Dear Sir or Madam,
My name is Amelia and I work as a Therapist, specialising in supporting those to process their feelings about their boarding school experience and tell their story.
Society portrays boarding school as a huge privilege to attend and this means that many children who were unhappy at the time, did not tell their parents of their feelings. Many children may have been happy at the time but become aware as adults of the hugely detrimental impact that their schooling had on them growing up and their subsequent behavior as adults.
Schools often put structures in place from that first day that break those attachments between children and their parents in an attempt to create resilience and independence. You may have been told it was better to ignore their cries.
I have heard tales of letters being crossed out by housemasters if they showed too much emotion, and very quickly the children learned that their letters must be content driven by their daily activities, rather than their feelings. Those feelings had nowhere to go and were suppressed. When your child came home at half term or in the holidays, they had changed. Their home no longer felt like their home and they may have felt like a passenger passing through in transition before they were taken back to school again.
A polite formal way of conversing may have occurred between you and your children which continued into adulthood. A disconnect, where neither actually really knows the other. The child’s life at school is separate from their home life and it stayed within the ring fence of the school.
I am writing this letter to you to bring to your awareness that your child’s boarding school experience may not have been as rosy as you may have thought, in the hope that it may encourage conversations between you.
Your grown-up child may now be displaying anger towards you either actively or passively about your decision to send them away. They may be distant. They may live abroad. Or they may have a stiff upper lip.
This message is for those parents who find themselves in this situation, for those who are aware that there is a distance between themselves and their children and wondered why, or for those who are unaware.
Many grown-up children want you to know what it was like for them being at their school but they don’t know how to start up the conversation.
They want you to ask. And most importantly they want you to listen.
They worry that if they share their truth, you may respond defensively and dismiss their feelings. They risk rejection. Again.
Telling them that it was their choice, does not help.
An 11-year-old child has no idea what the repercussions of boarding school will be for them. If told this, it may cause them to feel that they have no right to complain about some of the traumas they experienced.
They know that you thought it was a great opportunity for them and would give them a wonderful education.
If you were in the armed forces, they know that you were probably advised that it was best for your children to be stable in one place for the school years.
They may understand that your intentions were good, but they struggle to understand why you didn’t want to bring them up yourselves.
They may have felt abandoned at school and one of the ways to manage those feelings may have been to tell themselves that they are unloveable.
If you love them, tell them. They need to know.
There may well have been some brutal hardships at their school and your child may have had to cope with horrific bullying and abuse. If not themselves, then they may have had to bear witness to it. This will have impacted them. They may find it very hard to trust and get close to people as a result.
Your child may need to tell you their truth and for you to listen.
They may display anger. They may have a lot to feel angry about. When someone is able to release their feelings, this anger will pass. Often it is covering a huge amount of pain.
Let them ask the questions they want the answers to.
I know it is hard to not respond defensively. I know you thought you were doing the right thing for them.
Having a good education does not discount the emotional impact of growing up in an institution without love.
Your child needs you to know that and to acknowledge it. The past cannot be undone, but acknowledging their pain and their experience is a step toward your child's healing, and for your own relationship to heal.
“I’m sorry,” may be what is needed.
This is not about blame but about reparation.
Boarding Schools contribute to the breakdown of so many family systems all over the world. Often after children leave school they move abroad, and families are disparate. Those ties are broken. Cousins growing up on different continents. Parents suffer. Children suffer. Grandchildren suffer.
Have these conversations and find a way to bring love back into your family and heal those wounds caused by sending your children away.