Thursday, 16 September 2010

More about maternal deprivation

Yesterday's post led to an alarming degree of harmony and agreement with the views which I expressed. This is disturbing and I hope it will not become a regular event. I am still looking at the idea of maternal deprivation and disrupted contact with the small child's attachment figure, which is as I said yesterday almost invariably the mother. I know that most home educating parents would sooner sell their children to a vivisectionist than allow anybody to conduct psychological tests or assessments upon them, but even without formal testing I think that it is possible to see some good effects of being close to the mother during childhood, rather than being sent off to school. These centre around the relationship which older home educated children seem to have with their parents.

We looked yesterday at some of the ill effects of maternal deprivation. Bowlby and others documented the stages of a child's reactions to being separated from his mother. There are tears and protests, followed by listlessness and depression. After a while the child becomes detached emotionally and this leads observers to suppose that he is happy with his situation. He is not though and blames his mother for the situation in which he finds himself. This produces in later years hostility towards the person whom he blames for the separation, that is to say the mother.

One of the strange things that I have noticed when talking to friends about their relationships with their children is the number of them who seem at their wits end during adolescence. There seem to be shouting matches between them and their children, even shoving, grabbing and the occasional blow. All say that they sense a lack of respect for them and that their children speak to them with contempt. I am honestly baffled by this and it runs counter both to my own experience and to common sense. One would think, and I have certainly found it to be the case, that as children grow older it should be more and more possible to reason with them and hold sensible conversations. It is true of course that teenagers often get irritable and that their choices are not always the best, but surely one would expect a person who was almost an adult to be a more reasonable being than one who is just a child? This does not seem to be the case with those of my friends' children who are, or have been, at school.

Now I know some parents whose children have not been to school and I am in contact with others by telephone or email. In every case, they report that they get on perfectly well with their adolescent offspring. Sure, there are disagreements as there are bound to be in any family, but all say that it is actually easier as their children are older, rather than harder. I would be interested to know what readers hear have found as their children have become teenagers.

Of course, not all home educators have taught their children from birth. Some of the children will have been to school. This does not seem to make any difference to the generally affectionate relations which seem to survive adolescence. I can see why that should be as well. Some at least of the typically horrible behaviour of children who have spent all their lives at school and nursery can be interpreted as anger and resentment at their mother for not protecting them; in effect they feel that their mother abandoned them. This resentment can, as Bowlby observed, manifest later in various ways including the development of an anti-social personality. Children who have been bullied or having other problems at school and then been deregistered, will surely look upon their mothers in precisely the opposite light. Instead of being subconsciously bitter that their mothers abandoned them or failed to protect them, they will be grateful to their mothers for rescuing them.

As I say, my own personal experience is that my daughter's adolescence seems to be pretty smooth and a natural continuation of childhood. Nobody is shouting here or going mad about anything. This cannot be because I am a particularly patient and tolerant person; I am anything but. I think that it is probably because my daughter knows that I love her and enjoy her company and that this has always been the case. She has been shocked by the way that some of her friends talk about their parents. They say that they hate them. I really would be surprised to hear that this is the case with many home educated children.


  1. Wow! Two days in a row when you are saying things we're mostly going to agree with! You must be mellowing :-)

    However, I really must agree - although we have disagreements here, we mostly talk to each other and K (18), J (16) and I (47) tend to get along like three adults in a household. I do not make demands that I would not make of another adult and they share in chores without complaint. In fact, K is doing the main cooking at the moment as she is mostly waiting to go off to uni next week, so has not restarted local activities.

    As well as de-registered children *knowing* that they were protected, I think that always EHE children are deeply secure in their relationship with their parents - it was never disrupted and the parents were never in the position of being the enforcer for athird party. There is a lot to be said for removing battles over getting to school on time and homework.

    BTW, that does not mean that I never insisted on them getting out at a specific time but mostly that I was merely helping them achieve a longer-term goal set by them. For example, I would be asked to ensure that they got up in time to attend the weekly music school (although it was more often them getting me up). It was very sad to hear other parents talking about forcing their children out of bed to go...

  2. Mmm...interesting. We have kids of 19 and 16. We've had our hairy moments. Mainly because I rather lack the Gifts of the Spirit (gentleness, patience, self-contol etc) Probably because I grew up in an abusive, volcanic household.

    Given my character flaws, incredibly, my kids have grown up into sensible, mature, CALM individuals and our relationships seems to be surviving.

    We've always had family meetings to sort out problems ever since the children were old enough to talk. I think that helped a lot. We also stressed that we were a team, the 4 of us. That was an important mind-set too.

    Mrs Anon

  3. I remember hearing an item on Woman's Hour when my daughter was 10, about parents reporting 'adolescent' behaviour in the pre-teen years. My attention was caught by this because we had been experiencing similar problems. A perfectly affable, reasonable, happy child had turned into a defiant, sullen, difficult individual in the space of a few months. 'Adolescent' behaviour is often attributed to hormonal changes and there was some speculation about whether early puberty was playing some role in this.

    We discovered, after some investigation, that there was actually a fairly close correlation between our daughter's behaviour and what was happening at school. Since she's been out of school, she's been her old self, in spite of her hormones.

    She describes what she felt in terms of cognitive dissonance: "I was really angry about what the teacher was making us do because it was really boring and a complete waste of time, because I knew I could already do it, I'd proved that because I'd done it hundreds of times, but I liked my teacher and I couldn't be angry with her."

    I remember secondary school as being a constant challenge in terms of having to cope with different teachers, different teaching styles, petty injustices and conflicting demands and being relatively powerless. In a work setting you can leave, influence expectations, complain about bullying managers etc. Not always easy, but possible. Much more difficult at school.

    I strongly suspect that many adolescent 'problems' are due to children being given an education more suitable to the education system than to themselves, and they express their frustration in the safest environment they know, which for most children, is going to be home.

  4. I think that many teenagers need the space in their lives to take big leaps in independence and also to retreat at times to the activities and behaviours of their younger selves. Home educating can more easily accommodate that ebb and flow.

  5. 'Gifts of the Spirit'

    Expressions like this Mrs Anon, are a dead giveaway that you hang round with evangelicals! I'll warrant that you have even been on an Alpha Course. I hope that you are not one of those who became stressed and anxious becuase you felt that you had not received a gift from the Holy Spirit? I have had friends who felt very left out as one person received the healing touch and another began speaking in tongues and they remained just as they had been before. There was a definitie feeling that unless you had received a gift from the Spirit, your being born again was somehow not the real thing. It always reminds me of the scene at the beginning of Sleeping Beauty, when the fairies give their gifts. I wonder of this is really how some people see the Spirit?

  6. 'Wow! Two days in a row when you are saying things we're mostly going to agree with! You must be mellowing :-)'

    No need to feel uneasy, Shena. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow, when I shall be saying just as many insensitive and offensive things as usual about those fools who refuse to educate their children in accordance with the wise and good methods which I recommend.

  7. No, I made a mistake saying 'gifts'. I meant 'fruits' of the spirit.

    'But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23, New International Version'

    All those things I seriously lack.
    Mrs Anon

  8. 'All those things I seriously lack.'

    In common with the rest of us. I think that the Book of Genesis sheds some light on why this would be.....

  9. I can see Mrs Anon that I misjudged you. I thought that you were referring to the Gifts of the Spirit found in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. These include wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, and so on. I'm sorry if I incorrectly identified you as an Evangelical rather than a lapsed Catholic, but whenever I hear folk mentioning the Gifts of the Spirit, I alway expect them to start laying their hands on my head or gabbling away incomprehensibly! I should have realised that you were not really in that mould at all.

  10. 'I should have realised that you were not really in that mould at all.'

    I haven't explained one way or the other, though, have I? LOL!

    I am an ex-catholic, one who was then an atheist for 20 years and, for the last 15, an evangelical, though not particularly charismatic, christian.

    Charismatics are the ones you mean, a la Holy Trinity Brompton (home of the Alpha Course). That's not particularly me, really, though I would define myself as having been born again.

    And voila, now you know.
    Mrs Anon

  11. Back to maternal deprivation. Are you familiar with those monkey experiments of Harry Harlow's? A most harrowing experiences of my training in child development (a short unit within a PGCE course) was having to watch film of those poor baby monkeys.

    Mrs Anon

  12. Yes I know about Harlow's work. it has bearing on the fact that children will still go for comfort to an abusive mother. Once that attachment has been made, it is very hard to break. Of course Bowlby based a lot of his ethological atuff upon Lorenz and his famous goslings, which is the same principle.

    I do know the that not all Evangelicals are Charismatics. You probably know that there is a Charismatic Catholic movement as well, which I find a strange notion.

  13. 'I strongly suspect that many adolescent 'problems' are due to children being given an education more suitable to the education system than to themselves, and they express their frustration in the safest environment they know, which for most children, is going to be home.'

    I agree, although I do remember hearing an 11-year-old HE girl exclaiming to her mother, 'Oh Mummy, you really are a bloody bastard!' lol!
    I guess mum is the safest person to express your frustration to even if you don't go to school!

    But seriously, I noticed a dramatic improvement in my kids' behaviour when I took them out of school, and when my daughter went back as a teenager she often came home angry and frustrated. At first I reminded her that she didn't have to go, and still had the option of HE, but I realised that this wasn't helping. She *wanted* to be at school, and needed me to support her in her choice, and to acknowledge her feelings about the petty and pointless aspects. When I did this, she could let go of her anger.

    I think Mrs Anon is right about the importance of being a team, as well. I never put myself in the position of being an enforcer for the school; I remember how unheard and unsupported I felt when my parents did that. I was always on her side.

    I've talked a lot about school... but what I'm trying to say is that school or home is irrelevant; it's more to do with respecting our children's choices, acknowledging their feelings, and being on their side.

    Another good post, Simon!

  14. you found a job yet Claire?