Actually, you’d think I was going to say definitely the latter, but I’m not. I don’t have a problem with admitting to being controlling. So I’m not going to try and justify myself, oh no – I am, in fact, going to claim “controlling” back from the dark side! I think controlling and pro-active are the same thing. Goodness, when Nelson Mandela quotes the William Henley poem in the film Invictus, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul”, I’m sure I’m not the only one who gave him a standing ovation from the sofa! It has been said that the way you picture life says a great deal about the way you will approach it, whether you see it as an adventure, a journey, an endurance test… I would think however, that whatever picture you have of life, we all have in common an experience of “the bludgeonings of chance”. Now hear me out, before you think, what the heck has all this got to do with homeschooling. People are complicated, me included, but I have a point to make.
We were chatting this week in the staff room, over our lunchboxes, about various things and I happened to mention one of my strange habits – that of reading the last page of a book first. I have only ever met one other person who does this so I’m willing to admit that I’m quirky. Anyway, someone said “do you like to be in control?” and I said “yes!” but thought, less politely, “Doh!! Of course! Who doesn’t?”. I mean really, whoever consciously says to themselves “well, I’m just happy to let things happen to me and other people can run my life”? Nowt wrong with enjoying some surprises along the way, I don’t mean that, but I can’t think that anyone with a healthy sense of self would purposely relinquish control of their lives. My daughter is five and she already says “mummy, I can’t wait to be grown up so you won’t boss me around!” She totally wants to be in the driving seat – quite literally actually, she was about three when she first expressed a desire to drive herself to nursery! And showed great self-belief that she was capable of it too! Come to think of it, Mae was about 20 weeks old when she made it quite clear to me that she had no intention of eating that disgusting baby rice I was trying to shovel into her.
About my strange reading habits – my logic is simple. However strange you think it is, nobody but nobody enjoys that feeling you have when you read a book and it’s got a rubbish ending. Or watch a film (yes, I do look up film synopses online). I really hate it and it seemed a simple solution to avoiding that feeling you have of wasting all that time in your life hoping for a different ending. Free from the worry of that I can relax and enjoy the twists and turns on the page, or on screen, that lead to the satisfactory conclusion. And I never have to say, apart from in real life of course, “well, that was disappointing”. Obviously I’m only talking about reading, not real life, but I think it’s a great little example of ‘good controlling’. Making pro-active decisions.
Homeschooling is a much better example. And now I warm to my theme. You bring this little life into the world – and I always have a moment during my pregnancies when I think “Oh my God. Am I doing the right thing?” Usually when something happens that reminds me how vulnerable we are to “the bludgeonings of chance”. Just watching the news can bring one of those moments on when you’re pregnant. You think “what kind of world am I bringing my precious child in to?” and “How am I going to explain that?”. My children are mixed race and I’m dreading the day when I have to explain that, despite their extraordinary beauty and intelligence, some ignorant people will judge them inferior because of the colour of their skin. Becoming a parent can seem terrifying. Terrifyingly wonderful.
Our instinct is to protect and control everything which the new little life, for which we are so enormously responsible, comes into contact with. To what degree that nurturing takes place, as well as the length of time it continues, varies according to geography and across history. The ultimate goal is the same – an adult who is strong enough to take their independent place in the world. We parents are, mostly, all aiming for the same thing.
What I don’t understand is, why someone who does not know my child, someone who I myself know nothing about, could be more capable of nurturing my child into independence than I am. It is a truth universally acknowledged…that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife… oops, sorry, got caught in a Jane Austen loop there… what I meant to say was, it is a truth universally acknowdged that “the law is an ass”, to quote Mr Bumble in Dickens. I’m rather partial myself to e.e.cummings: “a politician is an arse upon/which everyone has sat except a man”. Or, in plain prose, most people agree that the powers that run a country are very flawed. But, here is the odd thing, most people are quite happy to then have those powers decide what happens to their child for the majority of it’s life from the age of 5 upwards. Isn’t that strange. At least as strange as always reading the last page in a book first I’d say! I’m not simply being anti-politics here, I’m being anti not questioning that power, examining it’s motives and assessing to what degree you are happy for it to affect your life, or the lives of those you love. Talk about leaving it to fate. The point is not the choice you make, that is every parent’s right, the point is whether you even made a choice.
So then, to end on a flourish: I am happy to declare that I am proud of being controlling! I have no intention of relinquishing my parental responsibilities in any way or to any body. For sixteen short, short years I am not only the Captain of my own soul but I have a little boat tied alongside and I will not set it adrift into the big, wide sea until I am absolutely certain that it is prepared and fully equipped. I know I will need, at various times, to call on the skill of others, but I will be sure before I call that those other people really are the best people for the job and that they know who is ultimately in charge. That is called leadership. Captaincy. Being pro-active – which, by the way, can be defined as: creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.