Thoughts on the homeschool gig

I was reading a blog post today (Brenda Kaye Rufener’s Homeschool Diaries) that listed some of the dumber things people say to homeschoolers. Many of the questions & comments she mentioned are things I’ve experienced over the years. Some of them make me laugh, some leave me dumbstruck, and some of them make me want to bring out the Fist of Death, much like Alice in the Dilbert comics strip. 

Most times, I know those who comment are simply ignorant of what we do, and they might even be speaking from genuine concern, so I try to be polite. After sixteen years of homeschooling (not the same child, thank goodness!), though we don’t get as many questioning looks about being “out with kids during school hours” anymore, there are still those who just don’t get it.

In the early years, we came up against a lot of resistance, even from family. My in-laws, usually super-supportive with any of their children’s endeavors, expressed their concerns early on, telling us how “children need to be around other kids” and saying they “needed to be out there in the real world.” After taking our boys, then six and eight years old, to a baseball game, their surprised pleasure was obvious when they realized our sons “weren’t strange and scared in a crowd or anything.” Their surprise was certainly second to my own surprise that they’d even considered worrying about it. After that event, though, they began getting the kids school supplies during the “back to school” sales, and we knew they were on board.

For some reason, homeschoolers attract that same breed of person who will rub the tummy of a pregnant stranger, not ever considering all the reasons why that is simply not an OK thing to do. Strangers in the grocery store (who would never approach me if I were shopping alone) seemed to have no awkward feelings about asking my children why they weren’t “in school” that day. When the child being questioned would say, “We homeschool, and we’re done already today,” the stranger would then proceed to give me unasked-for, uninformed, undesired advice. Did I ask for it? No. Did I want to stand there and listen to it? No. Did I value the person’s opinion? Not a whit. Did I grin and bear it? Sadly, yes. I hate being rude to strangers, even if they’re being rude to me. (My children will tell you I’m much better at being rude to people I know and love.)

When she was younger, our daughter had a T-shirt which had, “YES. I’m homeschooled. YES. I socialize. YES. I had class today,” written in bold letters across the front. It elicited many smiles and comments whenever she wore it. A cashier at a store once asked me, “But what about friends?” After I pondered what in the world that was supposed to mean, I asked her if she had friends. She said yes. I asked her if all her friends were from her grade school or high school (she was in her 30s, I’m guessing). She said no, as I’d anticipated. And yet she was puzzled when I asked why she thought my children couldn’t make friends outside the boundaries of a school building.

All of our children have been involved in various activities, from the standard swim lessons to riflery and archery clubs, youth groups and praise & worship bands. One of my favorite non-homeschoolers-don’t-get-it moments came when our oldest, Noah, was at the weekly archery shoot. One of the guys found out he was homeschooled and said, “Really? But you’re so normal!” and then proceeded to ask, “So do you have any friends?” Noah looked around at the gang of friends he was with (many of them homeschooled) and slowly said, “Uh…yeah…” But the guy couldn’t leave it at that; he persisted, “But do you DO anything?” at which point Noah exasperatedly said, “Well, I’m HERE, aren’t I?” We still laugh about that.

People make a big deal about the so-called “socialization” question [insert ominous music here]; in truth, I got in a lot of trouble in school for my brand of socializing—which is different from socialization, but that’s for another post. Or not. I was a good kid, mind you, but I liked to talk. Talking is part of being social and all, you know. Some might say…OK, well, all might say I still like to talk. Hey, it’s what I’m good at. And half of me is Italian, so add all the hand motions and I get a good cardio workout when I talk. But my point is that I don’t recall traditional school being a place where socializing was encouraged.

Strangers worry far more than I do about whether my children learn “what they need to” at [fill in the blank] age. They wonder how my children learned how to stand in line, something I suppose I never realized was part of a well-rounded curriculum. They wonder if I know what’s best for my children, and I wonder why they’d assume someone other than my husband or me would know what each child needs. They worry that my children might cheat on their tests, and I feel bad for all the kids whose teachers don’t make them fix their incorrect answers. Isn’t that the idea of learning?

For all those concerned: my children (who are old enough now at 13, 18, and 20 that “children” isn’t quite the right word for them anymore) are just fine. They have friends, homeschooled, private-schooled, cyber-schooled and public-schooled. Christian and non-Christian. Black, white, Asian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and more. Friends who live in the US and friends who live on the mission field overseas. Musician friends and artist friends. Friends who are athletic and friends whose thumbs are in great shape from playing video games. Fat friends, skinny friends, friends who climb on rocks…you get the idea.

I actually like my kiddos. They can be some of the wittiest people on Earth when they’re in the mood. They make me laugh more than most people do. Our mealtime conversations are the stuff tell-all books are made of. They irritate me—most people do, sooner or later—and I irritate them. But overall, we enjoy each other. I firmly believe the time we’ve spent together because of homeschooling has benefited us in many ways that have nothing to do with academics. We get to spend time together when we’re fresh, not just at the end of the workday when everyone’s spent and cranky and hungry. They get to see that I’m a real person with a life real interests. They realize I can be fun sometimes. It’s not enough to make them ditch a fun event with friends in order to stay home with dear ol’ mama, but I have heard my boys tell their friends on occasion that they were just going to stay home because their dad had a day off from work and we were all just going to spend a day together.

Thankfully, we’ve never really had to deal with the huge teen-angst blowups people talk about. Not that our kids don’t get upset sometimes, or lose their tempers, but it’s rare. And when they do, they typically apologize later. No one has ever screamed, “I hate you!” in this house—not at me or my husband, anyway—and for that, I’m truly thankful. Angry words can be hurtful enough without throwing that into the mix. They might have been angry enough to say it, but it never came out verbally, and that’s important.

I thought about this today as our daughter (the youngest) came to me and said she wanted to take a bike ride, “so I don’t lose my temper and blow up at someone.” For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine what would have prompted her to be angry enough to blow up at anyone, considering that she’d slept until almost noon, sat around reading for school, and was fairly inactive until we asked her to start a load of laundry an hour after waking (one of her standard chores which should need no reminding). I wanted to say no, because we were only fifteen minutes from sitting down to our main meal of the day (luppertime, don’t ya know). But she looked upset and my hubby, typically the voice of reason, gave her the OK. When I asked her if it was anything I could help with, she said, “No, just teen girl stress stuff.” Then she grinned and added, “You wouldn’t know, of course, since you’ve never been a teen girl before.” She didn’t storm out or stomp and slam the door. She simply left, knowing we weren’t going to push, and when she came back an hour later, she had a genuine smile and all was well in her teen world.

Maybe I’m stretching the connection, but I can’t help but think the scenario would have been much different if she were a peer-dependent girl in a traditional school who thought her parents’ opinion was far less valid than that of her friends. So to answer the stranger who worried that it would a go badly because “parents shouldn’t be around their kids that much,” I would say it’s worked out just fine for this family.


10 thoughts on “Thoughts on the homeschool gig

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  1. Great article – we raised five children – 2 opted for virtual school, which isn’t homeschooling per say, but oft received the same raised brow. I think for parents who have the time and drive to educate their children, said education will far exceed what is provided during the typical 40 minutes of class in the typical schoolroom. I think school time socialization learning is a ridiculous argument considering most discipline issues “addressed” by schools are “social” in nature – texting, talking, fighting, dress code. But here is my largest concern with schools – every day there is an article or a news story that demonstrates that school administrators have lost their collective minds. Suspensions over toy guns at home, or because a friend picked up a drunk friend at a party, or a teacher in a relationship with a student, or suspension of the pledge or allegiance…it goes on an on. I’m not saying government education doesn’t have value, in fact it would have more if they focused on reading, writing, science and math instead of policing the thoughts and out of school actions of our children. Based on their policies and decision-making, I did not leave the molding of my children to them.

    1. Raymond, you’ve mentioned so many of the things that bother me about government schools…it’s unbelievable to me that they’d be so focused on the out-of-school lives of the students that they’d neglect the academics. And those in charge truly seem to be checking their brains at the door, as in this week’s news about the sober student who picked up her drunk friend at a non-school party and was punished by the school administrators. We’ve never regretted our decision to homeschool, even through certain years that were more of a struggle than others; our children are not super-geniuses (unless it’s the Wile E. Coyote variety), but they are smart enough to have common sense prevail. In my opinion, that’s the difference between passing a test and learning the information. Ideally, parents, not the schools, should be the ones to mold their children’s character, regardless of academics.

      1. I think the school system was glad to see my children graduate or at least happy to not have to deal with me anymore LOL. I often angered them. To the point of our discussion: when my son was a senior they wanted him to attend these mentoring sessions with a teacher. The purpose was to help the student make decisions about the future, career etc. I said “no” he would not participate. They called me to argue the importance of the program (aka gov funding for participation). I told them that they were out of bounds and that the only person “mentoring” my son’s future would be me. They continued to push at which time I said that if they could demonstrate that the “assigned” mentor had more life experience, real world business experience or a higher degree of education than me that my son would attend. I also said that if I could attend to ensure the correct messaging at the sessions that would also work. Apparently the 28 year old teacher did not meet my criteria and additionally the “sessions” were “private.” I suggested they spend more time on academics and less time worrying about what my son does in the future. BTW my son went to college on a full scholarship and is now in law school on a full scholarship.

  2. If more parents spent more time with their children, I wouldn’t be so fearful for the future.

    It has always struck me, how opinionated people can be about someone else’s kids. It IS hard to grin and bear it. When my son decided to try out a virtual classroom, I, too, endured plenty of unsolicited advice concerning his socialization. When my elder daughter declared herself a tomboy, my family and friends questioned my parenting skills. When my youngest threw a fit in the checkout line at the grocery store because she wasn’t getting that piece of candy, a total stranger tried to lecture me about setting limits.

    Am I the world’s best mother? Nope. Is your advice going to change that? No! Move along, people. You aren’t helping.

    1. I always wondered if the people (forcibly) offering the unsolicited advice really, truly thought I was going to suddenly have a change of heart based on it. If I’d thought that shallowly about my decision to homeschool, then I suppose I would deserve whatever I’d get by listening to strangers.

      You’ve got the right idea. Move along; nothing to see here.

  3. Very well written! Whenever someone asked “Do you have any friends?” or “How do you socialize?”, I can’t help but laugh. It’s like they expect the majority of homeschoolers to be sitting in the corners talking to ghosts or curled up into fetal positions and sucking their thumbs, which is far from the truth for just about every homeschooler that I’ve bumped into.

  4. Best thing about homeschooling was that the kids didn’t do the intense peer-group identifications that American schoolchildren seem to do (I was brought up in Mexico – we didn’t do it there). They were used to having someone’s mother not very far away, and their friends’ siblings, including the babies, and it just wasn’t a big deal.

    Since I was ill from the time my second child was 2, it was a way to put all that training into something valuable – time spent educating my kids (I used to tell people we homeschooled by accident). When my energy was gone, they’d had plenty of time with me, each other, and schoolwork – and did a lot of reading. They did fine on yearly standardized tests, and got into good colleges.

    We were blessed to have been in NJ (no paperwork – I couldn’t have handled paperwork) with a great group of homeschoolers just across the river in Yardley, PA – each of my children had friends and activities and scouts and…

    If I hadn’t, my life would have been one continuous expenditure of energy on such things as lunches and getting kids to the bus stop on time and dealing with the endless pile of meaningless papers they brought back daily (each had at least one year in ‘real school’). Instead, they had me, each other, and spent their time learning. We were the library’s best customers.

    Husband took a bit of convincing, but took the leap of faith – and we removed our oldest from our parish Kindergarten (very hard to get into) where he was reading at an advanced level (no one told him he couldn’t) when the other kids were learning their letters. They did a lot of wonderful science fair projects. And Mock Trial. And Future Cities. And… Took some coordinating, but I still think it’s the best decision I could have made of how to use my tiny bit of energy.

    1. This marks our final year of homeschooling, our twentieth, and although I’m tired now, I would never make a different choice. Our kids got used to being around people of all ages, complete with siblings of all ages, and they can pretty much relate to anybody at this point. Any resistance we had from others initially was shot down by their social skills and overall “normalness.” Some people just have crazy ideas in their heads about what homeschooling really is, and they are astonished when they meet actual homeschoolers and we are not the stereotype of the crazies who are in the news.

      In your case, it sounds like it was an especially wise choice. You would not have had the relationship with your children that you ended up with, and as you said, what little energy you had would have been expended in the wrong places. I love the fact that I enjoy my kids and that they didn’t always see the worst of me at the end of their tiring day.

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