Helena Frith Powell, lives in between Abu Dhabi and the UK, and is a published author of several books including her latest book, The Ex-Factor, and a best-selling author of Love In a Warm Climate. Helena has almost 20 years experience in journalism and still writes for the Daily Mail UK and is the Editor of Five Magazine in Abu Dhabi. Helena and her husband have 3 children currently at boarding school, and she shares her personal feelings about a much debated system.
The children have now been at boarding school for a year and a half and I am still not really sure what I think of it all. Having never been to boarding school, it was never one of those things I was adamant I wanted to do, although I could see the benefits and was jealous of all my friends who went.
It all started with a bike ride. Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, returned from a bicycle ride with the realisation that he no longer loved his wife and told her that they must separate. My husband returned from cycling in the Languedoc hills two summers ago with a similar epiphany, although his concerned the children, not me. “We must send the children to boarding school,” he said, before going upstairs for a shower.
When a man comes back from a bike ride with something to say, one is forced to listen and, sometimes, even to act. In fact, our children’s education had been worrying me too.
We had been based in Abu Dhabi for six years by then and I felt there was something missing from their lives. One of our friends from France summed it up when he came to stay by saying that Olivia was “running on empty”. There just wasn’t enough to stimulate them in Abu Dhabi, at least not in terms of education. I still don’t believe that a school that finishes at 2.30 pm can possibly be teaching them enough. Added to which, it was expensive. And as we were spending our own money we decided we would rather spend it on something more worthwhile.
As I said they have now been there for a year and a half. There is no doubting the benefits. All of them have flourished. Leo has developed into a gorgeous little gentleman and already knows more than I do about just about everything. He has captained his school football and cricket teams. Bea has turned out to be a school superstar, with great grades and masses of extra-curricular activities such as the school play, musical theatre and netball to mention a few. Olivia has become a lovely, confident and capable young lady, who is on track to do really well in her GCSEs this year and has made friends I think she will know forever.
There are so many upsides; the education (obviously), the people they meet, the things they do (Leo’s school just raised money for Afghanistan by reading poetry for 24 hours in a tree-house, nuts I know, but what a lovely romantic idea), the sport they play, the values they learn, the bonds they make. But what are the downsides?
I suppose the biggest one is that I miss them. OK I won’t pretend to miss the everyday drudgery of the school run, the homework, and the endless bickering. But I do miss not seeing them every day and not kissing them goodnight. The girls are much better at keeping in touch with me than Leo, so we skype or talk every day, but sometimes I won’t hear from him for ten days, which is tough. I rely on texts from another mother to know how he got on in his football matches. And of course I wake up in the middle of the night wondering how he is.
The truth is of course, he’s fine. He’s more than fine. If he weren’t fine I would hear about it. We have had some bouts of homesickness from all three and I can confirm the saying about boarding school that ‘you’re only as happy as your most miserable child’. A year and a half in though they are all pretty settled and I think would be horrified at the thought of going back to school in Abu Dhabi.
I suppose the reason I say I’m not sure what I think about it is that although I know it’s the best thing for them, I still can’t help wondering if we are all missing out on family life. Having said that I worked out the other day that they have five months at home so we have plenty of that as well.
I don’t think there always is a right or a wrong when it comes to children. Maybe there is just a middle ground that works and for the moment at least, this is it.