Updated: Sep 23, 2021
Present-day Boarding School websites proudly tell parents that their timetable of constant activities, especially in the first few weeks of term, leaves their child with little chance of feeling homesick.
"Children are kept very active and engaged during their first few weeks at boarding school. They will be taking part in a very busy program of study and extra-curricular activity. It is only in the odd few moments of downtime that your child will start to feel sad and to miss home since there really isn’t the opportunity for this most of the time. Sadly, it is in these occasional miserable moments when your child will tend to phone, text, or email you, leading you to believe that they are feeling sad and distressed all of the time." Independent Education Consultants, Sept 2021.
From the minute the school bell goes in the morning, practically every moment is scheduled. Wash, breakfast, Chapel, lessons, lunch, lessons, games, CCF, roll call, Orchestra, prep, bed, lights out. Repeat.
So, yes, the plan often works. The homesickness does pass fairly quickly for some as there is no space in the day for these emotions to be felt. And as previously mentioned, a demonstration of homesickness is perceived as a weakness, so essential for many to repress. This enables the child to adapt to their busy life and to break their attachment to their parents and their former home. Children begin on their pathway to self-reliance and thus perceived success.
So, how does this experience affect the grown-up ex-border?
If children have not felt able to express their feelings of sadness and loss from this young age, they may have learned to mistrust or disconnect with them and therefore are not in touch with their emotions as adults. They may fear that if they stop being so busy and the tap opens, they will be flooded and there is no way to turn it off.
Many ex-boarders find themselves living a life with very little space to feel, and have a tendency to be constantly busy. Nick Duffell and Thurstine Bassett refer to this way of being as "Timetabling." This can make them very good to employ as they can be incredibly conscientious and may be seen as workaholics. I heard recently from a female ex-boarder who said that she can't sit in a bath for more than a few minutes without feeling she is wasting her time. Imagine you have two showers to share between twenty other girls and you have half an hour to get washed and dressed and to breakfast on time. This may also involve leaving your boarding house and walking 10 minutes to the dining hall. You learn incredibly quickly how to wash in two minutes, and get out that door.
However, this way of being has huge consequences for adults. It can be incredibly hard to recognise the signals that your body is approaching burnout or depression. I have heard of ex-borders who will only rest when their body forces them to with exhaustion.
"I am getting better at recognising the signs, but often it comes too late and it is only when I literally can't lift myself off the sofa that I give in to my body. Then, as soon as it has passed, I am off again."
For women ex-boarders, they will have absorbed the values of overworking and being career-driven and successful. However, like most women in our society, they may be torn between the enormous task of motherhood as well. Many female ex-boarders may feel the need to compensate for the lack of parenting and nurturing they received as children and therefore this can drive them further into exhaustion.
These habits can be incredibly difficult to break as these children were trained this way to keep busy at all times. It is also something that they carry with pride, their ability to be able to do so much, as it reinforces the validation they received at school, as being self-reliant is something to be celebrated.
If this resonates with you, I want you to know that it ok to take time out. To literally just hang out, without doing or achieving anything. To spend time in nature. It is more than ok, it is essential for your mind, body, and soul. xx