x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

My life: Bullying and rivalry

Maryam Ismail on two subjects that aren't on the home schooling curriculum.

Home school means more than a place where kids read books in their bedrooms and mums teach from the sofa. It means home training. Here children learn not only how to be good people, but also that what they see on TV is not real. They get to see other images of women, realising that the ones who stay home are not losers and that sultriness does not constitute talent. Not everyone dreams of being Jennifer Lopez, Peoplemagazine's Most Beautiful Woman of 2011.

If you have a sinking feeling that the feminist banner has been thrown down on the side of the road, well, I guess you're right. Since the emergence of lifestyle icons such as our cover girl Martha Stewart and Nigella Lawson, many of us have been backsliding, returning to the days of domestic bliss, homemade pasta and colouring with the children.

I used to be a working woman. Back then, I was a ferocious monster who wrestled people to the ground when they got on my nerves. It was not pretty. So when I got the chance be a Stepford Wife, I went for it.

The voyage back from the world of work to home has emerged from the realisation on the part of many women that sometimes working is not worth it - also that raising a family is part of raising a nation. No, this is not some neo-con programme coming out of a US think-tank. What I am talking about is nation-building one child at a time. Teaching, housekeeping and cooking have their ups and downs, but for Allah and my family's security, I do them.

"The housewife is called upon to be an amateur electrician, mechanic, chemist, toxicologist and dietitian," said the late US president John F Kennedy. That's hardly a feminist viewpoint, but when he made this observation he gave honour to the multitasking challenges of maintaining a home.

Some argue that homemakers should earn a salary. How can you put a value on love, care, kindness and comfort? Imagine motherhood and homemaking becoming the epitome of an over-zealous Marxist political economy - a creepy scenario. Who would want a mother who takes weekends off and a two-week holiday?

These days, children lack good old-fashioned home training. Golden rules such as respect your elders, study hard and make your parents proud seem out of date to some. Kids raise themselves or are raised by maids, while parents use their homes as a place to lay the briefcase and heat up the takeaway.

Every time I go to the doctor with my children, she says: "Still, you're keeping them at home? It's not right." Could I be a megalomaniac who wants to control everything her kids do? No, I just want them to learn and not waste time with other stuff that comes up in school. Nor do I want the hassle of tussling with administrators over fees and poor pedagogy. I just want the best for my kids.

I'm no Tiger Mum who loads youngsters down with activities, academic goals and a backslap when they slip up. My kids do only one or two activities a month. However, they do a lot in the way of interacting with their friends, family, neighbours and our community. They're learning to understand how different cultures coexist and that what's appropriate for one is not for another. This they could never learn within the realm of playground politics. With bullying and competition, they may learn only what makes people hurt, not heal. Empathy, thoughtfulness and healing are what I hope to teach them at my home school. It's the best school money can buy.


Maryam Ismail is a sociologist and teacher who divides her time between the US and the UAE.