Sunday, 17 January 2010

The social respectability of the home educating parent

I lost a friend recently. At least, a friendly acquaintance who had known me and my children from when our youngsters were quite small.

We ran into each other, had a brief chat, and arranged to meet for a comfortable cup of tea and cosy catch-up natter.

She works and her children have had all hell break loose at school. The eldest is a fine young man (they are both lovely young men) and is a strong individualist. Naturally, school did not suit him nor, naturally, did he suit school.

There were ructions.

Friend, L, works. She and her husband both work. This is relevant, I think.

L and I ran into interpersonal ructions over working and motherhood and responsibility to one's children. Frankly, I think I was put on this earth to mother my children, that they come first because they are not adult and, putatively, able to look after themselves, and when they encountered a surfeit of stress, anxiety and strain at school, after trying quite a lot of strategies, I took them out of that place.

They didn't suit it and it didn't suit them. I was more bothered about school not suiting my children than the opposite. My children are not in existence to please a shoal of misguided bureaucrats and an outmoded, damaging institution.

L started off by polishing her children's achievements in front of me, especially those of her younger son because he had more GCSEs. That got me a little narked. I mean it's hard not to say what a bunch of useless accomplishments your child has been conned into, but I bit my tongue.

I wanted to tell her that she had better have used her time keeping her young at home and joying with them as they journeyed into true learning. More tongue biting. Once or twice my poor tongue was raw (and painful).

Eventually, L went off in a fine huff. She doesn't care for non-working women who spend her tax pounds. That I am not a woman spending her tax pounds didn't seem to matter. I have been thinking over the whole situation and have come up with this:

I am no longer a person with social respectability. I'm not socially respectable. I don't do respectable any more because I don't do what I'm expected to do (sail out to a useless, meaningless, soul-destroying job every day rain or shine, heaps of snow or ice). My respectable position as a wife/mother/partner/worker/bitcher about what-my-children-don't-do-that-they-should-do has disintegrated.

I cannot face L because she disapproves of me. I cannot face her because I disapprove of her. Now we have nothing in common but the brief time of a shared past and that is, apparently, not enough. Her prejudices have conquered her. My prejudices have conquered me.

This is the second time I've lost a 'friend' that way. R was a friend I thought I'd have for life. Same deal. Working. Child bullied. Wouldn't give up work to protect child. End of story. Except that I told her what I thought. Goodbye, R.

I really do attempt to understand them. I do. Even more, I attempt not to judge them. I do.

Christmas 2009 I sent and received fewer cards.

No loss there then.


  1. Been there, done that, your very existence is a criticism and a legitimate one. To be honest I can't be bothered any more with relationships that involve the biting of tongues.

  2. Michael & I were talking about this tonight-and laughed because if the kids were in school fulltime, I still wouldn't work. We can live on one income, and I'd rather be here taking care of things for all of us, than working all week & running around all weekend getting things done. That's not life.

    Funny though-everyone knew we were going to home ed (before I gave birth)-and the friendships lasted till the kids started school--then I think the differences were too much, on both sides.

  3. My mother-in-law used to like to say how "lucky" we were that all our kids were doing so well, as opposed to certain other relatives who were not so "lucky." My mother-in-law, of course, hates me, and used to love to say to me that she, a teacher, had always felt it was her responsibility to help "support" her family by working. Unlike parasite me, in other words. Fortunately, my husband has paid any attention to his parents since he was about five. Yet he turned out extremely well, in my opinion. Yes, they were indeed "lucky," but I don't think we are. Our children are the logical result of a family devoted to the best interests of the child. People just don't seem to get that yes, that actually makes a difference in a child's life. It isn't luck.

  4. it's all about mission creep isn't it? It has gone from trying to help women who want to to go out to work, to turning us all into little economic units until children are just an inconvenient encumbrance. If you don't 'go out to work' these days you're seen as lazy or thick.

  5. Good for you. Stay un-respectable.

  6. Yep, I recognize this so well. Actually, it's not just the mothers who've dropped their old career entirely that get it in the neck.

    The fact that I drastically reduced my hours to the bare minimum that kept me off the dole means I'm always viewed with suspicion by female co-workers who've done things the usual way. To choose to put children first and to throw away opportunities for career "advancement" (another myth) is deeply unrespectable and seen as betraying the 'sisterhood'. Funny that women seem to work ever harder, spread themselves thinner and suffer ever more since the powers that be hijacked feminism in the name of brute economics!

    Here's to unrespectability!!

  7. Great post, I can relate to this so much.
    Its amazing the difference now I can justify my existence as a 'worker' (even part time and freelance), rather than 'just' a mum and home educator. I've seen a huge difference in the way people react and communicate with me. I find it quite sad that this (relatively) small part of my life is what identifies me - the mum/HE bit is far more important in the big scheme of things.

  8. Ah yes, been there, done that.
    I had it said to my face that I was wasting my talent as I stay home. Someone else said that his (ex)wife was lazy because she was a SAHM. Weirdly he seemed to have forgotten that I was as well!
    I just don't care any more. I don't care about those who are never satisfied no matter how well my kids do-because no matter what EHE is bad. I give up and get on.

  9. Feminism was never about making things better for women, it was about bringing us to the point us *unrespectables* are now at. It was a very successful *ism* by the seems of it.

  10. Love this. You really have exposed the stupidity of the argument. I have never understood how parents can return their kids to school day after after day knowing that they are being harmed by it.

    The reason you have lost these friends is that you have put a mirror up to them and their ideals and they are shocked by what they see.

  11. Who needs friends when you have happy children?