travel with me from SAHM to working mum….
On my way to the station I walk past a smart prep school. Today a family – mum, two children under six, smartly-dressed in regulation coat, hat and gloves – were coming in the other direction.
“Of course you know the answer – its between 10 and 20”, shouted the mother.
The daughter continued to sob. The little brother looked on.
I averted my eyes and hurried past, distressed.
I’d like to say that my distress was purely for the plight of the little girl with the pushy, aspirational mother. But it wasn’t.
Sometimes it’s only when you witness a scene as an onlooker that you recognise something about yourself.
My daughter and son used to go to that school, and now attend similar ones: most schools in this part of Surrey are, give or take different wrappings, as schools reflect the people who live in an area.
I’ve berated my daughter, and sons (not so much my sons as they’re younger and I’m learning) for not knowing the answers to timetables, French verbs or spellings. She’s cried. I’ve felt bad, but justified. I want her to learn, get GCSE’s, go to college, university.
But is this all that’s motivating me? And isn’t the clue in the way that that mum, and myself with my own children, was interacting with her daughter, just outside the school gate.
My distress was compounded by knowing how the mother was feeling as she harangued her child.
Panic, fear of failure, desperation. How can you face the other mums when your daughter is bottom of the class, or not competing for the top? They won’t get into the best (even more competitive) senior school – or sets, if you’re talking state schools. Social suicide. Better get your child a label to hide behind.
And how can you face the teacher when, yet again, your daughter has failed to get the times table certificate, or fails to be the first to achieve their times table badge? You’re the lazy mum who can’t be bothered to teach their child the times tables. You’re the sahm, you don’t even go to work, your children are your focus (or you’re working and selfish when your children should be your priority).
Just some of the explanations for these emotions.
But is shouting at your children until they cry the best way to encourage learning? Of course not. And if they do manage to learn through fear, how will this affect the life choices they will go on to make. Will they need to recreate this environment in later life?
It’s good to be brought up short occasionally by a mirror. And if it means I’ll bite my tongue and engage my brain before next spelling test day then three children will be a little bit happier. I just hope the small child outside the school gets the same chance.