Family Honesty

Five reasons to give yourself a break – homeschooling special

If there’s one thing that worries me right now, it’s the pressure I hear my friends putting themselves under about homeschooling. And it’s mostly women. That’s not to say my male friends aren’t worried but it’s exclusively my girlfriends who are posting online about how they’re trying to build lesson plans / find new ways to get their children engaged. This is at a time when many of them are also working. Or trying to work. Or trying to create a quiet environment where their partners can work. And worrying about their pets and their parents and whether there’s a way they could be “maximising this time” to learn a new language or master a complicated yoga move. And all I want to say to them is GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK! Especially when it comes to the endless worries about whether they can somehow make up for the lack of schooling.

But sometimes saying “give yourself a break” isn’t enough. So here’s my five reasons why I think you should.

1. You are not a teacher

You know how you’ve spent the past two decades building a career as an accountant or a business development exec or finally reaching the point where you can run your own business? That’s the stuff you feel drawn to and are good at. Don’t beat yourself up that you’re not able to demonstrate the joys of past participles to your kids! And even if you harbour an inner desire to switch to teaching have you ever noticed that teachers generally do not teach at the same school their children attend? There’s a reason for that! No matter how much your children love you they might not want you to be the one in charge of the whiteboard.

2. Your kids might not be missing lessons

My daughter told me yesterday that she would quite happily continue to learn online as long as she could still see her friends. She is loving the fact that she can pursue the topics she enjoys at a speed that suits her. What she misses is human contact so my job is to try to be a pleasant person to be around. After I told her I was enjoying the opportunity to talk with her more often, her reply was “I can’t believe I’m having to give you all my best conversation” – all I can say is lucky me, she’s got good chat 🙂 As for my son, he’s had an abrupt end to primary school and is thrilled that he doesn’t have to do SATs. Again, what he misses above anything else is the interaction. Negotiation, empathy and listening skills are the order of the day – no-one benefits from a shouting match about how much work has or hasn’t been done.

3. Your school isn’t expecting you to replace them

Has your local school headhunted you to teach? No! (See point 1). What has been heartening – and interesting – is that almost every communication from the schools my children go to has included phrases like “Every family is different”, “Every child will feel differently about learning right now”, “Family wellbeing comes first”, “Do what you can”. The only place I’m hearing “You must teach your children” is from other parents.

4. Kids look to us for the subtle stuff

Have you ever been caught out not paying attention by your children? Called out on stuff you tell them to do but don’t do yourself? They will be watching our reactions to this more closely than we realise. And they’ll be hearing all the swears we mutter under our breath 😉

5. This is not normal

We’ve had tears, anger, frustration, lots more “I love you’s” and hysterical laughter. This is not a normal time at all. My kids’ classrooms do not usually involve two dogs and two working parents. Their teachers do not participate in Zoom calls while expecting pupils to get on with writing a poem about idioms. They definitely have never had a 25kg dog break into the classroom and turn a rug over because it has seen a cat out of the window. (Although, that said we have heard stories of boys farting on desks, kids fighting in the corridors and teachers saying “screw this”….).

So it’s all binge eating and box sets is it?

I don’t think that’s the answer but if that’s what works in your house, what keeps everyone sane, then who am I to judge? My personal view is that to crave routine is normal, to try to recreate a classroom among the chaos we’re all living in is setting yourself an impossible task. If you do one thing this week, put “give yourself a break” on the timetable. And if you manage to do it, give yourself a gold star 🙂

Like this? You’ll find more true family stories and lighthearted looks at life in my book Reasons to be Cheerful Part II. Currently available on print and in download format on Amazon (the download is just £1.99 for the duration of lockdown – you’re welcome!).

You’ll also find more tales of family life on this blog. Here’s a recent one on entertaining your kids for free:

Family Honesty

Five realistic ways to entertain your children, for free!

Entertaining children is no walk in the park – especially if you’ve already had your exercise for the day and can’t walk in the park. There’s also the added pressure of unhelpful suggestions that somehow we should all be getting our kids to unleash their inner Galileo or Hawkins when all we want is Five. Minutes. Of. Peace!

So, to help other parents who are hanging by a thread after many, many weeks of being at home, and who don’t want to give any more money to Amazon, I thought I’d rack my brains for those times when my children have enjoyed themselves, it hasn’t cost me a penny and it hasn’t felt forced.  Here’s my top five:

1. Let them make a ‘potion’

Give the kids a bowl or jar and (almost) free reign to put what they like into it. When it’s complete, decant the potion into a used water bottle and ‘voila’ your very own ‘marvellous medicine’.  It will be disgusting but you will get at least 30 minutes peace.

Warning: Before you attempt this – make sure you’ve put the good stuff away or your favourite hand cream is going to go missing.

2. Funny face drawing game

Get a sheet of paper, fold it in three and take it in turns to draw parts of a face.  Warning can be addictive – you may need a ream of paper.

Double warning this can get very silly, very quickly – watch out for the addition of “wee and poo” to the character that you’ve worked so very hard to render accurately.

3. Tickets Please!

This was a much loved game in our family when the children were small. Here’s how it works:

  • You are the ticket inspector – it is your job to inspect your child’s ‘ticket’ (real or imaginary, either will do) and decide whether they are allowed to pass.
  • You never, ever allow your child to pass on the first go.  You must inspect the ticket, then explain in outraged voice why you cannot let them pass because their ticket is out of date / for a different mode of transport / poo-stained.
  • Once you decide to let them pass, you must let them think they’ve got away with it before exclaiming “Hey!  That ticket says Mickey Mouse / is a used chip wrapper / is poo-stained!”
  • You then chase them around the house / garden until they are back at the start.

4. Shout at your children in a foreign accent

This game started in our family when we found ourselves stuck in a caravan with no TV on a very wet day.  Having become frustrated at the children’s failure to listen to me shouting at them not to play with the pull-out bed, I thought I’d give it a go whilst using a German accent (and the handful of German words that I know).  It resulted in unexpected hilarity and gave us a welcome respite from playing Uno for the 130th time.

Note: You don’t need to speak a second language to succeed in this game, but you do need to shout like you believe it.  

5. If all else fails…..give them an Argos catalogue

I reckon Argos could compete with serious publishing houses for the amount of print that they produce…and the popularity of their free doorstop-sized shopping bibles.  This popularity seems not to have waned with the advent of the digital generation – my children used love them more than the internet (they’re 11 and 13 now so, of course, TikTok rules).

Far from turning them into mad consumers it made them aware of how much things cost, encouraged conversations about saving, and there was the extra bonus of there being absolutely no risk of them clicking a link and adding twelve Lego Death Star kits to my basket.

Warning: You need one per child or a war will start.  No-one wants to be given the furniture section while the other one gets the toys….

So those are my top five – perhaps not quite enough to get us all the way through lockdown but it’s a start – if you’ve got anymore let me know!

Like this?  You’ll find more parenting ‘top tips’ and tales of family life as if really is in Reasons to be Cheerful Part II – available for download for just £1.99 during lock down and £5.99 in print.

Family Storytelling

Countdown to Christmas

What a week to be a working parent.  The children are hanging on by their fingertips to get to Friday when 1.30pm brings the end of school and the official start of Christmas.

They are puffy-eyed, over tired and bordering on hysteria in that unique ‘it’s nearly Christmas’ way. At school, the curriculum has gone out of the window to be replaced with DVD-watching, clearing out cupboards and a nativity that for all its beauty (and the best camel outfits ever to grace a church) will have sounded like a doctor’s waiting room thanks to the level of coughing.  Book bags spill over with Christmas cards and sweet wrappers as the healthy eating policy gets crushed under a sea of Quality Street.

Patiently waiting port

And while the kids are at school I’m working to pre-Christmas deadlines whilst accepting deliveries, sending cards and adding ever more to the festive food list. The closer we get to the ‘Big Day’ the bigger our appetites get. We are wolves, salivating at the thought of turkey and gradually upping our cheese intake to make sure our systems are ready for the dairy-binge that accompanies the port that’s patiently waiting in the cupboard.

Wearing ‘Sunday Best’ for breakfast, lunch and dinner

I am trying so hard to be focused but there is part of me wishing these next couple of days away.  I’m eager to join the children in their revelry, up for letting my hair down and dreaming of those few days when I point blank refuse to do any washing.  Let the jeans and t-shirts fester in the basket, we shall wear our Sunday Best to breakfast, lunch and dinner!

I can’t wait until nothing matters but the next game of UNO and finding tree chocolates. Or to savour that moment of giggling and shushing on Christmas Eve when we sneak the presents under the tree. A tree which now lives on the landing beyond the stair gate thanks to our puppy who thinks that baubles are dog biscuits. 


And it’s not just the children who are tired – we parents are absolutely knackered. Just as puffy-eyed and bordering on hysteria as our kids, we too are hanging on by our fingertips before we can take time off.

After school and down the pub, we empathise and encourage each other to give it one last push before we can run out whooping and yelling into the December air – we can taste time off and it Tastes. Like. Christmas.  

So if you’re feeling the strain this week, just know you’re not alone. Take a pause and take a deep breath – together we’ll get through this – let the countdown begin!

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Family Honesty

A Christmas carol

You know when you think you’re just going to hear a few Christmas carols being sung by your child’s class and it turns out to be a full blown church service?  That’s precisely what happened to me recently.  Perhaps the fact it was held in an abbey should have alerted me, but I couldn’t help but feel unprepared for ‘what I was about to receive’.

It wasn’t all bad though; the singing was great, the abbey was awe inspiring, I didn’t go up in flames and I learned a very useful lesson – some things never change when it comes to carol services.  I’m willing to bet you’ll find the same things too:

1. There will be a child who actually sounds like an angel

To the boy who sang the first two lines of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, on his own, in the abbey, in front of hundreds of people – thank you, your voice is a rare and beautiful thing.

2. Two things about ‘We Three Kings’

i. The alternative version

If the person next to you also knows the “one in a taxi, one in a car, one on a scooter beeping his hooter” version it will offer you a wonderful moment of bonding.  It will also offer you the opportunity to pass on a tradition when you teach it to your children later on that day.

If you’re really lucky, your child will later furnish you with the following bonus lyrics:

“Star of wonder, star of light, star that set my knickers alight. Westward leading, still proceeding, fill my pants with dynamite.”

ii. There is a pause

Don’t rush into “Oh star of wonder” – oh no.  It actually goes “Ohhhhhhhhhhh (wait for it) …… star of wonder”.  The woman next to me said it reminded her of the punk version of Nellie the Elephant.  Which means that I now have two reasons to giggle my way through the carol.  And two ways in which to get it wrong.

3. ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’ sorts out the regulars from the visitors

Doesn’t matter how many times I sing this, I always forget that “How silently, how silently” should be sung quietly (shhhhhhhhh)

4. You will revert to childhood at some point

I found myself raising my eyebrows at the re-telling of the immaculate conception and associated on/off/on again of Mary & Joesph’s marriage, especially as it was being read by a child.  So when I heard a man behind me say, “Oh, isn’t the text wonderful”, I presumed he was joking.  But as I turned to him in shared mirth I discovered that he was in fact A MONK.  A monk that was stood next to A NUN.  Neither of them were laughing.  Oh the hot flush of chastisement coupled with wanting to cry with embarrassed laughter.  Such. A. Child. 

5. ‘Silent Night’ is best left to the children

Even the nun didn’t try “sleep in heavenly pea……..eeeeeeeeece”.  Too high.  Best sung by six year olds.

6. Two things about ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’

i. It’s that volume thing again – the choruses start quietly.
ii. It contains the line, “He abhors not the virgin’s womb”.  And there’s no way I’m singing it.  Update it to “he didn’t doubt for one second that there wasn’t a reason to totally love and respect that woman’s womb” and I’ll consider it.

7. You’ll probably cry at some point

For me it’s all about ‘Away in a Manger’.  Can’t help it.

8.  ‘Sing Hosanna’ – still challenging

When I was at school the infants used to add an extra “of kings” right at the end of the chorus.  I went to one of my daughter’s first carol concerts and guess what?  It happened then, and it’s still happening today. 

9.  You should shake hands with the vicar on the way out

Whether it’s “thanks for the carol service”, “Merry Christmas” or “that’s out of the way for another year”, it seems a fitting way to finish.

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