Any time a group of people are being defensive, you can bet that they are feeling attacked from somewhere. I know that when I first announced our decision to home school, we got support from many families. Most of them however, were home schooling families. Some family members and the general public at large, asked questions and made comments that felt unsupportive.
As a new homeschooler, I felt a strong desire to defend my position on why we were home schooling and the benefits that we expected for our children from this experience. I read and touted studies on everything from behavior, to health to SAT scores to college admissions to GPAs in college.
The truth be told though, sometimes defensiveness comes not only from real or perceived outside attacks, but also from our own fears. Sometimes we can be confident and still be scared to death. I imagine a few skydivers have felt that way although I don’t plan to confirm that theory. If my children didn’t do well in school, continue to behave appropriately socially, get into college and generally do well in life, there would really be no one to blame but me, right?
Overtime though I had to realize that to some extent most parents feel those same fears regardless of their school or unschool choice. I learned to focus on the particular question or comment as it pertained to my child, right now. I learned that I could be supportive of home schooling families without defending the whole lot of them. In reality, home schooling families are no more a homogeneous group than any group of families from any school, public or private. Even more importantly I believe, is that I could defend my choice without putting all other choices down. It’s not as if there’s no one out there already talking about the inadequacies of public schools.
When school doesn’t look like school:
We had a repairman in our home during school hours. My children were making Valentine cards. My son was a preschooler and my daughter was in fourth grade. The repairman had been to our home before and had already asked, “Why aren’t they in school?” This time he asked, “Why aren’t they doing school?” I realized that maybe this didn’t look like “school” as he remembered it. I could have pointed out that there were probably some Valentine crafts going on in other schools too or I could have defended my choice to have my kids make homemade Valentine’s but I kept it simple and to the point. “My son is working on cutting skills and my daughter is practicing her cursive handwriting.”
“Oh,” he replied, and that was that. It wasn’t necessary for me to change his worldview on what school should look like, nor to defend my own. (Or for that matter to be so very relieved that he didn’t arrive earlier to find us quizzing multiplication tables in the hot tub.)
The questions about socialization:
In years past when people asked me the most popular question, whether or not I was worried about my kid’s socialization, I felt the need to explain our schedule of Sunday school, youth group, ballet class, little league, discovery time classes, Mommy and Me Spanish or which ever group activities we were involved in at the time topped off with my list of hosting home school field trips and holiday parties. Really this wasn’t necessary at all.
Now when someone asks me if I am worried about my daughter’s socialization (or my son’s), I simply ask, “Why? Is she behaving strangely?” I always get an “oh no” followed by some combination of adjectives that may include well-behaved, friendly, helpful, polite or well spoken. Clearly they have concerns about the socialization of homeschoolers in general and as of yet, not specific concerns about my children. So while I could, I don’t need to either feel attacked or to defend my family or homeschoolers in general.
When our kids make mistakes:
I’d heard the horror stories of home schooling parents. Like the one about a child who misspelled his last name on the return address on an envelope of a letter sent to a grandparent that was unsupportive of home schooling. The mom was so embarrassed. We all make mistakes, regardless of where we go or went to school. I think her embarrassment came from years of being defensive and then feeling like she’d sent proof of her inability to home school well as a special delivery. But what about all of the things her son did just right? I thought she should be proud of her son for sending his grandmother a handwritten note. It’s so easy to be supportive when it’s not you.
My turn came. We are frequent visitors to our local library. In the third grade, my daughter took in her own money to pay her overdue fines. Repeatedly, she just couldn’t seem to count out the exact change. For what seemed like forever, I stood there embarrassed that I had failed to teach my daughter to count out exact change. In truth, I knew that we had covered this well but not reviewed it lately. I had to get some perspective that this could have been the case with any of the third graders visiting the library. I had to quickly get over my embarrassment and be proud of my daughter for paying her fines with own money and yes, then I had to make a note that reviewing counting change had to be often and on going. We’ve done it and she does it consistently very well. Today I am thankful of that moment because it led to an effective plan of action not only for her, but her brother to follow. Homeschoolers don’t have to be perfect. In fact, if we are pretending to be, we are only fooling ourselves.
My personal home schooling mantra:
I developed a home schooling mantra that helps me in a nutshell to answer many of the questions about home schooling that come my way. My mantra:
“I believe that there are advantages and disadvantages to every school choice, whether it is home schooling, public school or private school. For this time, for these children, we believe home school is the best choice and that the advantages of home schooling outweigh the disadvantages.”
By definition everyone’s mantra will be different. What I wanted mine to embody was my belief that my own choice was not without flaws. When that is admitted up front, I neither need to defend my own choice or put down other people’s school choices in an effort to raise mine up.