*WARNING: this blog post contains vast generalisations - do not read if sensitive to such things*
So, having had a lovely holiday - change of scenery, glorious weather, the lot - and having had a few days back at home of not doing very much in particular, I've been mulling over why I felt so stressed before - after all, if I can change anything so it doesn't happen again, that would be really helpful for the sake of my own sanity, and the well-being of those around me (because nobody benefits when Mummy is being a grumpy old bag)! There are a couple of things that have stood out to me that I can change:
Firstly, housework. I realised I've never before been in the position of being at home with three lively mess-makers full-time. I absolutely LOVE having them here, and wouldn't change that for the world - but the mess situation (i.e. having to deal with it every day) - well, I know how poor old Sisyphus felt. Home Ed is not an eternal punishment, but the housework sure feels like it. So I figure we need to find new ways of dealing with it. A friend of mine is a big fan of Fly Lady - and I have to say, I am looking at her website again with interest. I had a go at using her system before, but I really struggled with her obsession for polishing taps and wearing shoes to do housework. I have always preferred going barefoot (didn't wear shoes at all for several years in my late teens) and last time I attempted a Fly Lady routine I had enamel taps - so we just got off to a bad start. This time I figure I'll just ignore the shoe obsession, and see what other help she can give me. Whether I stick to a Fly Lady system or not though, I really do need some kind of routine. Eg I find if I don't make a habit of loading the dishwasher & laundry first thing, it doesn't happen. I also neeed to get the boys used to helping as routine, not just on the occasions when I remember to ask them. That's probably going to be my next project.
Secondly, I have left one or two HE forums that I was member of but which I realised were dragging me down. Don't get me wrong: I'm still an advocate of finding support online - Facebook groups being my most loved method - I'm still member of a local group where the Home Edders who I have personally met also belong (to a person they are lovely and encouraging people who are great to hang out with). I'm also a member of a national group which is really helpful for keeping up to date with important news, like the current proposed developments in Wales, putting a large group initiative together such as this HE Awareness campaign (thanks Chez for organising us all), and also when in need of general advice/ encouragement. However, there was another group where there was some interaction that was getting me down, as I felt I couldn't say what I thought without others 'having a go'. Healthy debate I have no problem with, but I won't stick around if it feels personal. You see, people who choose home education for their children are generally pretty strong individuals - they have to be, to be willing to 'go against the flow' of what is considered normal. This strength is an awesome gift, but has its negative side. Strong opinions and forceful personalities can come across as intolerance online, where no matter how many emoticons you use it's still really easy to misinterpret the perceived tone of voice behind the text. Anyway my life is 'interesting' enough without stressing myself out by arguing with people I don't really know.
There seem to be four main groups that Home Educators fall into: the "hippies" or free-thinkers (many of whom never put their child into school); those with Special Needs children; those whose children were let down by the school system (which often includes but is not exclusive to children with special needs); and those doing it for reasons of faith. Obviously there are also those who don't fit into any group, and those who fit into more than one (including my family). Forgive the vast and loose generalisations, but I wanted to avoid going into unnecessary detail, just to make my point. Point being, we may have Home Education in common, and the necessary strength required to be able to follow that path, but that doesn't mean we will all agree. Those who have a strong faith may well clash with the free-thinkers; those with special needs children may feel misunderstood by those with "normal" children (whatever normal means). Also within all of these groups there are other sub-sets - those who see the LA as the enemy; those who believe monitoring has validity, and those who are ambivalent. The nastiest fights I have seen online has been when the LA issue was raised, so I'm going to say no more on that subject for now (though I have blogged about it before, and doubtless will do so again another day). There are also differences between those who follow a structured course of HE; those who are completely autonomous, and those somewhere in the middle. This brings me to the third area that caused me stress - NOT (I hasten to add) because of any individual person demanding that I conform to a particular way, but because the perceived over all impression that fully autonomous is the "best" way to do it. It's hard to put my finger on how or where I deduced that, but for me it was summed up when a friend decided to go vegetarian for a while (excuse the seeming digression), and was quickly told by some presumably well-meaning but judgemental friend (my words not hers) that she wasn't doing it 'properly'. It's like there is a kind of hierarchy where the bottom tier is made of those who eat meat but make sure it's all organic, free-range etc. The next tier up don't eat meat but do eat fish... then come those who don't eat fish but do eat dairy... and then on the top are the morally superior vegans who (if they choose) can look down on the rest just trying to do their best and live their lives the way that works for them. (Sorry vegans, those of you who I know are lovely and non judgemental - again, I'm just trying to make a point). Anyway, when my friend shared her struggle with the 'vegetarian' label I realised that I have been struggling with the whole "autonomous" label. I don't want to announce that we are Autonomous Home Educators, because I have this feeling that people will be watching (partly my own fault for having a blog and inviting people to watch), and will judge that we're not doing "autonomous" properly - enter another moral hierarchy, starting with those on the bottom who are 'using structured curricula but at least their kids aren't in school', to those at the top who are fully autonomous, don't tell their kids what to do, yet still have beautifully behaved, rounded, well-educated children.
Let me just pause to say I KNOW this is utterly ridiculous. None of the Home Edders I have met have given me any reason to believe that they are judging the way my boys are learning (apart from one light-hearted comment about being watched to see how a 'teacher' does HE). So why do I feel criticised? Yes there's the blog (again, my own fault) - but it's not just that. I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way - I've seen other people almost apologising for using a kind of structure, Anyway, blah-de-blah... That was a long-winded waffle about why I got stressed. Somehow I had formed a perception of a general consensus that there is a moral rectitude in autonomous education that gets diluted the more structure you introduce. I know this is utter piffle, but I know others have felt it too - and that is my reason for writing: to expose it as the bunkum it is - so I can come back to this next time I get stressed and read the following note to myself (and anyone else who needs it):
"You do not have to choose any one method of Home Educating. In fact the most effective form of Home Education seems to be utterly flexible, moving between autonomy, structure and anything else that helps each child to find, develop and express themselves. You do not have to limit yourself to any one way of learning - nor restrict each child to a certain way of learning. Just as with age they change and grow into different sizes of clothing, the older they get so will their learning needs change. Read the blogs and books that encourage you and that give you ideas to try - but hold it all loosely. You do not have to copy someone else (education is neither a race nor a competition). Follow your instincts and your children's needs at the time. You'll never have this time with them again - enjoy!"