27 October, 2012

It's hard to let go, isn't it, parents?

There’s a lot to think about as a parent. Children starting secondary school, for example. This process has many implications. Not only the obvious ones of having to get used to an unfamiliar environment, needing to buy a new set of uniform, etc., but also much broader issues of freedom and independence. After all, when you’ve spent the past seven years accompanying your children to and from primary school, you can’t suddenly, on the first day of their secondary school careers, expect them to make their own way there. They need some kind of practice. They need to know how to cross the road, how to judge the speed of traffic, what to watch out for, what’s safe and what’s not. In short, they need a bit of world knowledge under their belts.

But world knowledge isn’t something that children gain while glued to their parents’ sides. There’s only so much that can be imparted through telling. In the end, being independent – having responsibility for oneself – is the catalyst through which we learn to negotiate the world, successfully and safely.

This kind of learning, though, is (or at least should be) a gradual process. Children need to build up their confidence bit by bit. They might start off by walking to school a little way ahead of their parents, for example, so that there is someone around to keep an eye on their road crossing and to make sure that they arrive safely. Or they might do a bit of shopping in the local supermarket with a parent in the background somewhere, on hand to help out with any issues if necessary.

My own experience has been that, once a child feels ready, they really enjoy becoming independent and taking on responsibility. But they also appreciate a build up; a gradual preparation prior to full-on independence.

It’s also my experience that giving this independence can be incredibly hard for the parent. Relinquishing control, trusting your child with their own safety, is tough when their safety has been your responsibility for so many years.

So you should be able to spot me easily enough. I’ll be the gibbering wreck in the corner having a really hard time letting go....

26 October, 2012

Recent author interview

You may be interested to read my author interview which appears on the Indie Book Blog Database: http://hampton-networks.com/welcome-beckie-henderson/.

It talks about my writing, my background and my favourite authors -- amongst other things...

20 October, 2012

The survival guide to starting secondary school

I was travelling to work on the bus the other morning when I saw a guy across the aisle from me avidly reading a book entitled "A Parent's Survival Guide to Starting School". It caught my eye because my family is going through exactly this dilemma at the moment.

In our case, our oldest is due to start secondary school next September and we have to submit our application to the county council by the end of October. Yikes! The deadline feels uncomfortably close now...

Somehow, when our kids started primary school, the decision of which school to choose didn't seem quite such a huge one. They'd been at nursery since they were tiny and primary school really just seemed to be an extension of that. Furthermore, primary school doesn't entail such non-negotiable and scary things as public examinations -- things that will impact on your kids' futures long term. So, when we were choosing primaries, we visited our catchment school, which seemed very good and very pleasant, and we put it down as our first choice. That was that.

Not so simple with secondary. There are three large secondaries in the town in which we live, all of which are large and none of which is particularly appealing. They're all OK, have similarly depressing 1960s buildings, and are all within walking distance of our home. None is over subscribed, so we have our pick. But the trouble is, we can't get excited about any of them. They're all much of a muchness -- each one has at some point in the past few years been designated 'failing', and each has had a new head come in and bring the school up to a satisfactory level again.

The key questions that worry us when choosing a secondary are those that worry any parent. Is there disruption in the school? Is there bullying? Will my children have the opportunity to learn and fulfil their potential? Which schools are their friends going to?

The problem is that, with our local schools, no one ticks all our the boxes and so comes out with a resounding yes vote. To put is simply, none of our local schools is that good. As as result we, and some other parents we know, have looked into the local independent schools, but with fees totalling roughly £170,000 for two children attending from year 7 through to year 13, this is an option that requires an awful lot of thinking about. Even if we felt we could scrape the money together, our day-to-day lifestyle would have to change quite considerably to accommodate the cost of the schooling. And is it really worth that?

So, I can well sympathise with the guy on my bus. As far as schools are concerned, it's a jungle out there and it's certainly a survival guide that parents need.

13 October, 2012

There but for the grace of God...

One thing that occurs to me from time to time is the apparently random nature of our lives and the courses that they take. All sorts of things completely outside our control impact on our lives -- our gender, where we were born, our parents, the schools we attend, the opportunities presented to us, the people we meet... The list goes on and on. These kinds of things have an enormous influence on us, our behaviour and the choices we make.

And yet, the things we do ourselves can also have a huge impact on our lives. As a parent, this is something I worry about frequently. What my children choose to do or not do will affect their lives, for better or for worse. And what if they make the wrong decisions? In a world as competitive and unforgiving as ours, second chances are rare.

These sentiments were brought home to me very strongly this week when I was listening to 'A Life Less Ordinary' on Radio 4. The guest was Sandra Gregory, who, in 1993, was arrested for attempting to smuggle heroin out of Thailand. She was imprisoned for a total of seven years, five of which she spent in an infamous Thai jail. She was just twenty-eight when she was detained.

So, Gregory's decision to carry drugs impacted hugely on her life, pure and simple. But the reasons leading up to her decision were complex: she was suffering from a bout of dengue fever and couldn't work; she therefore had no money; she was desperate to come back home to the UK. And then she met a man who offered her a 'solution' -- carry this heroin out of Thailand for me and I'll give you £1,000.

As a parent, you can only hope that your child will never find themselves in that kind of situation. Or that, if they do, they make a sensible decision and find a safe way out. Yet who knows what kind of external factors will drive the decisions that your children make? Personality plays a part, of course, but it's those things that lie outside our control (the opportunities presented to us, the people we meet...) that can so often tip the balance.

The old adage 'There but for the grace of God go I' springs to mind. Cold comfort at the best of times, and even colder comfort when the 'I' refers to your son or daughter.

06 October, 2012

Past the pushchair phase -- phew!

I was walking out of my local leisure centre the other day when I noticed a woman struggling past me in the opposite direction, lugging a baby in a car seat in one hand, with a toddler clinging tightly to her other hand. I see this kind of thing all the time, of course, but for some reason I looked this time. I mean really looked. And I felt so glad that I was beyond that stage (both my children are now in the later years of primary school).

I remember the pushchair stage well, though. I recall going back to work after my first stint of maternity leave and the greatest thing for me was being able to go out for lunch by myself in a cafe that was up a flight of stairs. The freedom was intoxicating. I used to visit this cafe regularly pre-children, but a cafe on the first floor with a small baby in tow takes on a whole new dimension of difficulty.

Granted, pre-teen children come with their own set of problems. Negotiating limits of freedom, learning how to manage relationships, even coming to an agreement about appropriate amounts of pocket money. But the rewards -- ability to communicate in plain English, no longer needing to cart baby paraphernalia with you on every outing, etc., etc. -- are ample compensation, in my mind.