Am I a Bad Dad?
By Ash B
I’m a pretty simple, average dad, no expert, but like so many of you, I want the best for my family. The hassles of school had caused me to consider home educating on many occasions prior to beginning our family’s journey. One of my main objections to home educating was personal, it suited me too much and felt like it was probably more for me than the kids: we could go away whenever it suited me, it fit with my flexible work, education, lifestyle and so on. We’re in a win-lose world right? Don’t I have to lose for my kids to win? I didn’t want to be irresponsible and ruin my kids! What might they miss out on? I’m not a trained teacher. Are my wife and I really capable? What if we stuff up our kids? I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has stressed over these questions.
Then came 2020 and COVID lockdown. Initially, we purchased devices for the kids to do school online, but the hassle and waste of time forced us over the line. Half a day in front of the screen doing office work is a strain on my adult brain! What would it be like for my kids? I reasoned 2020 would be a write-off anyhow, so if we stuffed up a year home educating, we’d just have to repeat it the next year. We were very fortunate in having friends and family who were current or past home educators and were only too happy to help – ask and you will receive! We had an overload of help to wade through, but we would never have had the confidence to step out on our own, so I’m forever indebted to those who helped us get started and continue to help us along the road.
The Things That Haunt Us
If there’s a key point to this article, it’s about dealing with the anxieties that constantly bombard us. The usual clichés of well-meaning friends regarding our kids not reaching their full potential, socialisation, etc., etc. I’m sure you all know the drill! I’m well aware of my confirmation bias – how we as humans subconsciously gravitate to information that suits our agenda and throw out whatever may challenge our thinking – and I didn’t want to simply look for information that suited my decision to home educate.
Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with friends and family who are professional teachers to bounce things off, and as a family, we run an outdoor adventure business which caters to schools, so I’m constantly around teachers, students and the education system as a whole. The more I ask, read and research, the more I realise how little I know. However, I’ve come across a few helpful insights that have calmed my nerves and I’d love to share them with others who might be struggling with similar anxieties.
Yes, learning to live in our society is very important. However, I believe the family unit needs to be central to socialisation, not an institution. I’m becoming more and more concerned about an attitude within certain hierarchies of the education system that push an ideology of not simply educating, but discipling our kids to fit a certain world view, and encouraging our kids to throw away any ‘outdated’ or unfashionable ideas that their ‘bad parents’ may have forced upon them. I was speaking to a close family member who’s been a teacher for twenty-plus years about my worries on the subject of socialisation to which he replied, ‘Ash, I think school is more about institutionalisation than socialisation.’
For some of us, school works to make us feel like rejects because we don’t fit the system which, ironically, works against healthy socialisation. The number of guys I’ve talked to over the years that said school was like a prison sentence that they couldn’t wait to escape made me realise it wasn’t just me. People who are institutionalised by prison may find it hard to socially adjust to the real world, and the same could be said for schools.
FOMO and Falling Behind
Yes our kids will miss out on some things; some things that I wish they didn’t miss out on, but a great many things I’m glad they’re missing out on! I recently had a concerned friend chastise me that my children were missing out. That they would get behind and not reach their full potential and that I was just trying to force my idealism on my family to their long-term detriment. I wish I could say it was water off a duck’s back, but that nagging ‘you’re a bad dad’ anxiety is hard to squish. This concerned friend’s grandchild had started learning persuasive essays in grade five and mine were not. I have no real opinion on whether this is a good, bad or indifferent idea, but I am a little sceptical. Not long after, my niece, who is in middle primary school, was lamenting to me that she was getting behind because she went on a family holiday and missed a week at school when she should have been learning persuasive writing. I do vaguely remember learning argumentative essay writing in secondary school, forgetting everything I learnt (not surprising when I didn’t need to use it), and then, at the age of forty- plus, wanting to learn the skill. I found a friend who was quite skilled in this area, got some tips, and over a period of time got three opinion pieces published in a national newspaper. So I don’t buy the myth of being left behind (and the baggage of anxiety that accompanies it).
Thankfully, being in a seasonal business, I have plenty of downtime to read, and one of the books I read which backs up this point with multiple examples is David Epstein’s Range. Epstein writes about the ‘tiger’ parenting style that governed Tiger Woods and then compares it against the much more relaxed style that Roger Federer grew up in. Both are amazingly successful, which supports a point in itself, but my key takeaway was this: whose behaviour would you rather your kids emulate? What character would you be building in your kids by treating them as a walking resume where achievement is the number one value? Am I really caring about my kids, or what people think of me?: ‘Look how good a parent I am, my kids are so successful’.
I remember talking to a Chinese work colleague when I used to work at the Penguin Parade regarding the pushiness we were encountering from many mainland Chinese tourists. I thought it was simple: if you come from a country of one billion people, you don’t get anywhere if you don’t push. She told me that it wasn’t always so, other countries are as densely populated, if not more so, and it’s not an issue. Her opinion was that it was a generational issue brought about by the one-child policy. All the parents’ efforts and resources were poured into that one child, to give them the best competitive advantage, and in short, had made them entitled, selfish brats! What an insight! What kind of character are we trying to instil into our kids? What kind of society are we building as a whole?
Time To Breathe
Life is not perfect, you can’t have it all and you will make mistakes. However, what are your children, and more broadly your family, gaining that families in the education system will miss out on? If nothing else, time. Time is one of the most precious resources we have. Money comes and goes, careers come and go, but time only ever goes – it never comes back – so don’t waste it! Facilitating school camps, I regularly see an attitude that wants to fill every space of time with activity. While this is great for my business, and there may be times when this is a good idea, personal downtime is very necessary for good development and creative thinking. A fast-paced, always-on-the-go lifestyle is like a fast-food lifestyle; ok occasionally, but not good for you long term.
In his book Rest: why you get more done when you work less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang documents how necessary downtime is for getting ‘worthwhile things done’. The book documents a study which followed a number of scientists and their academic output. The findings seemed very counter intuitive: those who worked excessive hours had less success than those who worked around ten to twenty hours per week.
Wins All Round
The good news is home educating can be a win-win process: you all score time, a non-anxious pace, strong family relationships, a diversity of real-life experiences, and so on. There are so many advantages that are dawning on me as I look back at the past three years. Home educating requires sacrifices on your part, but you just may avoid sacrificing your kids on the altar of anxiety, FOMO, unrealistic ideals of ‘success’, ideologies that force a wedge between parents and their kids, and a system that encourages and rewards selfish ambition.
We take on home educating for a variety of reasons. We all make mistakes and will continue to make mistakes along the road (the best way to learn, right?), but one thing we all share is a concern for the long-term welfare of our families. So good on you for taking on this challenge, you’re not alone!
Otherways 175 (Feb 2023)Last updated on