Hello there, I’m Natalie, a 41-year-old mum of a wonderful 11-year-old boy, step mum to a very accomplished young lady of 20, and a crazy dog mum to 2 boisterous teen Rhodesian Ridgebacks and an elderly Chow Chow.
After studying law, followed by modeling and dancing, predominantly in the UK, I met my husband in St Tropez and we married 2 years later singing Elvis songs in a Las Vegas chapel. I quickly took on a more traditional homemaking role in Monaco, which perfectly suited and still suits myself, my thirst for knowledge, spiritual growth and all things arts and crafts. I have a fascination with trauma and self-development and, more recently, with education as we began our homeschooling journey. I value relationships and friendship intensely and prioritize honesty, integrity, communication and connection.
My parenting journey began with a miscarriage relatively early in our relationship, but then I literally conceived on our wedding night having given up contraceptive pills a couple of weeks prior. After a slightly wobbly start to the pregnancy, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my changing body (minus the bearded lady phase I passed through, no one tells you that about pregnancy, do they!). Very quickly on I found that attitudes I had previously held about childbirth and raising children drastically changed as I listened to my body and felt it wanted a more natural approach including hypnobirthing and a home birth. I feverishly rejected the medicalization of childbirth and was adamant my body knew what to do. A birth without medication and hospitalization was absolutely possible and necessary for us. As with all the best laid plans, I ended up with an emergency c-section but also the beautifully healthy baby boy I had been hoping for.
I can’t say I adored those first few months. I found the responsibility overwhelming and I was frustrated that babies didn’t really ‘do much’ and it wasn’t quite as ‘fun’ as I’d hoped. I was also confused, I’d read so much about what to do with new borns that by the time he arrived I had read so much conflicting information I really didn’t know where to begin until finally, I realized I really did just have to follow his cues and do what I felt was right. As parents, we are all winging it and I think you just have to listen to what you feel is right and somewhat hope for the best. That said, my son was very relaxed from the start, ate well, slept well and was pretty much in good spirits. After approximately the five month marker, when he could sit and communicate more, I felt far more connected and happy and I loved that as he grew he became more energetic, boisterous and joyful. I loved every phase beyond infancy, each age getting better as our relationship and his skills evolved. I love the purity of children and love watching how they cooperate and interact.
I really think parenting changes everyone or at least anyone who is paying attention. There is nothing like having another being reliant on you 24/7 to give pause to those selfish impulses and putting his needs before my own has been humbling. Let’s all be honest too – there is nothing like a hangover when you have to be present for your child to put you off drinking. I think it is hugely important to make time for yourself though, there is no prize for being a Martyr mum when they are grown.
I have also learned so much more about myself and changed in ways beyond becoming more giving. It has given me insight into the meaning of my own life and helped me re-evaluate elements of my own past that needed healing before I could move past them. My son is my greatest teacher. I actually believe that about all children and we just need to pay a little more attention to see where we need to grow and adapt.
My parents had a particularly dysfunctional relationship that my siblings and I had the joy to watch unfold. Whilst I believe every parent does the best job they can with the tools they have, my childhood really encouraged me to think deeply about the sort of cycles of abuse that I had witnessed and about how generational trauma is passed along and how that impacts future generations. When I first became a mum, I had quite a few difficult months trying to reconcile their behavior with the way I felt about my own child and how I wanted to raise him. I had the opportunity to really reflect on what type of parent I wanted to be and the conscious decisions I would need to make to get there. I discovered positive parenting when my son was in his early toddler years and, in honesty, because I realized I shouted a little too much unnecessarily. Whilst I am a stringent believer in setting clear boundaries for children, this positive approach gave me the tools I needed to be the parent I wanted to be. My husband was also a very natural father with an older daughter and I learned many lessons about respectful parenting from him too.
Whilst I was certainly a parentified child in my developmental years, which comes with a great deal of unnecessary responsibility, this has actually really empowered me, given me a lot of confidence and encouraged independence and responsibility that I personally think has really helped me as an individual and is now a big part of how we raise our son.
Honestly, if someone had told me when my son was 2 that I’d be a homeschooling mum, I would have thought they were crazy. I loved watching him grow and spending time with him but I also needed someone to take over sometimes so I could have a break. My son went to creche when he was 2 and absolutely loved it.
When I reflect on that experience, the creche he went to had a very natural Montessori type approach, which honestly I had little to no understanding about at that time. I loved school when I was young and had never even considered there could be or should be any alternative for our son. The creche was wonderful at letting the boys be boisterous and playful and were not rigid or demanding, as I believe no one should be with small children. They set clear boundaries but really let the children be very free.
When he was too old to continue at his creche he followed the natural course and went into the ‘maternelle’ section of the local school. He instantly disliked it. He went from skipping and chattering on his way to creche to crying on his way into school on many days. Even when he arrived at school, positive and ready for the day, the teacher would wag her finger in his face and say ‘You will be good today won’t you’ and his poor little face would melt and his eyes would well up. She was baffled that we didn’t support this approach and it quickly became apparent that we did not support many of the methods that were being used. The system was rigid, shame and punishment based, and stressful for him and therefore for us. That was the catalyst for me to research educational philosophy and different approaches to learning. I wanted to know how we could best support him but it quickly became clear that a part of this journey would be attempting to homeschool. We really just wanted to support him as best we could. Five years later, I can honestly say it’s the best decision I ever made, even though there have been many times that have been challenging and I have questioned our decision.
DO YOU THINK THERE IS A PART OF YOU WHO WANTS TO PROTECT YOUR SON FROM WHAT HE IS EXPOSED TO AT SCHOOL?
It depends what you are alluding to specifically, but not really no. It all started because we were listening to what he was saying, trusting him, and trying to support him. We could see that the school system was not giving him a love of learning at all and I’m really focused on learning of all sorts. The school system was not only not engaging him but actively making him dislike the educational environment. Learning and that growth mindset is just too important to allow that to happen. My husband and I had such positive experiences of school, but we also already accepted that there was a lot of process in school that seemed time consuming, illogical and restrictive. School could be very restrictive and a lot of what we had ‘learned’ we had simply forgotten.
Peer-wise I’ve never actually been worried about that. We are a super open and honest family, we encourage questions and we are really honest in our responses. We have large social circles, are both very capable at expressing ourselves and our son had shown the same propensity for socialization being friends with children much older and much younger than him and blending into different groups easily. The issues around bullying, mental health, technological dangers, and over-sexualization are all issues we need to be aware of whether our children attend school or not, because they are all present in our homes by virtue of electronics these days.
I think it’s really important that children have a lot of interaction with different people from all walks of life, including but not limited to their peers. Understanding societal expectations and learning how to cooperate and compromise are invaluable to the whole self. That said, I also think over the last 40 or so years we’ve started to place so much emphasis and greater value on peer relationships than ever before in our society, above and beyond familial ones, and I don’t think this benefits the children or the families at all. Peers have become those wielding the power over our children and there is much more disrespect shown to parents and those in positions of wisdom and authority. Hold On to Your Kids by one of my favorite psychologists, Gabor Mate and Gordon Neufeld, is a really interesting read on this subject.
HAVE YOU COME ACROSS ANY CRITICISM OR ARE MOST PEOPLE SUPPORTIVE AND UNDERSTANDING OF THIS DECISION?
I think there is always criticism when you follow a different path but I actually haven’t come across too much. It’s more often people who are dismissive or simply insensitive. There was one parent who told me she couldn’t believe anything I said because I was a homeschooler. I’m not exactly sure what she meant by this and didn’t ask for clarification because, quite simply, with such a bold and baseless statement I wasn’t really that interested in her perspective, but maybe she presumed I was some kind of crazed and illogical being when, in fact, I am quite the opposite.
Most people are curious. Well, mostly people think you are insane but then they want to understand the whys and the hows. Interestingly, when I started homeschooling, I kept looking for another family to tell me how to do it, but because each family is so unique there isn’t and can never be a manual on what steps to follow and how to do it. It has to respond to the rhythms and values of each family, to your schedule and your passions. It also really evolves over time.
Whilst I felt like COVID and the lockdowns that ensued could open the gates to an educational revolution as people realized what possibilities there are to modernize a predominantly archaic system and how their children could be outside of the system, what actually happened is that parents struggling to balance jobs, homes, and a curriculum set by an external body only exacerbated tensions between parents and children. The situation probably led many to conclude that formal schooling is the only option for their family, when in fact, homeschooling ‘like that’ is probably impossible for most, including myself.
We approach homeschooling in a much more relaxed way, there is little forcing (I say little because we all have bad days and moments of worry) and for the most part we enjoy each other’s company, explore topics together and have some tutors to fill in the gaps of my interest level or knowledge.
Homeschooling, at its core, is about collaboration and coaching your child to help them develop their own interests, rather than scripting their every move. We have tutors according to different interests, online classes and endless chats. We have tea breaks with poetry sometimes, bug hunts and walks by the sea. We travel, see animals in their natural habitats, learn about architecture around the world from Minecraft builds and talk about time travel alongside Leonardo Da Vinci. We watch butterflies metamorphosing, grow vegetables and take pottery classes. We spray paint, visit museums and go grocery shopping. Life and learning is from the mundane to the sublime but we do a lot of it together and in a collaborative spirit. When his interest is piqued we delve deeper and when something doesn’t resonate we file it away for another day when it might.
On a practical level, I think it’s really important to research and have a good understanding of why public education began and how it has evolved and also know what, if any, alternative programs there are in your area so you can make a decision based on what works best for you. In Monaco there aren’t so many options, so in some ways that made it an easy choice for us, but I had to really work out what was legally allowed in the Principality and how I could navigate the expectations and permissions. In different territories there are obviously more alternatives and different regulations and some very progressive traditional schools that may well fit very well into your own educational aspirations.
Whilst I do think a personalized education is better for each child, because each child is unique, I also think homeschooling isn’t for everyone. It’s just not possible for some economically. Also, and this is what I consider to be the main barrier, is that a lot of people aren’t confident in their own abilities and don’t think they have the necessary tools to learn with their children, they think they need external educators to communicate what is best for their child and what their children need to learn. One of the first lessons I learned in our homeschool journey is that just because there is teaching going on, doesn’t mean that learning always follows.
The most important detail to add, is that whilst homeschooling is not always the easy path, it is exceptionally gratifying. It takes a little minute to find your own rhythm and a few wobbles and tears (you and your child) before you find some balance, but the connection with your child or children will simply be deeper and richer because of the time you spend together. Whether you are discussing the theory of evolution at the rim of a volcanic crater in the Galapagos Islands as we recently had the opportunity to do, or reading a book together in bed on a lazy afternoon, you literally cannot have that relationship if your child is entrusted to others for the majority of the day. You will never be more connected and more rewarded for the time you spend together. Much like you will never get to the end of your life and regret that extra ice cream at the beach, you will never ever regret that extra time spent with your child or children.
There are so many different and inspiring authors, educators, and researchers who have published their work in the written or video formats and are really trying to understand what makes the best possible environment for learning. Their conclusions do not necessarily filter down to educational policy makers, but it can keep us better informed and aware. Whether our children are in the system or not, it is our responsibility as parents to advocate for our children and their well-being. Their childhood years are short, they need to be cherished, not sacrificed at the alter of scripted memorization and cursive writing.
I’ve always been someone that’s focused on asking questions and re-evaluating but becoming a parent accelerated and amplified that. I have very strong beliefs that the answers we seek are within and I have learned to trust my instincts and follow my gut. Being a mum makes it harder to make time for yourself because there is always someone’s care that comes before your own. I accept that there is a time and a place for everything and whilst I will always worry about him, the care he needs will change and there will be more time for my interests and passions as he matures.
I have really changed my perception of the roles of children and parents. I alluded to it before saying he is my teacher, but I really believe that. I believe our kids come into this world with a greater sense of purpose, with their own life paths and lessons to learn and sometimes we just need to step out of the way and allow them to unfold as they are supposed to. Of course we are here to guide our children and to help them make decisions according to their own neurological development but we aren’t here to control them or force our ideas onto them. Most often than not, they are our mirrors which show us the work we need to do, they have profound questions beyond their years and sometimes are so poignant that it’s impossible to believe there isn’t a greater purpose to all of this.
DO YOU HAVE ANY POEMS, QUOTES ADVICE OR NATALIE-ISMS ABOUT MOTHERHOOD THAT YOU WOULD LIKE THIS TO END ON?
Motherhood and parenting changes at such a rapid pace. Initial quotes I loved have long faded into irrelevance, but I think because we are all completely unique, each situation, each child, each parent, you need to trust yourself and your abilities, and your judgement more than anyone else. Only you are the expert on your own child!
With regards to homeschooling, I have so many different recommendations for books, authors and speakers. John Taylor Gatto’s Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling and Weapons of Mass Instruction were instrumental in my early analysis. Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk “Do School’s Kill Creativity” and, more recently, regarding day-to-day homeschooling activities, Julie Bogart and her amazing book Brave Learner and her awesome writing program Brave Writer.
There are fantastic resources online from more school type lesson plans like Twinkl to individual and independent tutors on Outschool, who teach a vast array of fantastical subjects online and in small groups from the conventional subjects to the outlandish.
What products could… NATALIE MORDAUNT not parent without?
EEeerrrmmm, Marmite, it’s the glue that binds this family together and keeps life harmonious from breakfast time and all the way through the day!
Seriously though, over the years there have been so many favorites, from infancy with the Baby Bjorn, then later our Stokke ‘Tripp Trapp’ which always made our son included at meal times and also fit in so well with our baby-led weaning philosophy. Later still, the balance bike that had his confidence soaring and made the ‘walk’ to creche so much faster. Now of late, the internet, enabling the answer to any question we have at the touch of a button and access to resources and passionate teachers all over the world.