BEEN PARENTED.
Wow, that’s a biggie.
There was another way, there is another way. A way of respect, of listening, of compromise, of harmony.