“Boring school”. This is what Winnie the Pooh heard when Christopher Robin tells him that he is off to boarding school; a moment when he has to say good bye to friends. How things have changed! Boarding school is anything but boring; and boarding school is where lifelong friendships are forged.
Harper Lee once said that you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it. After almost twenty years of houseparenting, I have finally “climbed” in to the skin of a boarding parent. I thought that I had heard it all, seen it all and felt it all. This all changed when I helped my son get ready for full-time boarding in Year 9.
There are a few things I would like to clear up for those potential boarders’ parents and the current family of boarders dotted all around the country (and indeed the world). Boarding is a choice. And it is a decision that should be made with the input of everyone in the family. Parents do not stop being parents and they certainly do not “drop their children off at boarding school”. Boarding only works if the child, the parents, indeed the whole family and the school are all in it together. It is a most magical journey of discovery. I will say again, boarding is a choice – a choice a family makes together.
Boarders are incredibly fortunate children. Their boarding houses and boarding staff are not their replacement family – they are additions to their life’s rich tapestry. Many boarding schools speak about “Home away from home” – I completely understand their sentiments and thoughts behind this, but it is not home and it shouldn’t pretend to be home. What it is, is a place where a child can feel loved and parented; where a child can make life-long friendships; develop character and resilience; and importantly, make the most out of all that an independent education offers. Home is still home and parents should still be massively involved in their children’s lives. While at school, parents should not feel guilty about phoning, sending letters and smuggling in the odd treat! This is not bribing or appeasing a guilty conscience, it is being actively involved. Boarding is a choice and we should celebrate this choice and journey of discovery.
Parents need to regain their confidence and stand firm in their decision. It should not be something that is whispered in conversations and it certainly should not be something that parents should feel guilty about. We have never in all of our years of being houseparents, felt sorry for a child. Never. We have always seen children develop and grow at a rate that is quite honestly staggering and inspiring. These children are able to stand tall and be confident individuals, safe in the knowledge that they are loved deeply by their families and cared for by their boarding staff.
Of course, we miss our children. But we still love them and we still have a huge part to play in their development. The strong family bond is not broken by being at boarding school; our parenting has not been placed on pause, whilst the boarding staff take over; if anything, our parenting has been strengthened and evolved. Communicate with your child and with their houseparents and matrons; this is not fuelled by guilt but by a desire to take this journey together! Boarding is a positive choice; be proud of the choice and let’s enjoy the experience as much as our children will. You are giving your child an amazing opportunity to flourish in a safe and enriching environment.
I will leave you with this from Pope Francis: “Life is a journey. When we stop, things don’t go right”; in that case, take your child’s hand and enjoy the boarding journey together.