A parent’s role in their child’s life is to one day be obsolete to one’s child’s needs. From birth, that unforgettable moment we first hold our child in our arms, we experience the piercing pain of a parent’s unconditional love  knowing our bittersweet  challenge is to prepare our son or daughter for the day when they no longer need us in their life –  yet hopefully still want us anyway.

My three children all ran away to boarding school when they were eleven. If I had my way I would have wrapped them in cotton wool and kept them safely in a box where nothing could ever harm them. Quite apart from the illegality of that method of education, my children had other very firm ideas.

I tried to hold onto their little ankles as they fled the nest but after they’d dragged me through the streets of Mayfair wailing and begging, insisting, “Let go Mummy, you’re making a spectacle,”  I eventually lost my grip. 

The Boarding School Family

They had hatched the plan to run away to boarding school together and sat the entrance exam without telling me conspiring behind my back with their father. When I was finally informed of their decision and broke down and begged them to change their minds, they were unmoved by my naked neediness. ‘Sorry Mumsy darling, but love you as we do, we have to think of our futures,’ they told me firmly.  

I told them that if they felt even a little bit teary or had the slightest doubt about their decision they should have the headmaster call me immediately and I would come down and collect them without any qualms or questions.  They promised dutifully they would but assured me they’d be fine. My only comfort was that they’d have each other.  It was a terrible time for me. Their father was quite certain they’d be fine, but I was less convinced. Men have no idea, I told myself.  I was still tucking them up into bed at night and they were still incredibly cuddly and still smelled of little boys not the stinky teenagers they soon became. I remember even now the unparalleled  pleasure of breathing in the sweet smell of their hair as they kissed me goodnight after prayers. Surely they wouldn’t be able to cope in a dorm room without their mother’s nightly reassurance by their bed.   

Once it was decided that they were going to boarding school, I pretended I was totally fine with being unable to sneak into their rooms while they were sleeping and check on them and cheerfully stitched on the thousands of name tags to their endless school kit and packed their school trunks, while inside I wept silent tears. 

After the principle packed us off  and the gates clanged shut behind our backs, I cried myself to sleep for weeks. Back in the 1990’s when my sons aged eleven and thirteen first went to boarding school there were no mobile phones. 

Initially only limited phone calls home were permitted and no phone calls at all for the first three weeks.  Those were the hardest three weeks of my life. However by the time my daughter, Cordelia went to St Mary’s Ascot aged 11 things were dramatically easier for parents. Of an evening Cordelia had her mobile until lights out and as an added bonus I could stalk her and her friends on Facebook. 

We have to face it as parents, while our children are the best thing to ever happen to us, there’s an outside possibility that we may not be the best thing to ever happen in our children’s lives. In fact one day they may well reproach us for our parenting skills.

As a mother, I found the callous ease with which my little boys ran away to boarding school quite upsetting.  I admitted to my youngest son who now has a son of his own  how it hurt me that he hadn’t missed me more. “You were only eleven and I had images of you sobbing yourself to sleep at night but you didn’t seem to miss me at all. Of course I was pleased that you didn’t but still….” 

He admitted then as we were bathing his son together that in fact he’d sobbed himself to sleep for weeks along with every other boy in the dorm. 

I was horrified.  “But why on earth didn’t you tell me? I would have come and collected you. Don’t tell me you stuck it out from pride? I would have come and got you. I would have wanted to know!”  

He laughed. ‘That’s why Mummy. You would have insisted on bringing me home. I didn’t want to go home. I loved it. Yes, I missed you, but it was fun as well and eventually I stopped missing you as much. Oh Mummy silly thing.” He gave me one of his awkward reassuring man hugs.  “We felt guilty too because we knew you missed us, but we wanted the education and it was fun.” 

I felt so ashamed. What a burden a mother’s love can be.  

Pulling Princes by Tyne O'ConnellThe Pulling Princes Series was born of missing my daughter when she eventually went to boarding school. Unlike her brother’s she wanted to stay home and go to St Paul’s Girl’s or Godolphin Latymer in London but her brother’s who were nine and seven years old than her and already in university wouldn’t let me keep her home. 

My sons accused me of being selfish in wanting to keep Cordelia at  home for high school. When I argued that it was her choice and in fact their sister did not want to go away to school as they had, they silenced me.  

‘Of course she doesn’t want to go but that’s partly because she knows you don’t want her to go. You need to be the grown up Mummy. How do you think she’ll feel when she’s older and realises that she missed out on all the fun and a first rate education because you wanted to keep her at home. You need to support her to feel strong enough to go,’ they advised. 

From the Pulling Princes books sprang a boarding school blog & chat room. I was inundated with emails from parents from around the world, asking why does my child want to go to boarding school? Can it really be that advantageous? 

The consensus is, teens who board are as near to perfect as teens get – and that’s very near indeed. But if you are still having doubts, yes it is definitely worth forgoing the holidays and the expensive treats and giving up your pension plan. 

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