Back in the olden days, when I first set about home education, I was full of ideas and excitement about how it would go. I thought I would give my children a classic education which allowed them to know about and understand and have time to explore so many of the things that I wanted to have time for as a child – and just didn’t. I planned for them to have endless time to read with an unending supply of new and delicious books, I planned for them to sew well and knit and cross stitch and learn languages. I hoped we’d travel and spend hours reading together, drawing, crafting and creating a perfect childhood to look back on to fit them for life.
I bargained without a variety of things; I didn’t plan for technology changing daily life so very much that even reading a book would become altered and digital. I didn’t plan for a variety of life events and the demands of 4 small children without a chalet school coadjutor to help out. I didn’t plan for the internet and Club Penguin, DS’s and all day TV or owning a toy shop or messy, mostly disinterested in finicky crafts children. Whatever the gain of lots of those things (brilliant internet, great TV, socialising with video games and less crafts but more sports) they shook up and took apart the rose tinted spectacle I had in mind as a childhood I wanted to provide.
I had some very clear goals. I wanted my children to enjoy knowledge and learning (for which I award a tick) and I wanted them to be outwardly confident and have lots of different skills that would make themselves feel good about their mind and body (for which, within the parameters of each personality, I also award a tick). There was one thing I wanted desperately to manage and it came from a deep seated sense of paralysing competition in my own childhood. I wanted desperately not to turn them off or away from things that mattered to me, that I was good at or enjoyed because my lasting sense from being young was of being either in competition with a parent or determinedly hating anything they were interested in that they tried to share with me.
On reflection, it is harder to see that as a a parenting failure and easier to see it as a bit of a flaw in my own personality. I wonder if it relates to my own tendency – still – not to want to be taught anything by person or instructions. My earliest recollection of it comes from when I first played the flute. I was thrilled by it and wanted to play all the time. My dad caught the bug and bought his own flute, took lessons and tried to inspire me further with a race to grade 3 and then 4. But far from being inspired, I was furious, lost my drive to do well at this thing which had been especially mine and lost interest. Perhaps it was fear of being bested (something I certainly struggle with) or perhaps I was just being churlish. I think he was driven to beat me – so maybe we both had flaws – but I think I was the greatest loser in the end.
Similar happened when my mum got interested in steam trains. By rights, being a child who loved history, adored nostalgia and had a heart that beat in time with almost any hard luck story, I should have been delighted by her interest, explored it with her and learned all the ins and outs of death by Dr Beecham. But instead I turned up my nose and withdrew, determined not to be taught anything. I’ve attributed this long to the tyranny of school, of making everything a learning experience and being sick and tired of being educated. Now I think perhaps it was as much a character failing as anything – a pig headed push away gene exacerbated by a not terribly together-in-spirit family.
I’ve had my own passions over the years, which were no more understood by professional scientist and journalist parents than I understood them. Falling in love with the Chalet School books, gorging myself of fusty smelling books of yesteryear, crafting and spending money on art supplies I sometimes hoarded with delight instead of actually using (I’m still working on overcoming that particular trait!) No one in my family understood the hours I spent in theatres, or fiddling away making models to sell for peanuts because the thrill of the sale was the biggest driver, or knitting and being delighted in creating some small and imperfect thing. My large collection of My Little Ponies, not once but twice (yes, once in adulthood!) is harder for me to understand now, so I’m certain I can see why no one else got the appeal 😉
I’ve tried really hard not to switch my girls off by getting involved in their passions or pushing mine on them. I’ve delighted in them loving theatre, music and dance but I’ve kept well out of it and not got involved. It occurred to me the other day that I was surrounded by music in my teens but I haven’t played an of the musicals I loved to them. I have no idea why. I’ve done less Fimo modelling as Maddy did more, tried not to push my book choices on them too hard or take up an interest that they’ve happened upon. I wonder now if I’ve tried too hard. What they are is miraculous, but there is relatively little in any of them that I feel I have passed down or passed on. Maybe that is what we have grandchildren for, or maybe I just got it wrong. The seem to love having Max involved in their rugby club and I worry now that when they look back on their childhood instead of seeing what I tried to give, an unencumbered right to be interested and possessed by their own passions and the owner of their education, they’ll think I just wasn’t interested.
But I was.