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✶ PARENT ADVICE Support your Child through Boarding School Hilary Moriarty reveals her personal experience and offers advice on how to support children through their first time boarding. S o who is this person, writing about how to offer emotional support to a child who has left home to become a brand new boarder? What does she know? And why does she dare to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do, or think, or feel, when I am in agony for the loss of my child, and I would bring him home in a heartbeat? And I might just put this magazine down right now and do just that – where are my car keys? Well, I was Head of a boarding school for six years, and for eight I was the National Director of the Boarding Schools’ Association, representing the interests of just about all the boarding schools in Britain, including state boarding schools. But what’s more important than the thirteen years working for two boarding schools is my own experience as the parent of two boarders. Let us begin by recognising that seeing a child leaving home is never easy. One of my daughters was so distressed by venturing to playschool at the age of three, and I was so distressed standing outside the door and listening to her, that I gave up on the enterprise at the end of the first week. Those were the days when playschool really was intended to be good for her, not childcare for my benefit. Having the choice, I caved. I scooped her up and carried her off, promising we would bake, paint and play on the swing – and it would be ok! How stupid of me to have sent her at all I thought. The playschool leader thought I was stupid to take her out, and believed I was setting a dangerous precedent: “Mark my words,” she muttered darkly. “You will be sorry, and so will she. She has to learn to settle. You can’t tie her to your apron strings for the rest of her life!” I thought that was a bit harsh at the age of three, but I do recognise now that I was as much of a problem as my daughter. She quite naturally wailed. I stayed within earshot and my heart broke – so I rescued her. 50 hilary moriarty.indd 50 In fairness to the playschool leader, I should report that this daughter wailed when she went to primary school and secondary school, and yes, when she went to university. Secondary school was so bad we contemplated changing schools at half term, but she stuck it out and ended up loving it – Head Girl, the whole happy pupil nine yards. She still does not like change, though she copes with it fine. But preparing for and rationalising about transition is much harder when you are a child, and may be more difficult for some children than for others. When it comes to boarding, there is little doubt that some children will take to it quite happily. Others will take longer to settle in, and some will be so unhappy you will need to rescue them. Children must go to school, but they don’t have to be boarders. Oddly enough, today’s boarding will appeal to a whole new market of families – where both parents are hard-working high-earning careerists, with more demands on their time and energy than in my day, when for instance, I took ten years out of the work place to raise the family. Maternity leave was six weeks, if you did not return in the seventh week you had to repay all your maternity pay. There were no nurseries, and grandparents were too far away. I would not have trusted a childminder with my precious children, so I quit. Such foolhardy disregard for the demands of a career! A completely different world compared to today. My daughters’ generation make different choices: educated, ambitious, they have a family and they do not stop. A year’s maternity leave is brilliant and they take it – but they go back. My children, except one daughter, left the kitchen for playschool because everyone said it would be fun and good for them. Today’s babies leave home for nurseries often before their first birthday, and for long days, sometimes whole weeks if a part time return to work is not possible. The need for child care for a very long day, sometimes for very young children, is now a given. You could say that children as young as a year old are ‘working’ the kind of week we do. If parents– and baby– are happy with that separation because of the demands of the workplace, then there can be little arguing about a seven year old staying at his prep school a couple of nights a week. At least he can phone if he’s unhappy, and tell you all about it. My second son became a boarder at fourteen because his school day was from 9am-3pm, and he was home by 3.15pm. I was a Head teacher and my husband commuted to London, we got home about 7pm. I thought four hours alone every day for a thirteen year old was dangerous, not to mention lonely – it felt like neglect. Boarding with a long academic day, company and activities in the evenings, qualified staff to engage and supervise, was an answer to a prayer. He could come AUTUMN 2015 24/08/2015 10:17