Updated: Dec 13, 2021
Here in France, lockdown is slowly being lifted, and some of our kids are going back to school, some of the time. Unless you’re a keyworker, your kids are unlikely to have a full-time place, because of the strict rules about the number of children allowed in a classroom, social distancing and hygiene measures.
I wanted to tell you what I wished I’d known when we started this journey, 2 months ago.
At the beginning, I saw lots of posts saying “you’re not home-schooling, you’re parenting in a pandemic” And then told me to stop trying to get my kids to keep up with all their schoolwork, and just let them ‘be’ at home. That made me really angry, and it took me a while to understand my anger. I also had people saying – “you guys took a year off and lived in a motorhome, this must be easy for you”. That got me mad too!
Here’s what I’ve figured out. The things that made me angry are to do with the things I can’t control. I didn’t have any say in my kids being at home 24/7, and indeed in all 5 of us being home 24/7. My comfortable life, of building up a new business helping parents, part-time, while being available for my kids when they were home from school, came crashing around me.
Did you see this image – it’s been shared lots over my social media.
It's from Thecounselingteacher.com
If I drew my own circle, it’d look more like this, today:
In Positive Discipline workshops, we look at our ‘Top Card’ - our lifestyle priority. Throughout our life, since a young age, we’ve been making decisions about how we interact with the world, and the way we attempt to find belonging and significance.
And when I’m stressed, I tend to want to control everything. And, yes, I really dislike being controlled!!!!
When I started drawing the circle, the only thing in the centre was ‘very little!’ As I worked on it, I realised this wasn’t true, but I’ve left it in the picture so you can see how I’ve been feeling. Although I’ve said that we created guidelines and routines and responsibilities, in reality it’s been me pushing my agenda a LOT of the time. We took a year out in 2017/18 and travelled around the UK in a motorhome. The kids did no schooling, and came back to France and slotted back into their school, effectively skipping a year. They got some support from school to catch up, and mostly that worked well, although for all three of them their confidence in French has suffered. And in French schools, you spend A LOT of time studying French grammar, spelling, poetry, from a young age. So I told myself that not doing school during the lockdown wasn’t an option, we couldn’t afford to spend more time trying to catch up again. I also wanted them to (silently and autonomously) get on with the school work set by their teachers, so that I could pretend they weren’t here, and get on with running my business.
So I cajoled/bribed/shouted in order to get them to do their school work.. You can imagine how well that worked! They developed their different techniques – withdraw, ignoring, confronting – in fact it looked very like the 4 Rs of Punishment...
Something had to change. Luckily, we only had 3 weeks of schooling at home before the holidays, and my husband took a week off during that time, which gave me time to try to focus on my business (while also still trying to control how he managed the kids – yes, our Top Card is stronger than we imagine).
And then I made the decision to stop trying to generate an income. This is where I realise I’m in a privileged position – I got to choose how to work – so I wrapped up the last few paid workshops I’d been running at the beginning of lock-down, and switched to running free workshops and parenting cafés .
This did two things for me – it helped with my ‘Gemeinschaftsgefühl’ and also took the pressure off.
Gemein what? It’s German, for ‘social interest” - a community feeling, as opposed to private concerns - so I switched navel gazing and self pity for working out how I could best use my skills to serve my community. I’ve learned lots about parenting through Positive Discipline in the last 5 years, and the expat parenting community I’m part of was struggling with juggling children, chores, working from home, and just holding it together long enough to get the kids in bed each day. Usually I run free introductions to help people discover if they want to join me for a paid for parenting programme. But I’ve chosen not to run another paid for programme at the moment. Instead I’ve been running the introductions just as a way to have people find out about Positive Discipline. And now that they’re virtual, people can join from across the world – We had someone join us from Texas for one of the workshops.
And then I set up a weekly virtual parenting café for that expat community I mentioned. The group chooses the topic, I find a Positive Discipline activity linked to it, and we share our joys and struggles. It was particularly fun to have 2 grown up sisters join us for the sibling rivalry workshop!!
Pressure – but you’re still doing the same thing?
Yes, that’s true, I’m still preparing and leading workshops. I’m even stepping out of my comfort zone and running a parenting teens workshop ,which I’ve not done before. My second priority (the one I go to when I’m not stressed) is superiority – not a feeling that I’m better than others, but a desire to aim for excellence. So I want my workshops to be amazing, which puts pressure on me. And then if I have paying clients, I can start to doubt whether I’m good enough (the imposter syndrome). By offering workshops for free, I can relax and have fun – which of course means that those attending the workshops have more fun too (remember about Mirror Neurones?). At the moment, there’s enough stress in my life around having everyone at home 24/7 (I’m quite the introvert and could really do with more alone time) and so switching to free workshops has been right for this time.
It might not be right for you, or possible for you, to give up paid for work at the moment – that’s why my circle will look different to yours. Simply switching off all social media wasn’t an option for me, and watching the news is helpful for me – you’re going to be different.
So what do I wish I’d known 2 months ago? That I needed to have the confidence to parent, and to ‘be’, my way, and not anyone else’s way. We’ll still do ‘school at home’, because that’s right for us, but I’ve learnt to use lots more encouragement, and to build trust through more communication.
How about you?