Sage N.: “My parents were clearly unprepared to be teachers”

Some level of oversight would have really helped me because I think my parents would have felt compelled to keep up with my education far more than they did, and it may well have prevented my experience from also happening to my sibling.

I was home educated by my parents from birth to age 16. As an adult, I have since discovered that what happened to me is known as ‘unschooling’ and constitutes nowadays as educational neglect. Coming to terms with this has been, and continues to be, an incredibly difficult journey which has permanently altered the way I view my parents and other adults who choose to home educate their children. The education I received mostly occurred between the ages of 4 and 8, at which point my younger sibling was born and I found myself being given less and less educational work to do and more childcare duties. From around the age of 11, I essentially taught myself everything I know today using the internet, including learning about sex and reproduction via fanfiction websites and pornographic popups that would appear during my web browsing. I can count on the fingers of my hand the things I was actually taught by my parents after age 11. This includes 3 short essays I was asked to write and being given a decade-old A Level book that had been my mother’s. 

There was no structure to most of my education. Moving into broader territory, another issue was money. Both my parents quit their jobs to raise and home educate me. This directly impacted how much socialisation I ended up getting. Classes, groups and clubs often cost money to attend, and require you to stay in one place. Our (avoidable) poverty also set me up with a troubled relationship with money. I still directly equate my own self worth with how much money I make. My parents having no jobs meant we had the freedom to move whenever we liked. So we did. While culturally enlightening, this also meant I maintained no friendships, and by age 9 had given up trying to make friends outside of the internet because I knew we would probably just move away from them again. 

The thing that sticks out in my mind looking back was the way my parents were clearly unprepared to be teachers. Neither of them had finished university and neither had the patience to teach a child. My father would become progressively louder the more I didn’t understand something, which would stress and panic me to the point that I couldn’t work out the problem in front of me, and my mother gave up teaching me maths problems if I started to cry over any of them. I thought it was my fault for not being clever enough, and not simply already knowing everything. This insecurity has followed me for the rest of my life, to the point where I internalise every mistake I make and every simple problem I can’t figure out. 

Some level of oversight would have really helped me because I think my parents would have felt compelled to keep up with my education far more than they did, and it may well have prevented my experience from also happening to my sibling. The main thing I would say to anyone considering home education is this: When you home educate your children, it relies on you alone to do the job of parent, teacher, emotional support and counsellor. It is worth bearing in mind that as a child, it can be difficult to grow up with just two people who are your sole authority figures with no one else to be a sounding board. You essentially learn never to question anything they say, because there is no alternative viewpoint from which to construct a unique opinion. My partner pointed out to me some time ago that the reason I have some boundary issues with my parents was because I didn’t have anyone else growing up to bounce off. If you are a child and your parents are mad at you, you can talk to a nice teacher. If your teacher reprimands you, you can talk to your parent and they’re separate from the situation somewhat and can give impartial support that is emotionally detached from the issue. 

In the UK, parents still have rights to educate their children in whichever way they see fit, with no input from the government unless abuse is suspected or reported. All the trauma and abuse I experienced was emotional, verbal and mental, and went under the radar. If I had known at the time what life was really like for other children, how balanced their lives were, maybe I could have contacted someone. I just thought that was what childhood was like. I never want another child in this world to experience what I have experienced.

Sage N. was homeschooled in the UK from the early 2000s to the early 2010s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Community Voices page.

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