Like many other home educators, I've managed - against the odds - to carve a bubble of freedom out of this increasingly totalitarian world, in which my children could grow up. Well, one of them is now legally grown-up and two others almost are. (In actual fact, all three teens have been grown up for some years now even though the law disagrees.) And up until very recently I'd been assuming they would just slot seamlessly back into the mainstream way of doing things - or something close. By this I mean that I would start asking them to pay for their keep and they would then have to go and find work, or some other source of funding from somewhere. Or that they would move out and start to be completely independent of me and I them. Most of my family members, including these three children's father (my ex-husband) believe that parenting stops when the child reaches the age of maturity. After that, the adult child takes on a position rather like a concerned family friend, in the best case scenario. Or a distant cousin, in the worst. This, I think, is how society and the present economy needs us to think at this stage in a family's life.
But, as with baby cots and bottles, forced schooling and all the other taken-for-granted anti-family mechanisms, my instincts screamed out against it.
The thing is this: I've always said there's nothing magical about an eighteenth birthday. It doesn't make a person suddenly different, so why should they arbitrarily be awarded a whole raft of rights and responsibilities
[*yawns* at the GovernmentSpeak] that they didn't have at seventeen? Furthermore, do I suddenly stop being their parent overnight as they reach the age of eighteen? No. Nothing changes.
That's not to say all my children have been babied by me up until their eighteenth birthdays and I want to continue doing so. There'd be something distinctly unhealthy about that, if it were the case. But growing up is a slow and natural process, not a juddery sudden one. My three teens have grown up gradually at their own paces and are now all equally capable of going out and earning a living if they want or need to. I don't treat the boys any differently just because one is eighteen and the other is seventeen and nor, I've decided, am I going to make any different expectations of them.
How can I say to one of my children, whom I still love just as much as all my other children: "Now you must go out to work and give me money to pay for your keep, or you'll have to leave your family home."? Especially after all those years of autonomy. I've never asked anything of them. They've always given freely, and to be fair to them they do plan to contribute to the household budget when the time comes. They are all sensible, fair minded, hard working people.
It's me. I'm increasingly seeing school, college and jobs as being one and the same thing. They're all ok if the person genuinely does want to take part, but if there's any coercion involved - any feeling of having no choice, or being trapped - then they're tantamount to slavery and tend to be the cause of a miserable existence.
I want to keep providing choices for my children, which has made me think very laterally and creatively looking for solutions. I want them to have the option of staying in their family home. I can remember being pushed out of my family home as an older teenager and it was a horrible experience which caused nothing but harm for all concerned. Sure, there's nothing wrong with a person striking out for independence but ideally this would be done in the person's own time and not be instigated by other people or factors.
My instinct, my thinking and my years of research all teach me that it's healthier for people to live together in family tribes than in isolated nuclear units.
Also as a single parent of younger children, I feel myself being socially engineered
to make childcare and school arrangements for our little ones and to go out to "work". (I put "work" in inverted commas, because I know from when I used to "work" that the activity is a sight easier, in terms of effort, than staying at home with younger children. And I resent the implication that I'm not "working" already, by raising and home educating them. Somehow we've come to accept that an activity can only be called "work" if it pays money, therefore other activities are somehow not legitimate. How did we come to that way of thinking?) And I don't want to be socially engineered any more than I want to abandon my younger children on a daily basis, any more than I want to shoulder my older children out of their home.
Essentially, I'm being asked to dismantle my family. Coerced actually, with Brown's famous carrot and stick
. I refuse to comply.
It's all about the money isn't it? Those little pictures of the Queen (or increasingly not even that
). Well, we're now working towards a situation here where we don't need much of it at all coming in on a weekly basis. We think it will probably involve selling our house and building another one in which we can live off-grid
and mortgage-free, which will involve a vast amount of upheaval and inconvenience. But it will be worth it.
Anyone selling a piece of land in Yorkshire? :-)