Tag Archive | families

The parenting endurance test!

January can feel like an endurance test!

I find it hard to keep my spirits on the bright side when my daily walk, which I take for that very reason – keeping bright, becomes grueling rather than graceful at this time of the year.

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The best bit of a wet January morning; shiny droplets on the winter flowering cherry

Recording my pictures on Instagram helps me focus on the charms rather than the challenges, even if I have to seek them sometimes.

But that’s a good way to get through all challenges; remind yourself of the best bits among life’s barrage.

A parent asked me recently how I managed to get through the challenge of the years home educating with such ‘patience and grace’?

The short answer is; I didn’t all the time!

For, although it is mostly the best bits I write about to encourage and inspire – and it is an inspiring thing to do – it is certainly a challenge, verging on an endurance test sometimes. But isn’t all parenting like that – not just home educating?

The thing is; you know your kids are absolutely delightful beings. You know you completely love them to bits. You know home educating is totally the best thing you’ve ever done. And you know you don’t want it any other way.

BUT…..

There are times you are inevitably going to shout ‘FFS’!!!

I had those times too.

You would also have those times if the children were in school – believe me!

The longer answer to the above question was that I built strategies to help me through the grueling bits. We need that with both parenting and home education.

You’ll need to take deep breaths – often.

You’ll need to step back and let be – often.

You’ll need to stop worrying – that’s a decision as much as any.

You’ll need to trust that time will sort it.

Get outside – often.

You’ll need to look after yourself – as much as the children. Your mental and spiritual well being is included in that; build strategies to help refocus when needed (like me with the Instagram).

And you need to winkle out the best bits. There are always good bits.

Seasons change. January passes. Kids grow. Family life changes rapidly. All challenges change just as rapidly too.

All will be well.

(For more enduring comfort and reassurance try my book ‘A Home Education Notebook’. Or just for mum support; ‘Mumhood’. See the books page for details)

Will harmony and peace be well and truly Trumped?

A picture for peace and harmony

A picture for peace and harmony

It takes much tolerance to live together. Anyone who is living with others knows that. Family life is a bit like negotiating sea changes; sometimes it’s smooth, sometimes it’s choppy.

All parents know this. Couples know this. Families know this. In fact, my single friends know this too, as they listen to my dilemmas and family challenges and count their single blessings.

But I know my own blessings come family shaped. And when my two delightful family shapes are home again, as they recently have been, my blessings are rich despite the inevitable choppy bits.

These take some negotiating. There’s times I’m trying to calm rippled feelings and no doubt times I’m causing them! Mostly though, they are just ripples of laughter that permeate the house.

This is what family life – in fact all life with others – is about; storms, ripples and rainbows as we accommodate living together, whether that’s on a family scale, a friend and colleague scale, or population scale. In order for us all to live together we have to tolerate each others differences, learn to give and take, build understanding of and empathy for those with different ideas from our own, educate ourselves to be compassionate, curious, considerate and kind. Above all practice respect for one another.

So I rather fear for peoples when we have someone in charge of a major populace who lacks most of those characteristics, instead who openly practices racism, sexism, bigotry and a disrespectful style of communicating with others he fails to understand.

Is that the family climate Trump grew up in? And is it the kind of global togetherness he endorses?

I have to not concern myself too much with it; it’s too depressing a thought.

What I can concern myself with instead is the practices which I believe perpetuate love, respect and togetherness, as we all can. Right from our family doorsteps, throughout all our relationships, both online and in the flesh, so that these actions spread out from us and make our world a more loving and inclusive place.

I believe that always starts at home. With our relationships at home. It certainly should be part of our parenting and education.

Learning to love and live well together is the most important part of our human existence. You can look up any knowledge on Google – you can only learn about love and peace through experience. It should be the most important part of family development, education and politics – but I don’t bear to think about that right now.

I’ll just continue to go on loving and respecting my precious family shapes so they can in turn pass that on around.

Helping to increase understanding…

I’ve had another request from a researcher, this time from Optomen Television Productions.

They’re looking to do a programme on alternative learning approaches, especially unschooling and autonomous home educating and parenting.

I always waver about this, like others do – the more we’re ‘out there’ the more likely we are to draw unwelcome attention to ourselves from power mad politicians! But the other side of it is the more we’re ‘out there’ the more opportunity there is to further understanding of other educational approaches, help those suffering in schools to find out about a workable alternative, and maybe even change what goes on in them perhaps.

Matilda and the Ramsay bunch - one of their programmes

Matilda and the Ramsay bunch – one of their programmes

This request seemed sensitive to heralding home educators’ alternative approaches, rather than criticising them, so I’m sharing the researchers request here in the hope that some of you might like to get involved.

Here’s her message;

Calling all Unschoolers, Radical Unschoolers and Worldschoolers!

Optomen, one of the UK’s leading independent television production companies, are looking for families who are unschooling, radically unschooling or worldschooling their children to take part in a warm and celebratory documentary series. We want to talk to families who are giving their children freedom over their lives and education, those who are nurturing a love for learning outside of mainstream school, those who are travelling or living off-grid with their kids and those who have an active partnership with their children rather than the traditional authoritarian method of parenting.

If you would be happy to chat about your experiences, and interested in finding out more, please email stefanie.jones@optomen.com

 

You won’t ruin them on your own!

Chelsea’s working so hard at the moment. She’s initiated a new production for the Brighton Fringe

A bold and thought provoking production

this year and is working on it with friends. It’s an impressive undertaking and I so admire her, tinged with concern of course at how busy she is.

I look at our two young adults now and wonder how they got to be the wonderful people they are – it’s something you always worry about as a parent, particularly a home educating parent.

I know all our experiences shape us; from childhood, school, home education, family, work, whatever. And although we can control some of the experiences our youngsters have we’ll never control all of it however much we want to keep them sweet. And we certainly can’t control how they respond to those experiences – that response is inherent in them. We won’t be able to determine that entirely.

For it is never nurture (or nature) in isolation, as the debate leads us to believe, it is the interaction between the two that determines the people our kids become. It is the youngsters’ reaction to their experiences which determine how things turn out. So that is never entirely the parents’ fault. A lot is genetic.

That’s a comforting thought when you’re parenting, particularly if you’re a home schooling parent and worrying you may be ruining the children.

Be reassured; if you are ruining them – you won’t be ruining them on your own!

In fact, I’m sure you won’t be ruining them at all, it’s far more likely that by parenting with care and respect – and I guess you care and respect otherwise you probably wouldn’t be the type of parent visiting here and reading this – you will be developing those qualities in them. And this will in turn nurture caring and respectful responses to the world from them, thereby influencing a little how they respond and what they will become.

But mostly they do it for themselves, even if they make decisions based on our attitudes.

Chelsea is inherently who she is on her own. Maybe with snippets of attitudes she grew up with here in her early years, but mostly she’s chosen what she reckons are the best of what she’s seen for herself. That’s what they’ve been educated to do.

And seeing the choices she is making I can only be proud!

Teaching the world

When I was a green young teacher I didn’t understand the most important thing about teaching. 20150529_144147

I thought I was there to instruct. That’s what teachers were employed to do, wasn’t it? And also, as a young person pre-parenting, I wasn’t aware of the impact you as a person have upon the children you’re teaching. Not to mention others too.

In fact, I guess you don’t even twig this when you first become a parent either. You’re too besotted with this bundle of delirium that’s just been delivered to the bed, transforming life as it formerly was into something a bit bewildering to say the least. Not only transforming life, but principles, priorities and purpose, as you grow into realisation that probably for the first time in the whole of your life you are accountable.

Your actions matter to someone else more important than you!

The other thing I didn’t spot which I have now is that when you become a parent you automatically become a teacher, but a completely different one to the one we recognise in schools. Everything this tiny being learns, right from its first few moments, weeks, early years, is down to you. You are suddenly accountable for teaching them things – through your example.

It can feel a bit overwhelming!

But it is also beautiful. And it is a beautiful thought that you can teach, and you are now a teacher too. For that’s what parents are, although ‘teacher’ is perhaps the wrong word because of its school associations.

But teaching is not necessarily to do with schools.

For, if you can take your view even broader, it is also a fairly magnificent thought that we are all, always, not only teachers of our own children, but also teachers of the other children we come into contact with, not to mention all the other parents and people with whom we meet and mix and share ideas.

What we do in our own homes is the beginnings of a way of teaching the world, through our demonstrations and ideas.

You can inspire and teach others through your parenting. You can teach yourself as you grow and parent your child. And you will definitely be teaching the child, as you interact, nurture, care for and show them everything. You will also more importantly be teaching them what it is to be human – the single most valuable lesson of all. And this all happens just by you being human and humane and caring in the way you parent.

I now understand that the academic teaching teachers do in classrooms is insignificant to the other messages they give through their behaviour and example, and less significant than parents teaching their children what it is to be human, to care, to have compassion and consideration, empathy and tolerance. All of which impacts on other children, who in turn pass it on, and so on. And it impacts on their education. A caring child reacts to learning far differently to one who doesn’t.

So, in such ways, you teach and parent the world. Your example teaches best of all.

And that’s the most important thing about it which I didn’t get before.

Thus we are all of us teachers too.

Oooops – gender stereotyping alert!

20151231_120846Nothing like getting out on a decent day and sawing up the branches I’ve acquired on my walks through the trees.

It engages me with something basic that modern life removes me from. I like foraging for free fuel and sawing it up for the open fire. Wood being less pollutive than coal or the oil of the central heating.

The physicality of it, the accomplishment of it out in the elements, the contact with the outside, replenishes the wellbeing in ways other perhaps more sophisticated or sedentary pursuits do not.

I admit, I only do the small bits. Charles gets the chainsaw out for the big chunks (could be more pollutive, I know). But he likes his machines and the sounds of satisfying revving, where I like the silence.

I think it might be a man thing. Or is that just a gender stereotypical thing to say?

It put me in mind of our philosophy group’s last discussion which was a bit of a surprise. The chair posed a question as a warm up which was about gender: ‘say something positive about the opposite sex’ he posed!

Dumb silence ensued. Just a bit significant I thought!

Then, one by one, the males piped up and said nice things, but the females seemed at a bit of a loss. Which I also thought was significant. I couldn’t tell whether this was because they couldn’t actually think of anything or they thought the question a bit inane.

Finally, one woman said; ‘Well, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say here but one thing I’ve noticed is that they’re good at sawing wood’.

A giggle passed round the group. This was the last thing anyone was expecting. Yet I thought it summarised it quite nicely. We appreciate the physicality of men, providing a nice strong comforting arm.

Yet equally a female offers a strong comforting arm, don’t they?

This came back to me as I was sawing. That, and how difficult it is not to gender stereotype as I’ve done here, and more particularly as parents.

These days the traditional male and female roles (as we saw them) overlap, both the physical and the comforting, the providing and the caring. And I believe we all need elements of all in our lives whatever gender we are. We need to be self observational and mindful in order to fulfil our own basic needs and those of others, and physical, emotional, cerebral, strong, sensitive, whatever’s required – whatever gender.

And make sure the kids get a demonstration of that; the choice of playing any role that suits.

And how ironic that I should be thinking all this when this news item reports a call for more female role models across the curriculum. Curriculum, politics, manual or academic, both women and men need to be there to balance the skills, strengths and sensitivities each can bring.

It’s SO important that no one is denied opportunities because of gender stereotyping or traditional roles, and we as parents don’t inadvertently impose either on our boys or girls; just value each for who they are.

A Funny Kind of Christmas!

xmasbook 003In case you’re stuck for a book to give this Christmas thought I’d tempt you with a little Chrsitmassy extract from ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ – the heartfelt story of our family’s learning days at home, featuring several Christmas times..

“…With it being our third year of kids at home full time around Christmas you’d think we’d have engineered a plan for secrets. We decided we’d try honesty and appeal to their mature natures now that they were eleven and eight.

“Your dad and I are just going upstairs for a while and it’s important you don’t disturb us. Have you got things to do?”

“What for?” There was a little twinkle in Chelsea’s eye as she asked which reminded me distinctly of mum.

“It’s a secret,” I said smiling.

“A Christmas secret?” asked Charley also grinning now and knowing exactly what we were up to.

“Maybe,” said their dad. He tried to be mysterious but the girls are too clever for him. “So you won’t disturb us, will you?”

“Maybe!” returned Chelsea copying him and Charley smirked.

We went upstairs and de-hid all their presents from our various drawers.

“Do you think they’ll disturb us?” said Charles, cutting paper on the slant and wrestling to find the end of the sticky tape.

“I don’t think so, but look, we’ll turn back the bedcovers then if they come up whilst we’re wrapping we’ll throw the duvet over everything.” You have to be inventive when you’re a Home Educator.

“Do you remember doing this when they were at school,” I said.

“Yea, life was easy then,” he said grinning and spitting sticky tape from between his teeth.

“What? You think tears and illness every day were easy?” We laughed. I wrapped. He stuck. If he was in charge of the wrapping all the presents would look like parcels of fish and chips.

“No, it was awful. I can’t believe we’ve done this as long as we have. It just seems so ordinary now. You should hear the others at work going on about homework and packed lunches and stuff. Not to mention Christmas concert practises. They’re complaining the kids aren’t getting on with their learning” He stuck my finger to the parcel.

I extricated it and reached for some ribbon.

“I can imagine. Do they say anything about ours then?”

“Only how they can see why we do it.” He put his massive thumb on the delicate bow I created, squishing it. I tied his thumb down.

“Not enough for them to have a go though!” I laughed. Then the stairs creaked. Charles leapt off the bed, smacked his head on the sloping ceiling but still managed to toss the duvet over the presents as I stuffed the paper under the bed. We sat there and listened. Sniggering was coming from the landing.

“Go away,” Charles called.

“We’re not coming in, we’re only going to our rooms.” The giggling got fainter. We exchanged looks. Charles sneaked a peek through a crack in the old planked door.

“What they doing?” I whispered.

“They’ve gone into their bedrooms but their doors are open.”

“Let’s carry on. I don’t think they’ll come in. They wouldn’t want to spoil their Christmas surprises. Besides, I think Chelsea’s becoming aware of other things that go on in bedrooms!”

Charles raised his eyebrows in glee. “In that case, perhaps we should make good use of it.”

“What? You think you could enjoy sex with giggling going on at the bedroom door and creaking floorboards?” We laughed like naughty kids but continued wrapping.

“What you laughing at?” came from right outside the door. We bundled the duvet back over everything once more.

“Never you mind. Go back downstairs,” I shouted. I crept over and peeped to see if there was any peeping coming from the other side the crack. None.

“Come on, let’s get it done before they come up again.” The rest were wrapped in haste and I fear my parcels looked like fish and chips too.

Charley looked shocked and uncomfortable. Her face was full of both thunder and distress and very red. Her eyes looked like they were going to fill up any minute. She turned her head away and would not look at Charles or me either.

Chelsea just folded her arms across her chest, adopted her most disdainful position and stated emphatically “If anyone asks; you are not my dad.”

Charles couldn’t help it. All the staff were told to dress up for the Christmas market for charity but the girls weren’t impressed. And Charley absolutely hated anyone dressed up in costume.  I got a bit of a shock myself seeing this large rotund red fellow with two cushions up his jacket and his face adorned with a mass of flowing white stuff. It’s very off-putting seeing someone who you are as familiar with as your own body parts taking on another persona. He was sweating so much the bits of his face you could see were authentically shining as Santa’s does in all the pictures. It did the trick. A good crowd had gathered at the store and money was being thrown continually in the charity bucket.

“God, I keep losing my trousers,” he said grabbing a handful of red bottom and hoisting it up. I couldn’t help laughing.

“I knew you’d laugh,” he said.

“Sorry, I’m not laughing at you, it’s just your trousers.” I tried to help. But grappling with Santa’s trousers seemed even funnier. Obviously everyone else thought so too as two more pounds went in the bucket. It’s not every day people see Santa being groped.

“Do you have to behave like that?” demanded Chelsea, standing holding Charley’s hand a little bit distant whilst we tried to control our hysteria. She still wouldn’t look at him.

“Have a sweetie,” said Charles holding out the bucket to her.

“No!”

“It’s only a bit of fun,” I said.

“You look stupid.”

I didn’t care, I was in the Christmas spirit. I had a quick snog with Santa and left him to his collecting.

“We’ll go look round the Christmas Market. See you later.”

“Okay. See you later girls.” They ignored him and pulled me away. But Chelsea called back over her shoulder.

“Save us some sweeties, dad.”

We bought a few Christmas presents and then had to get some new wellies for Chelsea. Charley just got the hand-me-downs but she was still at the stage where anything of Chelsea’s was revered. Wellies had taken on a new persona of their own in the shops. They were more pictorial than the efforts we see in the Tate Modern and a hell of a price. I refused to be ripped off, plus the fact we had tight budgets. But Chelsea ogled the bright ones wistfully.

“I’m sorry darling, these will have to do. The others are just too expensive,” I said picking up the plain green ones, the cheapest we could find. I felt a bit wretched about this. In order to Home Educate, time isn’t the only thing we sacrifice and all I ever seem to say is ‘we can’t afford it’. But she’s so intuitive she must have picked up on it.

“It doesn’t matter mum. I’ll paint my own with the paints we got from the recycling centre.”

I was so grateful for her magnitude I cuddled her up. “What a brilliant idea! And I bet they’ll be better than any in the shops.”

“Yea, and no one else will have any the same,” she said looking at a girl wearing some we’d just seen in Woolworths.

“Can I paint mine too?” asked Charley.

“Sure. We’ll have a wellie painting session. We could even paint your dad’s,” I said winking at them. They really liked that idea.

When we went back later Charles looked his normal self again. He opened his arms to Charley and she leapt into them with clear relief. Chelsea lobbed her arms round his waist.

“Is that better now?” he asked carrying Charley to the car. She inspected him slightly doubtfully. Chelsea smiled happily up at him holding the free hand.

“You did look daft, dad,” she giggled.

“Did you remember the sweets?” asked Charley.

He put her down and produced a packet from his pocket. Finally Charley grinned at him too. It was definitely better now.

“Mum! You can’t go out like that,” Chelsea said as I tied tinsel on my shoes ready for a Christmas party.

“Why not? It’s Christmas isn’t it.” I looked at her in feigned indignation. She’d got that suffering look on again.

“Doh! What do you look like?” She was getting to be a right Tweenager.

“I think you look nice,” said Charley clasping my leg in a cuddle from the carpet where she was building a structure with our logs.

“Well at least put some lipstick on,” said Chelsea still trying to make something out of me. She rummaged in a make up bag so extensive it would be the envy of Julian Clary. “How about this?” She produced something nearly black.

“Black?” I shrieked. “It’s Christmas, not Halloween.”

“It’s not black, it’s plum.”

“I’ll have some,” said Charley hopefully. She was ignored. I sneaked a look in the bag of sticky powdery tubs and jars and pencils. It staggered me how she loved it so, I wasn’t into it at all. But I humoured her and found a jar of lovely sparkly glittery gluey stuff with sequin stars in.

“Ooo, this is nice.” I opened the pot and smeared some across my chest. It made grubby stains as if I hadn’t washed for a week. “Oh!” I looked in the mirror, disappointed.

“Oh, mum, not like that.” Chelsea took over and I had the sense our mother and daughter roles were reversing. She wiped it about and the smudges disappeared leaving a myriad of glistening sparkles. Then she added the sequins.

“Can I have some?” asked Charley again, thinking her sister had softened her attitude.

“No!” was the emphatic retort.

“Can I have some then?” asked Charles.

“NO!” they both shrieked together. And give us their parents-are-prats look.

We finished getting ready.

“So do we look alright now?” I asked.

“Yes.” They smile united. But I couldn’t help a last word.

“You know it’s not how you look, it’s what’s inside that counts.”

“Yes, we know!”

They know too much, my kids.

Christmas continued sparkly all the way through.

The best thing about it was the painted wellies. They were works of art fit for exhibiting in The Tate themselves, with swirls and colours and rainbows. If I’d bought the coloured ones we never would have had such creativity. Being on a tight budget certainly makes you think creatively so maybe I shouldn’t worry after all. Charley painted gold stars on hers. But she painted straight over the mud so the stars had a brown tinge.

Charles and I used the ‘holiday’ from education to ignore the children and just live life. But it didn’t work. We didn’t want it to really. We were a family, we were a team. Life and education were as indistinguishable from one another as our family and love. I suspected it always would be.”