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Boarding School is Looming

(85 Posts)
Heidi Wed 03-Aug-11 13:12:36

This is going to sound odd, I think, but here goes....

My DS, age 11, is starting at a Boarding School in Sept for Y7. He sent off for prospectuses a couple of years ago and the first I knew of his interest was when they started landing on the doormat! We are not a family who would naturally have considered boarding but we have always sent the children to a fee paying school so were more surprised than 'anti' the idea, and were impressed when we looked around all the ones he had earmarked.

DS is v. bright, as well as musical, artistic and extremely sporty, and he won scholarships to more than one school of choice (this is the only way we could afford fees so was lucky - or unlucky for us). We eventually settled on a school about 3/4 hour from home, so we can easily get there and take him out for tea / watch fixtures etc. We have spent a lot of time as a family talking about this issue (we have a 9 year old DD who will stay at home obvs.), visiting the school and generally trying to prepare.

Recently, I have been cramming in those jobs like naming all his kit after work; also DD has expressed an interest in joining some more local clubs (which is possible now we won't have to 'share' the free time during the week) and I have been making these extra 'exciting' arrangments for her.

And suddenly it has hit home. In 5 weeks he will be gone.

DS is so excited to be going (he's away there for a week of sports camp now with a couple of friends who will also be attending in Sept), is looking forward to being able to do more after school and to being kept busy all of the time (it's a struggle with me working FT to fit in everything he and his sis want to do). But all I can feel is looming dread. I'm certainly not as ready as he thinks he is for this whole experience.

I know my DH and I have agreed to this and I want to be seen to support my DS as I don't want him to feel guilty or worried about his choice. Has anyone else been through this? I know in my heart that he will probably be fine, and we'll have to get used to the situation (unless he hates it, in which case we wouldn't expect him to stay), but I've found myself in tears more than once at the prospect of not having him around :-( My DH seems a lot more relaxed about it and thinks I'm being overprotective, but it won't seem as much of a change for him, as he works away some of the week.

Aaaagh!

fluffyanimal Wed 03-Aug-11 13:22:37

Oh poor you! Sorry I've no experience of sending my DC to boarding school, but I did go to one myself, and boarding was my choice because my parents said they would move house so I could be a day girl, and I didn't want us to move house. I know now it must have ripped my mum to shreds and we both bawled in each other's arms the night before going, but apart from that the rest of the time she was absolutely stoic about it.

I'm afraid I can't say I'd have the guts to do it myself, but try to reassure yourself that he has researched his school and knows what he wants from his education. That's not to say he may not also be feeling nerves and cold feet, so along with being excited with him, keep letting him know he can change his mind at any time.

I sometimes think looking back on it, I rather wish my parents had gone against my decision and moved us closer to the school anyway, because I have in the process of therapy for completely unrelated things unearthed that I have a tendency to take on too much responsibility that should be others', and it started here. I guess what I'm trying to say rather clumsily is that choosing to go to boarding school is a terribly big decision for a small child to make (no matter how mature he is, 10-11 is a small child still), so just be careful that you let him know that you are still in charge of the decision and he needn't feel bad if he changes his mind.

Not sure if any of that made sense! Anyway, I do feel for you and beyond all that I'm sure he will be fine and have a whale of a time!

fluffyanimal Wed 03-Aug-11 13:24:21

PS I loved my school.

Heidi Wed 03-Aug-11 13:52:11

Thanks fluffyanimal, that's helpful in a way (and having read some other boarding school threads I'm very pleased you posted the first reply...!)

You're right, 10 or 11 is very young to be making a 'decision' - and it is such a big decision as you say. DH and I went along with it genuinely believing it would be the right thing to let him try it, having researched everything we could think of to the 'nth' degree. I guess what we can do is make sure he knows we want him to be happy ahead of anything else - I hadn't thought of it from that perspective. Giving him 'permission' to recognise that all options remain open to him is the best thing we can work on now.

Will help him, even if I still end up needing shares in kleenex and gordons....

Heidi Wed 03-Aug-11 13:52:33

PS Am glad you loved your school smile

fluffyanimal Wed 03-Aug-11 14:12:52

There are lots of positives to being at boarding school, if it is a good, loving, family-atmosphere type school (which mine was). And it sounds like you are near enough to have regular contact. What are their exeat rules? When I was a boarder I went home every weekend at first, then switched to once a fortnight because I didn't want to miss out on the weekend activities. I'm now a bit sad to see that my old school has changed to having only 1 exeat weekend a term (don't approve).

Because of only seeing my family once a fortnight I found I wanted to make the most of every visit and was never the stroppy argumentative or silent teen (not sure if that's a good or a bad thing for me, but it was probably a blessing for my parents!)

Another thing: there may be students there whose parents are overseas, and who might beg your DS to take them home with him from time to time. That can be really hard, as my best friend at school was like this, and I always felt torn between doing something nice for her and wanting my parents all to myself at weekends - maybe my parents felt the same! Anyway, it might be wise to be prepared to help him negotiate that little emotional minefield!

Panzee Wed 03-Aug-11 14:14:38

I had wanted to board since I was 10 and went to a fee-paying school as a day girl. I eventually did when I was 15 and loved every second of it. So although 10 is young to make a decision, I'd like to reassure you that I made the right one! smile

happygardening Wed 03-Aug-11 14:52:09

I've boarded both my DS since 7 and the younger one now 13 changes schools this year and will carry on boarding. I always feel sad when he
goes back to school and hate the final week of each holiday especially the long summer holiday because I know he is returning to school soon. My DH and I miss him terribly when he is at school. But I wouldn't change it he has thrived at boarding school and opted to carry on when he could have gone to a day school. I know he misses us to because he frequently tells us. If it's any consilation we are all very close as a family and enjoy are time together.

goinggetstough Wed 03-Aug-11 20:06:05

Heidi don't worry your thoughts are totally normal. My DCs boarded from 8 so I know exactly how you feel. I felt sad when they went back like happygardening but you know deep down they will be having so much fun.
A few tips from experience would be:
- make sure you are busy at the time your DS would normally come home from school (it sounds as if your DD will help here with your new activities)
- be aware that your DD will be continually asked how her brother is by other people. They do it to be kind but people forget that it is hard on the sibling left at home. So great she has some special new activities to keep her busy too.
- do listen to what is the norm at your boarding school for visiting. No school tries to keep their pupils away from their parents. However, some parents can visit maybe too often at the beginning and this can be unsettling for their DC and others. At my DC's prep school local people would 'have to' drop off items that weren't really needed and then would accidentally bump into their child or if not someone would see the parent and tell the child who would then be upset not to have seen their parent.
- do buy some postcards so you can send one to arrive mid week each week. These are often put on boards above their beds with photos.
- Remember children have off days at home when they are upset so be strong if you receive an unhappy phone call from your son. Normally as soon as they get off the phone they have off loaded to you and race off happily to be with their friends leaving you sad... House parents are there to help and do expect to get phone calls from worried parents in the first few weeks and after! So phone them, don't just worry at home...
Good luck to your DS I am sure he will have a great time.

happygardening Thu 04-Aug-11 09:01:49

A few more points learnt from six years of prep school boarding. Assuming he's allowed a mobile phone txt rather than call and

happygardening Thu 04-Aug-11 09:15:36

Continued from above technology playing up! Txt rather than call and not six times a day he can they txt/call when it's convenient. If after a holiday he doesn't have to be back till the evening do something even if it's walking the dog or visiting a friend otherwise you'll both sit clock watching. When you drop him at school settle him in and go hanging around is not helpful to either of you. My son always chooses the dinner the night before he goes back to school and takes photos of things he just done in the holidays. Finally he may well have times when he's unhappy in the first couple of terms and you woudn't want it any other way home should be where he is happiest bur in my experience nearly all have settled down by two terms if he has not then you've may have a problem.

Heidi Thu 04-Aug-11 09:44:26

Thanks so much everyone for such positive comments. Still a bit tearful thinking about the whole thing, but there's some really sensible stuff here and good ideas that I'll take away.

I'm really glad to hear how many people have been to boarding school and been happy having chosen it, and thanks as well for the advice about my DD x Am glad I posted it has really helped.

Pippaandpolly Thu 04-Aug-11 10:06:25

Happygardening has some really good advice (speaking as a Houseparent). If you can get hold of them (try the BSA) read 'Being a Boarder' by Rose Heiney and 'Parenting the Boarder' by Libby Purves. They were published a few years ago but have some solid, sensible advice. Also, it might sound silly, but for new boys/girls it can be really helpful to have some things from home that aren't necessarily 'theirs' in order to help them settle in-e.g. a mug, or an ornament. (Not precious/breakable!) Other advice:

Talk to the Housemaster regularly-he won't mind if you phone once a week for the first few weeks.

If you ever have bad news you need to deliver to your ds tell it to the Housemaster first so he can be there and support you and your son-it sounds obvious but never phone ds in the middle of the night to tell him the dog's died!

There is NOTHING more exciting than post for young boarders-even in the digital age! Letters, postcards, the odd care package (with some things just for him and some he can share with his friends) make the world of difference.

Find out from the Housemaster what his policy on birthdays is-some schools provide cake/ask parents to send one in/let parents take children out for supper/put on such an amazing party that ds would be gutted to 'have to' go out for supper-they're all different!

And I second the advice about the first day of term-go to whatever events you're invited to (often tea with the Head/Housemaster) but don't stay till the bitter end-it makes it harder for you and for your ds.

PM me if you have any qus smile and enjoy the rest of the holiday!

fluffyanimal Thu 04-Aug-11 11:01:02

So nice to hear all these really positive stories - wish my mum had had this kind of support when I went to boarding school.

happygardening Thu 04-Aug-11 19:41:58

I've thought up some more tips; perhaps I should write a book! If you have serious medical problems that require management outside of the norm or unusual dietry requirements (my DS has both) speak to the house parents/matrons on a separate occaission preferably before he starts no houseparent/matron will give their undivided attention on the first day back to school however much they would like too. The same goes for anything else you might want to discuss. Follow the advise given re clothes eg how many t shirts and money/iPods etc some schools don't want you to call for the first couple of weeks stick with this rule your child will not die if they don't speak to you. Don't cry when you say goodbye children are remarkably good at picking up on your anxieties and magnifying them. If you child is unhappy or worried don't jump in immediately leave it a day and speak to them again things often look better when it's been slept on and only contact the school if he remains really upset. Remember boarding school children all have one unwritten rule: don't tell. this may seem harsh in the 21st century but telling those in authority about what is often trivial incidents is very frowned upon by the other children. When you board your children you are basically giving up control some find this harder than others if you try to micro manage your child from a distance you will drive the school round the bend, your son and yourself. Let go, go with the flow stick to the schools rule and enjoy your child when he comes home.

KaySirah Thu 04-Aug-11 19:43:12

"I know he misses us to because he frequently tells us. "

fucking hell - thats abuse

noddyholder Thu 04-Aug-11 19:44:30

Please don't

noddyholder Thu 04-Aug-11 19:45:11

My dp still remembers crying on the phone til he vomited becasue he was so homesick

KaySirah Thu 04-Aug-11 19:45:39

me too
and DONT THINK that because they say they like it that they do.
they just dont want to upset you

KaySirah Thu 04-Aug-11 19:45:58

and all the low level bullying

nice parent you are

noddyholder Thu 04-Aug-11 19:48:07

There are so many things that these children miss out on. It is not normal to have kids and then get rid!

KaySirah Thu 04-Aug-11 19:48:22

"If you child is unhappy or worried don't jump in immediately leave it a day and speak to them again things often look better when it's been slept on and only contact the school if he remains really upset"

KaySirah Thu 04-Aug-11 19:48:41

if the dog dies i think he should be at home to bloody be consoled bu his parents

KaySirah Thu 04-Aug-11 19:49:01

"he won't mind if you phone once a week for the first few weeks.
"

fucking hell

noddyholder Thu 04-Aug-11 19:51:20

This is the one parenting subject I can never back down on I agree it is abusive. I know they say its fun Hogwarts blah blah but most adults are hugely affected and don't want it for their own children. I only have one ds and he is 17 but the school years at home have been great

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