Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Can a Homeschool Mom find Friends?

Dear homeschool mom I met at the park last week,
I’m sorry I didn’t call you back when you sent me that text. I’m not trying to be rude.  When we exchanged phone numbers, I truly wanted to try and be your friend, but now I’m not so sure. You see, I have been burned by friendships with other homeschool moms. I’m just barely making it through and I don’t think I can take any more judgmental attitudes. I’m sure you’re a nice person but I do things very differently and you might not approve. I can sincerely say: it’s not you, it’s me.
Maybe someday your friend,
Another Homeschool Mom

What about socialization? This question nags most homeschoolers. It is concerning the children and I think what people are trying to ask is, “How will your child have friends?”  The issue that I think is more of a challenge is, “How can a homeschool mom have homeschool mom friends?”

Homeschool moms find themselves looking for comradery and support from other homeschoolers and end up being rejected and criticized for how they choose to homeschool. In the state I live in, we are free to teach our own children in whatever style or method we choose. We can pick any curricula or no curricula. Here in lies the challenge for finding comradery. Homeschool moms have invested a good deal of energy trying to find the methods and supplies that fit their lives and most of us think what we are doing is best for our family. Now try to interface that unique blend of methods and materials with another unique person’s opinions.

Bottom line: it’s a problem.

To unpack this issue, I would like to first address the question, “Why do you homeschool?”

This is such a crucial question in regards to friends. For example, if you homeschool, for spiritual reasons you might not find support from someone who cares about academic excellence. Some parents believe keeping their children from the worldly influences in public school is so important that they are ok with covering the basics and not worrying about the rest. The “three Rs” is what they cover and their focus is on character training. The day begins with prayer and the bible is the primary textbook.

Let me stop there and point out that some of you reading this article have already begun to judge. You think it’s wrong for a parent to sacrifice academic excellence for spiritual reasons. Am I right? If you don’t homeschool and you are a Christian, you might be thinking that a family should be able to do BOTH. Can’t you have the best of both worlds? In an ideal, unrealistic world: sure. In reality: probably not all the time.

We all have a limited amount of time, money, and energy. We all have to choose what is most important and let the rest fall off the table for the dog to eat. We also have to examine our worldview and decide if we believe that academic excellence produces better Christians or citizens. Is academic education the solution to societal ills?  

I am not trying to cast my lot with those who most value the spiritual reasons. I am for parents choosing how they should raise their own children. Many parents believe that academic excellence is most important. Their children have been college prep from 1st grade.  The mom’s lesson planner is her bible. These parents believe that going to college is crucial in the society we live in. The parents are most-likely brilliant and were in “gifted” classes or they were perpetually bored in school as a child. These parents filled their extra time in high school teaching their friends how to work an equation or summarizing a novel for them.

Homeschooling for academic excellence is a good reason to home educate. Academic excellence is very important to me. I do want my children to go to college. I have opinions about Math-U-See, Notgrass, and Apologia. If you use them, you should not ask me- unless academic excellence is something you care strongly about. I just finished cutting up (literally) a pre-made (for convenience) lesson plan and making out my plan for the year. I AM THAT MOM.

Some of you who were enjoying my comments on limited energy are now beginning to bristle. The thought of maintaining a grade book or lesson planner makes you incredulous. If you’re going to homeschool, why bring “school” home? Some moms just feel defeated at the thought of a grade book or even a text book. You are just doing good to get through the spectrum math book you picked up at Walmart and the library books on your coffee table.

There are many, many, many other perfectly legitimate reasons to homeschool that I have not covered here. I know people who homeschool who are not even conservative Christians (a typical stereo-type.)
I am here to encourage you ALL.

Whatever reason you homeschool, you can find friends. Here are some tips:

1.      1. Step back and examine why you homeschool.

If you are not even sure what you value the most, then you may not even realize why a playdate with another mom left you feeling so defeated. Did she talk about her new organizational tools the whole time? Did she talk about the evil content in “Finding Nemo” and your ten-year old watched an R rated movie last night?

If you get side-swiped and you don’t know why, you need to sit down and make a top-ten list of what your homeschool goals are in order of importance. Then cut the bottom-half of the list off. Make a family mission statement (verbal or written.) This mission statement may change as your family grows and you mature but for this year, this month, this week your goals can be clearly defined in your mind

2.       Learn to be OK with someone homeschooling for other reasons

Just because you are friends with someone who has different goals, doesn’t mean you have to change your goals. I do not believe there is one perfect way to homeschool. I do not believe there is a perfect way to parent. Those of us who are extroverted probably struggle with this most. I begin to listen you another mom talk about her goals or methods and I begin to question my own.

Now I ask myself if the mom has similar goals to mine. If they are, I will examine if her methods might benefit me or my children. As your families grow, your goals might change and you may grow apart from some families who you once found fellowship with. Learn to be OK with growing apart. If a relationship becomes damaging to your goals, ask God for help in deciding to end the relationship. Most of the time, you can still maintain a casual relationship.

I can still love a person who isn’t exactly like me, but I won’t look for encouragement in the areas in which we don’t agree.

3.        Seek out other like-minded homeschoolers
If you have examined your goals and settled on a few points, it can be most discouraging to feel like you are alone in the world. You need someone who is like-minded to just walk through life with. Be courageous and seek someone out. Go to a ladies bible study or visit another church. Join a homeschool CoOp for a season or sign up on a virtual bulletin board.

These moms may have children who are much younger or older than yours. Your world REVOLVES around your children most of the time. It is OK for you to have a friend that is just a friend for you. Most of your children will make friends in the plethora of age-segregate activities they participate in sports or church but YOU need friends too.  

Leave the kids at home one evening and have coffee or tea. You can also take a day to have a playdate. When you meet another homeschooler, give the person a try but don’t put all your hope in this basket. This friend might be like-minded but after some time you might find out that you disagree on some point. Then refer to point number two.

4.       Be content with one or two like-minded friends
This is a hard point for me. I want this large group of friends to run with and I want them all to like me, but truly God did not plan for it to be this way for me. Our family is in a strange position. The only way I know to explain it is to compare ourselves to our friends (which is unwise.) We are more liberal than some of our friends in some of our media and fashion choices and more conservative than other friends in the events and activities we choose to participate in. We care more about academics then some friends and less than others.

When it comes to friends we have found it more valuable to have friends who are Christian conservatives. This choice was made based on our most important goals. In our community, there are not many conservative Christians with these same goals and so we don’t have many like-minded friends. We have a good deal of acquaintances who we love but these are not the friends I seek out intimate friendship with.  I have come to the place where I am happy with just a few close friends and that we get to share our struggles and victories from time to time.

5.       . Don’t compare yourself and don’t compete with others

When your friend shares a homeschooling experience with you, she may not be relating this so you can implement her strategies. She may just want to talk about it. If she had a revelation about something, you do not have to adopt her opinion. If she is good at one thing, don’t let that make you feel bad. You are good at lots of things.

Don’t be that person who thinks everyone does it better than you and don’t be the person who thinks you do it better than everyone else. I believe THIS is the primary homeschooler sin.

If your friend does something better then you and you have the same goals as this person, let her success encourage you. Maybe you can improve in that area but don’t let your friendship become a one-up game. You can destroy your friendship and your sweet children’s egos by playing this way.

Like-wise don’t look down on the person who does things worse or differently then you. This comes out in the things you say to the person AND behind their back. No matter how much you think your kids don’t hear you- THEY DO.  Don’t gossip , if not for the sake of your friendship, for the sake of your kids.

6.       . Love and be compassionate

This thing we are doing is HARD. We are swimming upstream. Don’t look at those who are swimming next to you and criticize the WAY they are swimming.

Love is the only way to have friends. Forgive people when they hurt you. Ask for forgiveness when you are wrong. When a friendship cracks, examine your part in the break. Most of us didn’t have positive friendship experiences when we were in school. Have compassion on the wounded person who is trying to take their kids through the world a little less wounded.  

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