Mum, Dad... We've got something to tell you!
*Harp glissando and shimmery dreamy blur as Nanna drifts off to sleep*
You lag behind as your two grandchildren - perhaps 10 and 8 years old now - skip barefoot down a country lane in front of you. Suddenly they turn off the path and run into the woods; you try to catch up and follow them, using two hands to part your way through the thick undergrowth that they navigated with ease. You come to a clearing which transforms into a bustling school playground, where you feel at ease, but they look odd and out of place. Their brightly coloured clothes stand out against the navy blues and greys of the school uniforms that surround them. A few children begin to shout abuse at them- you can’t make out the words but the sentiment is clear. More children join in with the chanting, until the deafening noise rings in your ears. Your two seem oblivious, holding each other’s hands and spinning round and round until your eyes can no longer separate one from the other. You run towards them, shouting their names above the din of the playground chorus, wanting to scoop them up into the safety of your arms, when they stop spinning and turn their heads slowly towards you. Their eyes are bloodshot red, staring beyond you into the distance, and cannabis roll-ups hang limply between each of their lips. As you reach them, they they both reach up and hurriedly unbutton your shirt dress, clawing desperately at your bra before latching on to breastfeed…
*Loud staccato stabs from “Psycho” shower scene wake Nanna up, sweating and hyperventilating from the same recurring nightmare that she has already had three times this week…*
Home education, many people seem to think, is just one step away from living barefoot in a commune, becoming fruitarian and breastfeeding your children until they are 12. So don’t be surprised if, when you tell your parents that their precious grandchildren are not going to school, the news is greeted with a mixture of shock, horror and mourning. Shock that you would even think about doing something so…so… weird! Horror that the children are going to be living barefoot in a commune with lots of psychoactive drugs and no running water, and mourning for the loss of normality that they had lovingly envisioned for your future.
After the initial shock, they may well display some of the “five stages of grief” coined by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in the 60s - familiarising yourself with this model will prepare you for what Nanna and Grandpa may throw at you once they find out you are home educating. You may not encounter all these reactions, and they may not come in this order, but you can be pretty sure at least one or two of them will appear…
DENIAL - (You haven't really thought this through)
- you say that now…but you wait until the time comes and everybody else is going to school- you’ll soon change your mind!
- But what about socialisation- how are they going to make any friends?
- You don’t really want to be stuck at home with the kids all day do you? They’ll drive you mad!
ANGER - (Your choice to home educate offends me)
- So are you saying that we were wrong for sending you to school?
- We had to send you to school, otherwise we couldn't have worked and paid the mortgage!
- How are they going to do their exams/ get a job?
- Your new age ideas are going to mess up their life chances!
- Homeschooled kids are a bit weird, everybody knows that!
BARGAINING - (Why can’t you just be normal like everybody else?!)
- Why don’t you just send them to school and get a tutor on the side?
- Why don't you just home educate for one or two days a week, and send them to proper school for the rest of the week?
- Is it because your local schools are all bad? What if we help you with the cost of private school fees?
DEPRESSION - (You have really let me down)
- *Big sigh* I guess I’ll never get to go to their nativity plays and sports days then.
- It’s such a shame they’ll never get to ______ (fill in the blank with any school-related activity).
- I had high hopes for those children, but now… (awkward silence)
ACCEPTANCE - (Wow, I guess you are really doing this. Now I have to work out how to tell my friends)
- How are you going to get hold of the curriculum?
- So how does all this home education stuff work then?
- Will they still be able to go to University?
How do you deal with these reactions? Well firstly, give your family members time and space to process it. Similar to grieving after any other significant loss, people usually take a while come around to their new reality. Giving them gentle nudges now and again with helpful information or links to online articles may be more effective than a blazing row about why you don’t want to send the child(ren) to school. Your tongue will likely be red raw from all the times you will have to bite it rather than snap back with sarcastic answers to their infuriating comments. But once they see that your children are happy, healthy and flourishing, your family are likely to get on board, and could later become your biggest advocates. You will probably need to call on them for support in the future, so don’t shoot yourself in the foot by irreparably damaging the relationship.
If, for one reason or another, you end up in a position where you are home educating without the support of your parents and wider family, it is vital to try and meet other local home educators, who will be able to offer genuine support and understanding, as they may have gone through similar issues. You may need to step out of your comfort zone and “friend date” until you make meaningful connections with other people from your new tribe, but it will be worth it- the edventures on the road ahead will be much more fun if you have people to share them with!