I am delighted to be sharing this interview series with you, where I will be talking to a different woman every fortnight about parenting, motherhood, their daily rhythm and what makes a beautiful childhood. So without further ado, let’s meet the mother…
This week, I’d like to welcome writer and home educating mama Adele Jarrett-Kerr to Frida be Mighty. I love reading Adele’s blog and soaking up the beauty of family life that she conveys so well through her words, which manage to be both honest and calming, and I’m sure you will enjoy reading her answers as much as I do…
Can you introduce yourself and your family?
We’re a home educating family of five, living in Cornwall. I’m a writer and blogger, originally from Trinidad and Tobago and my husband Laurence works in graphic design. He’s from Devon so we’re not far from where he grew up. Our daughters Talitha, Ophelia and Delilah are seven, four and almost two. We also have two cats who joined us when I was heavily pregnant with Talitha.
Do you have a daily rhythm? What do your days look like?
We have a rhythm in the sense that there are things that generally happen every day (like time outdoors and read alouds) but sometimes the order needs to change. We’re open to that. Delilah sleeps in our bed and, on days when Laurence has a nine o’ clock start, he’ll take her down and have breakfast with her and Ophelia. If he’s had an early start (he’s managed to arrange a changing work pattern to allow him a bit more time with us) then these little two will come wake me up and I’ll get them breakfast. Talitha, like me, prefers to rise a bit later and often stays in bed to read for a bit once she’s up.
When she joins us, we talk about the shape of the day. On weekends, I make a loose plan for our week around commitments outside the home and activities that might need a bit of prep. Then, provided that we’re not rushing out the door, we make a simple list together over breakfast of things each person wants to do during the day and decide together what we’ll do and when.
Whatever we do is consensual. We do not want to force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. We aim to work together to make sure everyone’s needs are met and we’ll discuss if something isn’t working. Perhaps my eldest doesn’t want to practise the violin now but knowing that she loves playing once she’s got into it and that she wants to keep up the lessons, I’ll ask her what she thinks might help. We may find we have to pause the chapter books because the toddler needs picture books or some dancing time. And it could be that we need to scale back on our commitments because everyone needs more unstructured time at home.
Our days at home tend to involve a lot of music, art, reading and gentle projects tied to interests or to themes we’ve been following. Every few days we have a good video session while I comb their curly hair!
Are there any philosophies or books which have influenced your approach to parenting?
In my eldest’s earliest years, I was drawn to and heavily influenced by attachment parenting. As she grew older, I began to think more in terms of loving guidance and gentle parenting. Nowadays, I’d say my approach has evolved and the term “respectful parenting” feels like a better fit. A label isn’t at all necessary. I think we all do what feels right in any given situation but this evolution in parenting philosophy reflects for me that I want to share my power with my children, to journey with them, respecting their autonomy and honouring their full humanity. I often fail to live up to my own ideals but I do feel a real pull to keep shifting away from authoritarian control and to keep putting relationships at the centre of my parenting practice.
Books that have changed my life include The Continuum Concept, Unconditional Parenting and How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk. I’ve also been heavily impacted by Dr Laura Markham’s work and highly recommend her website Aha Parenting.
I love following your beautiful homeschooling journey. What made you decide to homeschool your daughters? And what would you say to a parent who is considering it, but feels scared to take the plunge?
We first started talking about home educating Talitha when I was pregnant with her. I’d had homeschooled friends growing up and loved the idea of families staying together. I hadn’t particularly enjoyed school myself and the more I thought and read about it, the less necessary school seemed as a marker of childhood. Laurence quickly got on board with the idea and today we both love the freedom it affords our family. To the parent struggling the idea of home educating, have you asked yourself what you’re really afraid of? I’d suggest you get in touch with home educating families in your area. Seeing how it works in action can be such an encouragement, even if you wind up taking a completely different approach. Like most things parenting, we’re not really meant to go it alone.
You are homeschooling three children of different ages. Can you tell me a bit about how you make this work for everyone?
Some days everything flows so smoothly. The little two play while I help my eldest with things that require more concentration, whether that’s knitting or a maths question. We take our read alouds into the playroom and everyone plays with building blocks quietly while listening.
Other days, it looks nothing like that. The toddler flings the book out of my hand and the four year old protests that her big sister is ignoring her. I try to plan a few activities that I can pull out with ease if we will be doing something more focused like violin practice. Perhaps I’ll set up a mini world with the Noah’s Ark, the farm set and a few play silks or grab the magnetic tiles in a hurry.
Realistically, sometimes nothing fits together and we have to wait until the toddler is napping to read or we throw all the plans out and go for a walk in the woods. Increasingly, though, both of the younger ones are keen to join in with things on their own level. I’ll often set them all up with watercolours or crayons while I read. In conversation, I often find that my four-year-old has picked up on more science or history than I’d realised.
Which aspects of parenting bring you the most joy?
I love seeing them play together or create on their own, making their own discoveries. I suppose you could say that my joy is inextricably bound up in theirs.
Which parts of motherhood do you find challenging?
Without a doubt, the darkest struggles are wherever motherhood manages to trigger my fear or insecurity. Parenting so often dredges up experiences that I’ve not yet dealt with and uncovers things about myself that I’d rather not face. I find it beyond challenging to feel out of control and yet so much of relating to other people involves learning to let go. So often the things I find hard have little to do with my children and everything to do with me. So I battle with guilt on top of my fear. Parenting is an intense journey of self-discovery as I learn to treat myself more compassionately.
How do you make time for self-care, and what does that look like for you?
I used to feel that I needed huge amounts of time to get stuck into things that renewed my energy. In the early years, parenting is intense and time is limited so I’ve had to learn to savour the snippets. So self-care may involve reading, thinking and praying for a few minutes at the breakfast table while my kids play in their bedroom and get dressed for the day. Or I might try a quick yoga pose after putting my youngest to bed. Now that my youngest is almost two and we’ve decided our family is complete, I feel mental space opening up again. I joined a women’s circle at the beginning of the year and have started making a conscious effort to have more concentrated time with friends, whether that involves a phone call (a real effort for a millennial mama!) or an evening drink. I really need to exercise more, though!
What do you think makes for a beautiful childhood?
I don’t think you need much for childhood to be beautiful. As much space and time for unstructured, self-directed play as possible will do it, preferably in the outdoors for many hours of the day. I gravitate towards the concept of laying a feast before my children of stories, art, music and nature but actually, they find beauty where I miss it and are forever challenging my adult vision of what childhood should look like. Ultimately, I think a beautiful childhood gives children the space to explore on their own terms.
If you could share one insight or piece of advice with other mothers, what would it be?
Slow down. Emergencies are rare. Take your time before your react to anything. Drink water when you feel stressed. Use the loo. Breathe deeply. I suppose that seems like lots of advice but actually, it all just means, “Slow down.”
Finally, what is your favourite children’s book?
Ooh this is hard. I suppose my favourite chapter book would be The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because I could literally read it aloud over and over again. As for picture books, I get strangely emotional over The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Again, I never mind reading it repeatedly. It helps that they’re both favourites from my own childhood.