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Did you go to boarding school? Come and talk to me

(482 Posts)
OhGood Mon 05-Feb-18 11:38:44

I went to boarding school from 7, as did my brother from 5.

My DD and DS are now at these exact ages and I am suddenly being sideswiped by my feelings about this. I keep remembering how unhappy I was, and how hard I had to try to suppress my feelings when I was little, and I have a dawning awareness of how this unhappiness has probably impacted me for all of my life.

I can see how much my DCs need me and DH still, and I can't square this with being sent off to a very strict, old-fashioned school - no contact with parents except weekly letters, and only allowed out 1 weekend a month, etc. Slightly embarrassed about the strength of my emotions.

If you had a similar experience, I would love to know what you think, and how you're feeling about it now.

If you've had these feelings and resolved them, how did you do it? I don't want to wallow in this, but I feel I must do something to work through it.

FidgetWidget Mon 05-Feb-18 12:11:46

No need to feel embarrassed.
I was somewhat older than you when I started boarding school following the death of my mother. To me it felt like I had lost my whole family at once. I wonder if we went to the same school? Mine too was old fashioned with weekly letter writing and long periods between exeats - not weekends at home, but just an afternoon out for tea - not wanting to upset my Dad by telling him how unhappy I was.

I always knew that boarding school would never be an option for my own children.

A lasting legacy from my time away at school has been tolerance for others. The thing I struggle with over 40 years on is the public mask I wear which I can never let slip. Half terms and holidays at home always involved special treats out and special food whereas I just craved to be at home and for that to be normal.

I suppose, for me those feelings have been resolved by knowing that I created a safe and loving home life for my own children who are able to be themselves everywhere and always.

MrsHathaway Mon 05-Feb-18 12:40:25

I boarded much older, and apparently at a much nicer school. I was not hugely happy at home, and much happier at school despite its problems.

What's the context? Were your parents military/diplomatic plus trailing spouse? Were they ill or divorcing or something? Had they gone to boarding school as children, ditto their peers, cousins, etc? Was the school the best available or just the cheapest/most convenient? Was it "the done thing" then? I'm guessing by your children's ages that this happened up to thirty years ago when ideas of child rearing were genuinely different. Are you judging them by Eighties' standards or today's?

I think it's the context, and not the act itself, that has the potential to make you feel better. For example, if you believe they genuinely thought they were sending you somewhere lovely and that you would have had a far worse time with them, then that is different from thinking that they just wanted to be rid of you.

I'm sorry you're so upset. It is very complicated to watch your children grow and project yourself back into their shoes and have to assess your parents' actions compared to your own as a parent.

cheezy Mon 05-Feb-18 12:49:41

Boarding school can be terribly traumatic and have lasting effects. There is a recognised psychological condition, Boarding school syndrome perhaps some counselling to explore these feelings, with someone with some knowledge in this area? flowers

Merryoldgoat Mon 05-Feb-18 13:16:33

Oh how awful OP - I confess I haven't been to boarding school but my DS is 5 and the idea of him being away from me for school is heartbreaking. He needs so much attention and love, as I imagine all 5 year olds do.

I'm sorry for what you've experienced. sad

OhGood Mon 05-Feb-18 13:44:03

Thank you all.

fidgetwidget that's such a hard thing to lose your mother and then be sent to school. I can imagine those afternoon teas. Like Sunday lunchtimes on exeat weekends, knowing you had to get in the car in a couple of hours and go back.

This really resonates with me: 'The thing I struggle with over 40 years on is the public mask I wear which I can never let slip.' I have this too! I find it exhausting to be around people for too long - maintaining this sort of double life. I am intensely private (secretive, almost) and find it very hard to admit weakness or get help. There are pros, I suppose - I am very self-reliant and can function under almost all circumstances.

I think this must also explain the terrible separation anxiety I feel about the kids - me, not them; they are perfectly OK.

MrsHathaway I was in Africa, and I know my parents felt that I could only get a decent education at boarding school. It was very much the norm at the time and they had boarded too. I do understand this, and I don't blame them at all.

cheezy Thank you - I will look into this further I think.

LyricalGangster Mon 05-Feb-18 13:52:11

I boarded from 8-18, similar sounding prep to yours. Letter writing on Sunday after chapel to send a message home every week and as my dad was all over the place I spent most exeats at school so only went home for the big holidays. I have massive amounts of resentment that occasionally pop up at the unfairness of my childhood (although paradoxically it was considered a huge privilege to board and my childhood consisted of lots of people telling me how 'lucky' or 'fortunate' I was)

tellitlikeitispls Mon 05-Feb-18 14:15:08

I was at boarding school, but I was older - just turned 10 (final year of junior/primary school)
It was me that made the decision to go - I wasn't forced into it - so not the same scenario. It doesn't mean that I don't have issues with it, but they aren't as strong. Also to put it in context, I had a pretty disjointed start in life - my mother left when I was 2 and I went to live with my nan as dad was in forces, then mother came back and tried to take me away. Dad was given custody. Then he remarried witch from hell. Realised his error after a year. Back to nan. Then he met someone else when I was 7. Went to live with them at 8 with new step-sisters.

So the 6 years I spent at boarding school were the most stable I'd ever had. For the most part I didn't mind it, although I was taken out every Sunday lunchtime by my dad and I still remember the gut wrenching feeling of having to go back Sunday nights. On exeat weekends he was always late to collect me as he had a long drive and again, I remember the anxiousness of waiting for him to arrive, being moved to another location in the school as 'I couldn't wait there' and worrying that he wouldn't find where I was (this was in the 80's) I never really felt 'at home' when I went home.

DH did suggest not long back sending DS1 to a boarding school (he is 10) I got quite upset which surprised both of us. DS1 is hard work (as I was at that age) but the thought of just 'getting him out of the way' is just not something I will consider. I feel very strongly that a child needs its parents. Both of them where possible. And the fact that he isn't an easy child makes it more important that he is here with us - even if he outwardly protests about needing us - its my job to be here for him - moreso because he pushes us away. I can't imagine not reading to DS2 every night, and checking on them both when they've finally nodded off. They are still so young. DS1 is a massive great hulking thing, but he's still a little boy and he needs me, not a housemistress/master that has 30 other kids to look after.

I'm pretty self reliant too. I require no-one's help. I deal with everything at home as well as working and some might call it controlling although DH seems happy enough with me calling the shots. I don't like asking for help either. I'm a wierd mixture of introvert and extrovet. I suspect this has a lot to do with my early years and those years at boarding school.

MarshaBradyo Mon 05-Feb-18 14:22:45

I boarded but was older, at 12.

Your strong feelings are completely normal, I could weep at such young children going. I have an 8 year old ds and he still really needs me, including things like daily cuddles. I can understand that you look at your dc and it side swipes you.

FidgetWidget Mon 05-Feb-18 14:30:50

OhGood You've hit the nail on the head with and find it very hard to admit weakness or get help. I just feel I mustn't ever show vulnerability.....

My daughter and son (now in their 30s) 'get' this and are able to gauge if I need help or if I should be left to sort things out on my own and so it now feels safe to let the mask slip. Perhaps I should have explained it all to them a long time ago and let them in.

I too know that my Dad believed his decision was the best for me at the time.

I did had some counselling which helped so worth exploring. I wish you well x

ginandbearit Mon 05-Feb-18 15:06:34

I went to boarding school from.an early age and was also in hospital with asthma for weeks at a time throughout my childhood . My mother died when i was an infant so no memory of her , i lived with aunt and uncle for a while , back to dad working abroad to first step mother who was v wrong for all of us .
I am youngest of four , all boarded at sometime.All of us badly affected by these experiences still over fifty years on . My brother built strong family around him , my two sisters have had difficult lives and anxiety and insecurity issues and still obsseses about her time at boarding school .
I have had many problems forming stable relationshipsand other issues throughout my life and that is not boarding schools fault per se , many boys loved where i was , but the issue is so complex , with the messages sent by family as to your worth and belonging .
I worked in forensic psychiatry and a long term criminal i talked to about childhood abandonment said of his time in prison and working with offenders "you can always tell the ones who were sent to boarding school from the ones sent to Borstal ..we were sent away by people who didnt like us , you were sent away by people who said they loved you "
There have been previous threads about this with many supporting boarding and loving it , but for many it is a huge weight and has had long lasting negative impacts .

yolofish Mon 05-Feb-18 15:14:43

I so understand your feelings. I boarded from 10, DB (6 years older than me) from 8. DH also boarded. The resilience, the ability to cope under any circumstance - people think these are good qualities and perhaps they are, BUT they are forged in unnatural circumstances IMO. Funnily enough I am now caring for DM who is 87, and one of the things that makes it really really difficult is my inner voice saying "but she sent you away when you were 10 years old..."

Boarding advocates actually quite scare me.

WellWhoKnew Mon 05-Feb-18 15:18:52

8 as well. Old fashioned boarding school for girls, complete with elocution, deportment or piano as extra-curricula activities!

I learnt through counselling that I have an innate belief that showing weakness, frailty or vulnerability is a bad thing. It has meant I have struggled to accept help, tolerate weakness nor trust people.

Boarding school taught me to be ferociously independent. I no longer believe this to be a good thing.

I suspect my "family", who are all disconnected from one another, have come to realise the true price of being "privileged and lucky".

The only "self help" book I've encountered is "boarding school syndrome", but it's aimed more at educating therapists than us former boarders.

A counsellor specialising in it (or at least some concept of it) is very useful for allowing oneself to grieve for your interrupted childhood, and the subsequent unsettled anger you might feel as you work your way through the "WTF were they thinking" reality of being a parent yourself.

Rainatnight Mon 05-Feb-18 15:22:52

Nothing to be embarrassed about, OP. I didn't board, but like a PP, spent aeons in hospital as a kid. It hit me very forcefully when a friend's daughter turned the age my hospitalisations began. I realised for the first time how very young I was to spend so much time away from my parents (parents didn't stay over back then).

Lambzig Mon 05-Feb-18 15:30:05

I boarded from 6. I found it incredibly difficult when DD went to school (not boarding) at 5 and it dredged a lot up for me.

I am in counselling for professional reasons, but it has been helpful to look at that school time and the impact it has had on relationships.

I found it very difficult to be in groups of women and chose to work in a very male-orientated environment. I have recently changed careers and trained/worked with women and it was a difficult thing for me at first.

I too recognise the public mask and have really had to let go of that to do what I do now.

cuttingcarbonemissions Mon 05-Feb-18 15:30:49

I boarded from 11 and absolutely loved it.

My own DC are at boarding school - two started at 13, one at 11. All are enjoying it.

I would not send a 7 or 8 year old to boarding school.

Junior boarding is extremely rare now - some children from abroad, some whose home circumstances are such that boarding is better than being at home ( eg severely disabled siblings with behavioural issues) and a few choristers. People don’t do this anymore. Even army and Foreign Office families who get it for free find other solutions.

Lambzig Mon 05-Feb-18 15:35:58

I found it helpful to work with a counsellor who understands attachment theory, it’s impact on how I experienced boarding school and how all of this has impacted subsequent relationships. Hope that makes sense.

yolofish Mon 05-Feb-18 15:40:10

cutting you're kind of exemplifying what people are saying though... stiff upper lip and all that. I liked it at the time (ish) as did DH; I am in contact with many good friends from those days.

BUT, being away from home at such a young age - 7, 8, 9, 10, even 11 - means that effectively you no longer live at home. You learn ridiculous forms of independence that you don't need to learn, and you fail to learn other stuff that you do need to learn, like how to live as part of a proper family, that you can actually share stuff, you don't always have to be on high alert.

And maybe you don't know that at the time - because all seems fine, everyone's getting on and stuff.

DH and I were both adamant no children of ours would ever board - because we both know it harmed us in ways that often only appear later.

Sorry if that sounds unnecessarily harsh, and I'm sure you have made your own decisions in perfect faith. But even perfectly happy children dont tell you the whole truth and I dont think the lessons you learn while boarding are particularly healthy in the long term.

Dapplegrey Mon 05-Feb-18 15:45:01

Yolofish so anyone who says they enjoyed boarding school is, according to you, wrong, and everyone who went to boarding school is damaged?

Neolara Mon 05-Feb-18 15:50:53

My DH and I both boarded. Both of us were adamant that our dcs would not board.

yolofish Mon 05-Feb-18 15:52:30

aged 16, if our DDs had wanted to and we could afford it - then yes, I might have considered boarding but I would have pointed out the disadavantages pretty strongly.

yolofish Mon 05-Feb-18 15:54:22

to an extent dapplegrey yes I do think damage occurs. Levels differ of course, some are very badly damaged indeed, others much less so. As the child of boarders, the sister of a boarder and the wife of a boarder, and friend of many more, yup I do believe it is not a 100% positive experience.

user1480434796 Mon 05-Feb-18 16:05:41

I didnt but my partner did, now late twenties she went from the age of 2. Parent worked overseas and only saw them a few times a year. This is something we have talked about at length and she has been left feeling like she missed out on a lot of socialisation. She described it as being in a posh bubble where students weren't encouraged to mix much at all with the 'outside' World.

She left to go to University having no idea how to cook, clean etc. For her this may have been because of little interaction outside of the School or it may have just been a consequence of attending a very 'Posh' (think London) School where pupils had to put wooden poles behind backs to improve posture and were sheltered from the rest of the World.

Either way she has VERY ill feelings towards the private School sector after these experiences.

Of course in her experience she was VERY young so if children have already had a good degree of socialisation etc this may not be the same.

cuttingcarbonemissions Mon 05-Feb-18 16:15:27

@yolo: You seem to be saying that everyone who went to boarding school is damaged. If they do not recognise themselves as damaged they are deluded. That is a result of their boarding school experience. That is a circular argument based on an unproven assertion.

Maybe I am damaged - but I can’t really say that I feel it. And I definitely learned to share at school!

I think there are so many variables involved in how people turn out - genetics, family relationships, very early childhood experiences, peer groups etc that you can’t really generalise.

What I do know is that boarding today is very different to the boarding you experienced as a 7 year old.

yolofish Mon 05-Feb-18 16:18:24

user aged 2??? or did you mean 12? please say you meant 12...

The 'not living at home' thing makes a big difference IMO. DH and I are/were never bothered that we didnt see our parents very much, because we hadnt lived with them since we were quite young. Our DDs are now both at uni, but love coming home, it is actual home rather than just where their parents live. They both get back about 3 times a term - now in boarding school speak that could be because they are not independent enough, or it could just be that they do it because they want to? no pressure on them from us either way btw.

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