In praise of home and family

Blog Post

It’s the time of year when the glossy brochures start circulating in the Land, Weekly Times, the Country Life and magazines aimed at rural ladies. The adds are not for changing seasonal clothes, overseas trips and farm machinery, they are for boarding school.

The pictures are so beautiful. We see acne free smiling children and teens living life to the fullest. The kids are spending time with friends, doing interesting things with Bunsen burners, playing sport. They never have mullets, they don’t wear grubby hoodies or have greasy hair. Even the kids with braces have perfectly straight teeth.  They are invariably placed in gorgeous buildings or grounds, the photographers focusing on beautifully restored heritage buildings, or state of the art modern facilities.

Boarding school works for country kids, and for some physical distances mean it is the only option. The counter argument to boarding school working for country kids is not that it doesn’t work for everyone, or that staying at home doesn’t work. The statement is that boarding school works for country kids and staying at home works as well.

I wanted to write in praise for the other educational options who don’t advertise, and who possibly on the whole, might be a little less photogenic. They are our local high schools and our less prestigious weekly boarding schools. Their heritage buildings come from the era of aluminum windows, lino and suspect asbestos. These schools are filled with engaged and enthusiastic teachers. They have really nice local kids that work hard and do well. Contrary to popular opinion, these schools are not necessarily filled with drugs and bullies. The drugs and bullies are everywhere, at every school. Vapes are everywhere, at every school. Perhaps disciplinary consequences at some schools might be more severe than others, but don’t kid yourself that fee paying insulates your kids from exposure to this side of life.

We know the family environment works for raising kids. We see this in the way that boarding schools are in more recent times trying to replicate homes. They do this with better food, smaller numbers in common areas, private spaces for each teen, dorm pets and kitchens to prepare and eat meals or snacks. Parent visits and involvement are recognised as far more important than they were a generation ago.  

What full time boarding can never do is provide large amounts of time with family. There is no doubt that time spent together and shared experiences reinforces family bonds over friendship bonds. I want to see a value placed on reinforcing life long bonds with ones’ own siblings, especially those between the oldest and youngest kids or boys and girls who would be separated further by single sex schooling. Shared childhood experiences are great, as are shared adolescent experiences. The earlier and further they are away from home, the less of that happens. High school years close to home might mean a school without a nationally recognised science or drama program, but it might mean more time with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Thereby helping to raise a generation that also places a value on these relationships.

The adolescent years are tough, especially years 8 &9 where that pressure cooker of hormones, developing social skills and a wobbly sense of self can turn the most compliant and engaging 13-15 year old into a feral cat or grunting wombat that spends the most part of every day in their room. These animals emerge only occasionally eat and destroy. This stage is hard on parents and it is hard on teens. The ability for these darling little grubs to come home to their own bedroom, drop the odd f-bomb, ride their horse or motorbike, and not have to deal with 30-50 other people from the end of school until they go bed is important. Eventually the grub turns into a butterfly, but there has to be a huge mental health benefit to not being on high alert for a social faux pas or a fashion failure 24/7 for forty weeks of the year.

I don’t think any parent begrudges the cost of their children’s education. From an emotional perspective, it is always feels like money well spent. However, the money has to come from somewhere and the cost of fees and associated expenses can be enormous. The educational costs for rural children don’t stop at the end of high school. I have spoken to many rural families who thought the worst was over at the end of boarding school, only to realise that the cost of supporting young adults to complete their university education, particularly in a capital city, far exceeded the cost of boarding school with less access to government assistance or scholarships. The whole educational cost needs to be considered, as well as the impact of financial stress and less money for other opportunities that might be felt a decade or more after the education costs end.  

We learn from our parents, not through conversation or explicitly instruction, but mainly through mimicry. We learn the things from our parents that cannot be easily taught in a school room or in a boarding house. Every single day our kids have at home is time spent seeing the normal ebs and flows of married life. They see us parenting their siblings, they see us caring for the oldies. They are close by as we as adults deal with tragedy and triumph. We are close by as their deal with their own tragedies and triumphs. They look, they listen, they learn and in their own adulthood, they draw from this.

If your choice is to keep your kids at home in the high school years, or if they get sent home for vaping, or you send them away a little later or send them to a boarding school closer to home, or if boarding just does not work, you need to know something. You and your family as a whole are providing a priceless experience for your children, even though there is no glossy add.

Share the love

Whant more?

Subscribe to my newsletter

for more in depth info on everything Agrifocused