I thought I was alright. I was actually quite bullish about it all. I looked around me and felt and knew how lucky we were that home, for us, is a safe place. That our family, although individually capable of being utter bastards at times, is fine.
It would all just be like a slow Saturday on repeat. How hard can that be? And look – the shops are open again and full. And look – the sun in shining!
And yet as term started again there has been something slightly wrong, something a little off. It’s me, it must be me. Having been very determined and headstrong to do no formal homeschool thing, I thought for some reason that I would try again. And I suddenly became headstrong and gripped with the importance of it.
My children resisted, they hate it, forcefully. Something to do with the wrong and bad cross-over of school and home. They don’t want to see their teacher’s faces while they’re sitting at the kitchen table. They don’t want to sit through 20 other kids doing their presentations. They feel claustrophobic and weird with the headphones on.
It’s all glitchy.
And there were threats and refusals and stampy disappearances upstairs and I suddenly feel like I am failing them. Or that they are failing me.
It doesn’t help that I am not a good teacher, I’m not fun or interesting or child-like or anything. I wasn’t child-like when I was an actual child. It also doesn’t help that my husband, when he takes a “lesson” with the kids is brilliant and all I hear from downstairs when he is in the hot seat is gales of laughter and then I am called down to see a performance of the Jabberwock complete with elaborate faces and roaring and a jittering-about that they would never, ever do for me. That it would even occur to me to ask them to do.
My children look at me and see a receptacle for empty packets of things and a distributer of snacks and glasses of water. The crossover to any sort of teaching is ludicrous and disgusting and they hate it as much as some children don’t want the different foods touching each other.
At lunchtime yesterday when my children had eaten and were set free to watch something on the telly I sat on my kitchen floor with my knees drawn up and I just really, really felt quite emotionally uneven and unwell within myself in a way I haven’t for years. And keeping the Other People in your mind helps but when that greyness comes for you and the walls start to wriggle infinitesimally inwards, it’s hard to maintain perspective.
Anyway I sat like that for what felt like ten minutes, though it was probably far less than that and then I got up and necked a Starflower oil and cleaned the kitchen again, properly and cleared all that shite off the end that had been hanging about – you know, packets of rice and sauces that I hadn’t been bothered to put back in the cupboard, a hat, an empty box, a packet of cat food – and I cleaned and wiped and moved the chairs back to under the kitchen table. And the tidy kitchen made me feel better for a moment.
Needless to say, I have abandoned the formal teaching again and we will talk about what takes our fancy, be it the 7 Wonders of the World, or What is the Biggest Country in the World or the dreaded Why Is the Sky Blue. Also, I’m sure: is the cat pregnant? Can I have a sandwich and: Mum, Can Preston Playz Come to My Birthday party?
Moving on, I must apologise – yesterday I requested some readers for a side-project I am working on and I only needed perhaps 5 people but the take-up was very enthusiastic and I found quickly I was unable to cope with the number of incredibly kind, (and clearly hugely bored), volunteers. So I deleted the post, totally forgetting that people receive this in their email inboxes – so I then had many, many emails from rightly confused readers who clicked the link to a post that no longer existed.
I really hope that I managed to email everyone back but I’m pretty sure in between all that sitting on the kitchen floor and then children and the catering and the wiping I might have missed one or two and if I did I really am terribly sorry. It’s terrible to send an email and get nothing back, it’s my worst feeling.
So, bad admin and general tech fail from me. I have now got probably ten readers for the project, which is probably as much as I can cope with or I get terribly mixed up with everyone’s names. But thank you so much for replying and putting your hands up.
I know it’s the Great Pause, but that doesn’t mean your time isn’t still precious.
Lizzie Church says
This really resonates with me. Coming back to this “term” with my six year old and nine year old feels like hitting a brick wall. They are resistant and emotional and hate learning in this new way. I’m increasingly finding myself almost hiding from them, doing practical things in other rooms, trying to feel like I’m in control. Something about the indefiniteness of it all is making me feel slightly hopeless this week. Like you, we are lucky in so many ways, but I’m finding it hard to have a handle on that this week. Maybe it’s part of a gradual acceptance of things changing for a while. Either way I guess we’ve got to just keep plodding on! I appreciate your article. It’s weirdly reassuring to know that others feel the same and that we are all just muddling through. Xx
This homeschool gig is awful -solidarity xx.
Lizzie Church says
That about sums it up 😫🤣
Sarah Robson says
You’re human Esther. We’re all feeling like this – some the whole time, some just occasionally, but no less intensely. We are not meant to live like this and it’s effects are HUGE. We are used to feeling some control over our lives and we’ve lost it. I just don’t believe all the Pollyannas who say they’re relishing it. Sure, there are aspects which are lovely – fewer planes, lovely weather (luck!), uninterrupted birdsong but the rest of it is shitty – stuck in a repeat groove, people losing income, deaths, illness, no idea when it’s going to be ‘normall’ again. (And I’ve not even started on the cooking…)
I keep pretending to myself that it’s all FINE and that I’ve achieved a level of acceptance, probably misguidedly just to show a bit of leadership in the house. But, who am I kidding?
Thank you for posting with such honesty and humour.
Louise Rowntree says
Your experience sounds very normal and natural. I’ve been feeling sorry for myself because,unusually, I am between houses and currently living in a flat with no outside space and (particularly as a professional gardener) it is very frustrating. But I have to remind myself that I am comfortable and safe, I’m with my fella, we have no ill relatives no young children etc etc. Things could be a lot more difficult. I wasn’t very good at imaginative play when my kids were young either. I’m sure they look to you for things that Giles is not so great at, we all have our strengths and you seem like a great mum. You are also very entertaining
Claire E says
Completely resonates here, Unschooling has gone terribly here this week. We are both reluctant. I had a day when the clouds descended but they have thankfully lifted. Every day seems like a week or a month or a year and I seem to be whipping through emotional states in the same way.
sheila birch says
Honest to a T… great piece of writing ..
I’m a granny so in my wisdom decided … at the beginning to help lulu (3 under 8. Snd She runs her own recruitment business) my suggestion was met with ‘thanks mum but I’m OK (without your ‘ why not let them plant potato seedlings) just trying to hold my shit together! It must be so hard but you’ll get little sympathy
Sarah H says
I’m a primary school teacher and have been feeling very much like this- I can teach a whole group of 35 moody ten year olds brilliantly, yet I can’t teach my own 8 and 5 year old! The stress and arguing and stamping about is not worth the perhaps ten minutes of work they do!! I’ve lessened my expectations these last two days- if the 8 year old does a couple of pages of her CGP work books and the little one does ten minutes of phonics then I’m happy. I need to get through this in one piece and forcing them to work is t working!!!! Thanks for this post!
Oh Esther! I feel exactly like this about trying to teach my kids too, and I’m an actual primary school teacher. You’re so right about the crossover of home and school not working (and also of the mummy/teacher role-and yes I do think it’s different for the parent who is not doing all the ‘donkey-work’ parenting all the time)-it’s confusing for them and they deal with their mental stress by marching off etc. Sending positive vibez
In the camp with small children here and I’m bloody exhausted and tired of having to be so positive and grateful and grown up all the time. All my friends without children have moved in with their parents and it sounds like bliss to have someone else sort out the Ocado and worry about the cleaning rota. I never wanted to be a full time housewife (with a full time job) and I’m shit at it which makes me feel both frustrated and unworthy. Essentially, I hear you!!
I’m so sorry you hit the wall. It’s all fine and then – bam- it’s so not.
Your posts genuinely make a big difference, thank you! This week has been so much harder than the previous four. You’re right, it’s something about it being the ‘new term’ and the three week extension with a view to continuing til … who knows?!
The only way out I s through. We all know this in our heads, but sometimes it’s fucken hard to reconcile our feelings to it.
This week has been pretty crap for everyone I think – coming back after Easter and suddenly it isn’t a little interlude any more, this is *IT* and there’s no chocolate-coated, bunny filled holiday in front of us to create a focal point. I’ve managed to do two really AWFUL email howlers this week (copying people into an email that they really SHOULD NOT see) because I’ve been trying to work and answer school work questions from three children at the same time. Work is generally being skated over rather than ever “done” properly, the children don’t seem settled into their lessons in any real way, all the gardening I want to do doesn’t get done because the only time I can do it is over lunch when it has been baking hot and both the seedlings and I wilt within 5 minutes etc. I am bored of zoom calls and don’t have anything to say to anybody any more because I can’t keep on doing lockdown chit chat as it is so tedious and we all know it all before each other has spoken. I want to read my book but am reading the new Hilary Mantel and it is so dense and so ludicrously redolent of tudor times and the court and heavy clothes and the threat of accusation and death that it makes me feel more unsettled and paranoid. I am starting to hate all my neighbours because according to social media they are either furiously virtue signalling or viciously curtain twitching – and then I feel horrible because of course they are mostly perfectly nice and it is me looking on social media and expecting to find anything other than hell there in the first place that is the problem.
So I am totally with you. Not yet rocking on the kitchen floor (because to get that close to the ground-in crud would make everything so much worse) but definitely starting to question just how gung ho I was in the halcyon early days of this shit storm and starting to get incredibly BORED. And no amount of banana bread, garden scavenger hunts, online HIIT sessions and fun evenings spent shaving my husband’s head come close to replacing the thrill of NORMAL life….
Oh I feel for you re emails, work etc. I fear I’m constantly teetering in the brink of doing similar. My kids are not playing ball with homeschool but I’ve let the teacher know this and hopefully it will help ‘manage expectations’ at that end.
How brilliantly summed up
Last week I fell off the cliff. The type where you can only just exist but not do anything. I could feel it creeping in too Esther, a familiar feeling, a lifetime of them kept at bay with anti depressants and self care when there’s time and I remember and things get bad enough for me to do something. I had to go to bed because I couldn’t cope with being me, and my husband had to stop work and step in. I’m very lucky it was easter and he could and that I had someone to step in and keep feeding the kids. For once I fronted up and told a friend. Usually I am give good game face on the school run then hide because I don’t feel I can talk to friends about it, but I needed help because having this in lock down was more intense and horrific. This week I feel better. I don’t know why. Oddly I think the home school structure, whilst hideous and full of tears, helps my personality type. I like things structured and organised, it’s when they aren’t that I fall off cliffs. So I usually struggle in the school holidays. Although the reasons we get to that point are different, and this is a cliche, you are not alone. Thank you for talking about it Esther. It makes me feel more normal. It is normal.
Oh god yes!! This is exactly the same experience as me. I feel as though home schooling, or whatever it is supposed to be called, is changing the relationship I have with my 9 year old son.
I read somewhere that it’s “crisis schooling” which somehow makes it seem a bit more bearable (only a bit as it’s still Armageddon in this house😒)
Something I read in Tania Byron in The Times helps me when I’m feeling a bit off, if I can force myself actually to do it.
It goes something like this.
Think of 5 things you can see, then 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell and finally 1 deep breath If it does nothing else for you, at least it distracts from the other shit. And for me, by the time I get to the two things you can smell, one of them is the inside of my own nose. Which reminds me of the Christmas joke: two snowmen in a field, one says to the other ‘can you smell carrots?’ And then this sends my mind reeling to Christmas when we will look back at this and congratulate ourselves on how well we coped. Really we will, I promise.
This is a great joke
Angela O'Donovan says
To Esther and all mothers of school age children – my heart goes out to you. Not that that helps…
I’m past all that and it was grim in normal times.
I may be in my own here but think home ed is not a good idea as it is. I’d prefer to see reading prioritised, maybe writing exersise. It would give poorer readers a chance to catch up. Reading is a life skill and a pleasure. Optional writing, eg free to write what they want, eg diary, story, or not…
I can see lots of children not keeping up.
Regarding your mood Esther, you are human and everything seems magnified in a confined space. I too feel very fortunate in our circumstances but it’s hard to always feel grateful. Hope you are feeling lighter now ♥️
Same, I thought I was doing better, I even felt briefly happy, but I’m back in a sadbox now, wondering idly about peeling off my own stressed flesh (NB: will not do this). It’s the NOISE, I cannot stand the noise. And my neighbours are moving which means NEW NEIGHBOURS, IN LOCKDOWN. My old neighbours may have been noisy drunken people, but they were NICE noisy drunken people. What am I to do with NEW people?
Teaching is going OK here, except NOW my eldest’s teacher wants to do video calls with him once a week. He’s in special school, which is CLOSED. So they are being paid MANY THOUSANDS A YEAR to teach him via an EHCP (money which I apparently do not now GET now I am teaching him, which seems UNFAIR), and his homeschool is very hands on and teacher/parent-led. And it’s just so disruptive to break up the ‘school’ so I can give him the necessary quiet to hold a conversation with his teacher.
Also, I look a fucking mess because I’ve not dyed my hair since February and the usually dark blonde roots are sunbleached and I look LIKE A MAD BRICK WITH TWO-TONE HAIR, so I HATE video calls even more than usual.
Thank you for this opportunity to vent. My friends mainly have much younger children than mine and have no idea of the PAIN of teaching key stage two. It’s all fucking playdoh and insects in early years. My thoughts are with the secondary school parents.
Dex no-one vents quite like you
Nailed it Esther, as always. We’ve had a really bad day with it all too. It all came to a head when my nine year old opened up his Science email instructions for the day and found he’d been asked to make an eco island with 4 different types of renewable energy sources and then produce a video explaining his understanding of it all – this might have been fine on Monday, but he’s had a week of between 5 and 7 hours per day of set lessons, and he’d just had enough! Total meltdown ensued. Tempted to make the bloody thing for him, but not sure I can face it either! Smaller boy also being asked to upload countless pieces of “evidence” of his daily learning, husband doing 12 hour days in the shed in the garden, so he can actually concentrate, my planned return to work gone down the sh*tter for god knows how long into the future…etc etc. Was feeling nearly overwhelmed, but this post and all the comments have really helped me – THANK YOU 💕
God Louise your poor boy! POOR YOU!
Louise, that is an absolutely ridiculous task and you should make your thoughts known to the Head Teacher. Who are they trying to score points with? I feel for you x
I felt really fed up and shit yesterday too for various reasons (all corona related obviously) that I wont bore everyone with. I know I shouldn’t say as Im supposed to be meditating, baking bread without flour, doing yoga and endless daily gratitude but a couple of large gin and tonics did the trick and Im feeling more positive today X
A friend of mine sent me this. A teacher at her son’s school is posting “life skills”. Showing children skills like how to load the dishwasher, tie their shoelaces and sort the washing out.
We need more of this and less of the mad 6 hour days and crazy projects.
Fortunately my child’s school has leant a bit more towards this approach. I sent an apology email to the teacher for not doing very much (ie basically zilch) of the online work and attached half a dozen photos of the constructive things she has been doing. I can’t cope mentally with the tantrums around homeschool, and short of tying them to a chair how do you actually ‘make’ them do it? I’m telling myself to keep up the reading and some maths whenever I remember. Mine has been happy to write letters to friends too which we’ve posted, that keeps up the handwriting??
My guess is that teachers don’t actually expect every single task to be completed, they’ve just got to throw enough mud in the hope that some of it sticks.
Peace and serenity to you all!!!
I’m a teacher and honestly teachers don’t expect parents to really be doing anything at all other than keeping everyone safe and as sane as possible. We have to set work because there WILL be parents who want to give their kids worksheets and structured lessons, these parents will complain that there’s not enough work if we don’t set plenty. Most teachers would rather kids were having fun, learning some life skills and having family time: we are teachers, that’s our job, we’ve been doing it for ages and will get your kids caught up quickly once they’re back. At school, during lessons kids will have little chats with friends, daydream, doodle all without the teacher noticing. During homeschool the same child will be super focussed on that task because their parents are just watching them, not 32 little angels, their focus will be much more intense in that environment. The idea that you can suddenly change a child’s life so massively and expect them to learn at the same rate is not realistic at all. Whatever you are doing, if you are all together and happy that is the most important thing. I’d rather my students watched Peppa Pig all day than had stressful lessons at home, please don’t put yourselves under unnecessary pressure. Take care!
Thank you for this reassurance. It’s my people-pleasing nature that makes me feel that I need to do all-the-things so the school don’t think I’m a lazy parent.
Teachers are lazy parents! We have no patience/ energy for our own kids but we also have the luxury of knowing how different kids are in the classroom to home. You are teaching a whole different kid to the one their teacher sees every day!
I’m Mrs Papworth and I’m glad you like the life lessons, it came to me one sleepless night when I thought of all the things children would benefit from knowing about but have fun with as well. My daughter and I have really enjoyed making them.
I’m an American reader who has never commented. There have been teachers in my family since the nineteenth century. The experiences that you and your husband have teaching are basically the two sides of teaching: the charisma of the engagement stage and the slog. Let me describe a day in a unit on birds. First, there were the two months of research on birds, research on activities for learning, testing the feasibility and developmentally appropriateness of the activities, checking what materials could be scrounged, and then figuring out the exact number of minutes each part would take. Then, the day of the lesson I have 8 year olds eat mini M&Ms without their hands or teeth to gain insight into how birds eat. I have them visit stations where they try out various tools that simulate how different birds eat. The repeatedly tested video on the Smartboard about bird anatomy won’t run. I dissect owl pellets on the overhead projector and then ask them to figure out which would be easier for a bird to eat, a Nutrigrain bar in a wrapper or a piece of fruit and why that is. We do a worksheet so I have documentation of proof of learning, which they’re all grumpy about, but the super difficult student shares a rare insight about the lesson. After dispersal, I clean up the serious mess of the different stations and the zillion wrappers for the straws for juice boxes for snack. Colleagues and I discuss the flubs and shortcomings for post-assessment. Then, I go home, cry for an hour, and finally, drink two rum and cokes. A couple months later, colleagues mention in passing that my lesson had the strongest content for that unit–past the time in which I would have appreciated the praise. So, please do not beat yourself up for doing what is a natural part of teaching: the slog, cajoling grumpy people to do stuff, picking up mess, and crying.
On Monday I am 100% going to make my children peck up tiny Smarties in order to feel what it’s like to be a bird
I love you. Thank you.
Argh.. Esther I often feel like you have entered my mind and set down my thoughts in a much better way than I ever could, but I really, really feel this here. Especially the bit about being the boring parent who is there to provide food, and nagging, and then husband comes down for an hour and the laughter and fun they have….
Sending you love and strength. (And gin) xx
From a country, Holland, that is a few steps ahead in the process: after our vacation, which is now, all kids will go to school half of the time. Which, after all the home schooling, seems like such a luxury! My kids are really enthusiastic about it. The fun of being at home plus they get to see their friends and beloved teachers again. And no more noisy Zoom meetings! Hope the same happens in the UK!
I would grab half time schooling with both hands right now
I’m a teacher in further education, and I’m really struggling with the teaching from home via emails thing. A lot of colleagues are teaching via Microsoft Teams, but that’s not working from my laptop. And technology is not my friend. I just really miss being in the classroom with my students – the checking in with them, the discussions, the buzz that is working with young adults. Now they’re all stressed, or sleeping all the time and not responding to any of their teachers, and if I see that fucking thing on Facebook ONE MORE TIME that says something along the lines of I’m a teacher and that’s my superpower and I will make all of this better so please stop panicking, then I will smear jam all over my face and stick it in a wasps’ nest. I feel like a big fraud, not a superhero with superpowers. I feel a bit crap (ok, a lot crap), really worried about submitting A Level grades and GCSE resit grades (how I want to give all of them a pass grade, as I know that for some of them this will be their only chance but I can’t lie to the exam board and risk drawing suspicion that will risk pulling the entire cohort’s grades down). Hardly a superpower, is it?
Oh my goodness, I haven’t come clean about all this to anyone and I feel a bit better for saying it. But if any of you are mean about me now then I’ll take you to the girls’ loos on the top floor so I can take your dinner money off you and then I will deck you.
Thanks Esther, as always.
This made me laugh so much. My god of COURSE you want to give all your students an A+! I would! And obviously you’re not a superhero. Neither am I just because I’m a “mum”. Neither am I a scumbag because I’m a journalist. And with no disrespect intended, all NHS workers are not “angels”. That’s called pressure and it’s not helpful.
God. I have two under three and reading your post and these comments is the first time I’ve felt fortunately that they are so small! Hats off to everyone managing to do ANY moment of anything approximating homeschool. Also I think there’s just something about this past week… like we’re moving through the stages of grief into anger or despair or something?! No patience or sense of humour or lightness of spirit is within me at the moment. Yesterday my life felt like death by a thousand cuts with my previously potty-trained son soiling himself three times and my one year old deciding that mealtimes equal shouting continuously for any object within sight and trying to bake bread and cracking an egg all over the floor and banging my shin on the cabinet twice and arguing with my husband nonstop. And all of these things individually feel so small and petty and NOT REAL PROBLEMS but god I’ve never wished for an airplane to take me away from my life like this before. Solidarity, people.
Anna W says
Mine are only 4 and 6 but I haven’t done any home schooling and I don’t plan to. My only rule is no YouTube during the week. I’m not working either, I just don’t think home schooling will benefit any of us at the moment x
When I read this post originally I was feeling fine (although I did completely sympathise/ identify), but I fell off the cliff today and had a little 4pm cry. This has probably traumatised my kids, I’m a big crier but I don’t usually cry in front of them. Homeschooling is nonsense. Being stuck at home all together every day is nonsense- and we’re all quite ok people who quite like each other. Anyway, I dried my eyes and came to find it to read it and through all the comments as a sort of group therapy, thanks everyone. Elaine xx
Elaine it hits us all hard at some point. By my reckoning it’s about once a week or every ten days if you’re lucky. And your kids are totally not traumatised, they’re built to forget such things x