Our Journey Between Schools and How We Got Through It

The History

We formed a plan when it came to schooling and like many well-made plans, things changed and the plan fell apart.  We relocated to get a bigger house, this meant the 4th change in nursery / pre-school but it was going to be worth it as this was to be our house for the duration of their schooling.  The girls started their new pre-school after we moved, this led into the village primary and all was going to plan.  Then, the next move happened, unexpectedly.  It was too big a move to remain in the school, I think 1 hour 50 minutes each way is just that little bit too far!  So, began the hunt for the new schools.

Close-up of Woman Working

The Practicalities

It is immensely stressful moving house, which I knew as I had done it many times before.  But suddenly I had to factor in the switch of schools when we were,

  1. so far away from the new house,

and

  1. at the mercy of everyone else in the house sale chain as to when things might happen.

I began to panic about finding suitable places, you are not actually able to apply for the place until you have a completion date on a house sale.  I am quite keen for my children to have the perfect attendance record, as their little faces when they didn’t win the award for attendance was heart breaking.  Don’t get me started on that one though; they didn’t ask to be sick, but that’s one for another time.  I then started to get mad images of children’s services knocking at my door because they had not got a new school place, so I knew I had to find a way to sort things quickly.

Contact with Schools

I dealt with two local authorities as were moving to a house on a county border; I found both to be equally helpful.  Though you need to make a formal application to the authority, once you have your sale completion date, or proof of moving address, you can speak to the schools before that time.  I rang around many of the local schools looking for places and they could not have been more helpful.  They are not able to talk about waiting lists but can tell you about spaces they currently have.  Schools with spaces will take children out of their catchment area, so as long as you are willing to travel, then the choice is yours. We had done our research prior to moving and knew the school we wanted, so we put in our application as soon as we were able, knowing full well we would be placed on a waitlist.  Waitlists are complex things, there are so many rules as to how to they decide your place on the waitlist, it is hard to know where you will end up.  The schools are able to tell you where you are on the waitlist, but it can change daily as people move in and out of the area.

The Long Distance Transfer

Microphotography of Orange and Blue House Miniature on Brown Snail's Back

I found the stress of the timings too much to bear, so after some discussion with the children’s teachers, I decided I would home school for an interim period.  The aim was to take the pressure off us and give us time to do things calmly.  It was a simple process as we were moving out of area, all I had to do was put the request in writing to the school and they did the rest. I set up my home school kit and on the day of the move, the children waved goodbye to their school friends and we started our short home school adventure. It wasn’t a huge challenge as they were only in Year R and Year 1 at the time.  The main thing was that it gave us breathing space to find the right place for them.

Choosing the Right School for The Children

I am lucky in that I drive and was able to be available to drive them to their new school, however, I didn’t really have a choice as there was not an available place within walking distance.  I believe that transport could have been provided but as we chose a different school to the one we were offered, that was not an option for us.  As soon as we arrived in our new home, I started calling around the schools to see what places were still available.  It was a challenge to find a school that had places for both children, we considered splitting them up but the logistics of that made it expensive, even impossible in some cases.  We found a few schools and took the children to see them, we wanted them to feel like they were involved in the choice.  Eventually, we went to visit one in a nearby village, which fitted the bill.  They both enjoyed their visit and said that they would like to go to the school.  By this time, they had left their old school, so didn’t have that difficult issue of leaving behind something they loved and replacing it with this new school.  Home school was going OK, but I could see that they missed the company of other children.

Settling In

Free stock photo of wood, pencil, school, numbers

Whatever the reason for a move, whether it be good or bad, it is essential to be as upbeat and positive about the move when the children are listening.  Make it seem like an adventure, highlight all the positives that the school may offer – great playground, sports facilities, anything that might appeal to your child.  Hopefully they will like the new uniform and getting all new things can be quite exciting.  You will understand that I am talking about younger children here, I doubt that a teenager would be quite so easily convinced.  Communication is key, keep talking to them, make sure they understand the process and when things will happen.  We arranged two settling in sessions with the school, which were brilliant.  The girls knew they were only there for a short time and the whole novelty factor really helped.  When it came to Day 1 for real, they were excited about going as they had tried it out and had fun.

What Happens When the Novelty Wears Off?

To start off with there will be a huge novelty factor for everyone involved.  The children will be the interesting newbies and the other children will be fascinated by that.  The teachers will make a real effort to settle them in and communicate daily with you about their progress, the other mums will welcome you in and hopefully you will quickly find out the lines of communication.  Facebook or WhatsApp groups are a life saver for newbie parents as you find out so much from them.  The biggest issue about joining a school without all the usual introduction is that there is so much general information you won’t know, so other parents are key to information.  But eventually this wears off, the children return to their clicky groups (as do the other Mums), the teachers stop communicating quite so frequently and no longer make that extra special effort with your child, general day to day life kicks in.  This is when things get tough for the children and parents / carers have to up their game:

  1. Playdates – arrange ways of making friends outside of school, don’t force them to play, but try to find out who they would like to invite to their house. The usual school etiquette is that the favour will be returned, so that means at least 2 playdates.
  2. Clubs and activities – if you have an outgoing child, sign them up as quickly as possible to activities, where they can meet new people and generally feel part of something. School clubs might already be full, so make sure you book in for the next new term. If your child is less keen to join things, it could take a while but Google all the local activities and research options until you find something that works for them.
  3. Talk to teachers – don’t be in their face every day, but do keep up to date with them, push for information if you think there is an issue. If your child is unhappy or worried about something, the teachers need to know.  They can’t prioritise your child but will make sure they deal with any issues that arise as long as they are made aware.
  4. Do your bit as a parent / carer – get involved as much as you can. Volunteer in class, at the PTA stuff, try to socialise with other parents, get to know people.  This bit is tough if you are working and can’t get to the school, or just too shy to talk to other parents, but keep trying and it will happen.  Not all PTA events are in school hours, you might be able to help out at a weekend.
  5. Most importantly of all, find a way of checking in with your child. Sadly, “How was you day?” probably won’t cut it as a starting point for a conversation, you need to get clever.  Timing is everything if you want a child to talk to you, wait until they are relaxed and not busy doing something more interesting.  One of mine is easier to read than the other and has certain physical complaints when she is worried, so I generally know when I need to delve into the workings of her brain – believe me it can be a challenge.  The other one is very secretive, so desperate to please that she pretends she is happy, so as not to upset us.  Sometimes she seems flat and lacks enthusiasm, I know this is when she has a worry, but getting to the root of it can be difficult.

Resilience

Girls on Desk Looking at Notebook

Children are far more resilient than we realise, they cope with so much by just getting on with things. Having placed them in an interim school, we had to make the move to our preferred, local school when the places came up.  This meant a separation, which was really tough, but they got through it.  Eventually another place came up, so they could be together once more. I was terrified that this next move was going to push them over the edge, but if anything, they have come out fighting.  Stronger, happier and achieving more than ever before, this took just under 2 years though, so it was a long road to feeling settled.

It is never easy coming to terms with a move and leaving behind something familiar, surprisingly though, you, and they, can get through it.

 

How Did I Become a Walking Stereotype?

Woman Carrying Baby Boy Wearing White Tank Top Infront of White Curtain Inside the Room

I wouldn’t say that I set out a plan to live a life quite like this one, but here I am.  I was brought up with a strong female influence, to go out and be who I was, irrespective of my gender.  But over the last few years I have found myself living the old-fashioned ‘gender appropriate’ role of Mother and home maker.  For me, the reasons behind this are sound and not gender related.  My husband earned far more than me when I got pregnant.  Hastily adding that it is not because he is a man, he is better educated, good at this job and in his own words, ‘had a few lucky breaks.’  I on the other hand am less educated, less focused on the whole work thing, plus I had more than one unlucky break that set back my career to a level that I felt was successful but, was not exactly bringing in the big bucks.

So, AB (after babies), it fell to me to be the one responsible for the children during work hours.  It is 100% my responsibility, with favours being called in on certain days and use being made of his rather generous holiday allocation.  I have found that the secret is not to try to pin him down to a weekly / daily commitment, but to sneak in the occasional, becoming more frequent, favour.  But in the children’s eyes it is Mum, the woman, doing the school runs, sorting out their lives, cooking, cleaning and all that fun stuff that goes with having children.  In fact, on the days that he does pick up from school, you would think that a minor celebrity had arrived in the playground!

After baby no.1, I found it difficult to go back to work as I was so focussed on bringing along baby no.2.  This happened fairly promptly and there was a part-time job covering the pregnancy, with childcare for 1 child not being quite so depressingly expensive as childcare for 2. Then baby no.2 arrived and that threw up so many complications – childcare costs doubled, Grandparents backed off at the prospect of 2 rather than just 1, post-natal depression, mad business ideas to work around the children, etc.  My husband had to take on the main, sometimes sole, wage earner and all that brings with it; long hours, travel, stress, etc.  My mad business ideas brought in dribs and drabs of money, but nothing that could justify calling me a working parent.  I fell deeper into the old-fashioned female stereotype, until it became apparent that whatever role I took on, it would need me to take responsibility for the children and the home, as well as the job.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not 1952 in our house; he does his bit; he is doing the bath routine as I type, as tonight was an earlier one than usual for him.  But would he remember to make their packed lunches, sort their uniforms, know what homework was due when?  Sadly no.  Me, on the other hand am typing this, cooking dinner, making packed lunches and putting the rabbits back in their cage, not sure about the hygiene of all this at the same time though.  Now I’m wondering if anyone has fed the fish.  Darling Daughter no.1 has just arrived to tell me that I may heat her milk now; lucky me.

This is the sort of routine that my 2 daughters see every day; what they don’t notice is the work strewn across the table that I have done while they were out at school and, will return to after they go to bed.  They also don’t seem to understand that I work while they are at school in those rare and precious jobs that allow me to work school hours only.  What they see is the woman staying at home and keeping house.

Now to the tricky part, how do I teach them to be who they want to be and not fall into a stereotype?

  1. I bang on and on about my work at every opportunity, it’s pretty much white noise to them now, but maybe one day they will take it in. The dream is to write for a living, but for now, I will do whatever I can find to keep some money coming in.
  2. That brings me to 2; dreams and aspirations, in our house we bring them on in bucket loads, who cares that they change daily? They can have what they want in life and it’s my job to help them get it.
  3. Gender appropriate clothing – we are late to the game with gender neutral, it’s too late, the word is out that they are officially girls. I never wanted pink princesses or dolls in the house, but what do we have? Pink everywhere and scary looking dolls poking out of every drawer, not to mention the herd of unicorns that is now filling our house.  They choose what to wear; I am entering the, “You are not going out in that!” phase.  It would seem that 8 is the new 12; cropped tops and hot pants are in – now I am sounding very old and like my Mum here, but I thought we were covering up in these UV damaging days, apparently not!  I will always encourage their unique taste in fashion and long may it last, but I would like a bit more coverage when possible. Their tastes are currently girly, but that may change.  I would like it if they designed their own style, as that is something they showed interest in previously.  I will encourage their individuality every day. (This is not actually one of mine, but they would love this:)
  4. Gender Appropriate Careers – there are no men’s jobs and women’s jobs in our house, there are careers and jobs to enjoy. This is ironic as I am talking about the old-fashioned woman’s role of mother and home maker and sounding like I am putting it down. I truly am not, as I love where I am right now, but I have lived a different life and I want them to know there are so many options out there.Free stock photo of earth, space, working, united states of america
  5. Making the dreams a reality – at the moment, they are still quite young so dreams and focus change daily, if not hourly. What I now recognise as missing from me, is focus and drive (along with a massive lack of confidence, see point 6). I am a terrible role model for sticking with things, so this has to change as they become more impressionable.  I need to prove to them that sticking with things, working hard, being driven and focused is all that they need to succeed.  Along with a healthy pinch of luck.
  6. Praise and encouragement – I am crap at fake praise, they just know when I really like something and when I am just going through the motions, but is that a bad thing? Life is hard work and they need to know that getting what we want is not always easy. I am also a strong believer in making mistakes to learn from. Praise them for effort, urge them on, pick them up when they fall and boost them up high at every opportunity.  There are too many people in the world who are quick to put others down, I need to bring up resilient and confident women, who will not let others bring them down.
  7. No Excuses – being a woman is neither a hindrance, nor an excuse. We don’t need excuses, we need solutions. Whatever the problem is, the aim is that they will be able to solve it, sometimes with our help, but frequently without.
  8. Self-Image – we live in a society that is incredibly body image obsessed. We are driven to look a certain way to attract the opposite, or the same-sex, impress our peers, or to just look perfect for ourselves. But is looking perfect what life is all about, do we waste too much time on it?  Image is not just about how we look, it is about perception of who we are.  I know that I feel guilty for being at the school gates, as much as I feel guilty when I am not.  I sometimes feel that I have failed womankind by not being a mother and having a career at the same time; I worry that people see me as that failure. I often chip in that I have been at work, when we are waiting for the school door to open, just so that other Mums don’t judge me.  It is me who is judging though, not them!  But why feel that guilt for doing the wrong job, wearing the wrong thing, daring to get old?  It’s just a waste of effort that should be going into fulfilling the dream and living this all too short life.
  9. Careers / Life Choices – I will in no way force opinions on them, they will make their own choices, but I want them to know that the choices are out there. No pressure, but if you want to be an astronaut, then be one, if you want to have a house full of children, then do it. But most of all know the choices and the options, then decide.
  10. Last but not least is something that as a parent I am going to find hard to encourage but I have to do it; they need to take risks, try new things, experience it and live it. Life is not about taking the safe option, sometimes we need to stand on the ledge to see the world below. I doubt they will see silly old Mum as a risk taker as I pack their lunches and iron their clothes, but girls, “Never judge a book by it’s cover, open it up and have a read.”