S is for Socialization

 

I ran into the most common homeschooling myth again the other day.  It doesn’t matter if you’re thinking about homeschooling or if you’re a veteran homeschooler, the “what about socialization?” question is one you’ve probably heard way too many times.

It’s such a personal question.  “Excuse me, but how are you going to keep your children from becoming ill-mannered brats?”  I hate hearing it.  I’m not the only one – homeschoolers joke about their responses to that question.  Some of us wail about hearing it from family who should be more supportive.  We hear it from everyone: the cashier at the grocery store, the grandparents, the neighbor – everyone!  We’re tired of hearing it.

Homeschooling has become far more mainstream, yet people ask the same question I was asked as a homeschooled child.  Our homeschooling PR department has failed miserably!

In the discussion where this myth came up yet again, I realized something.  The person who believed it got defensive at the standard homeschooling responses.  Saying that public school doesn’t allow much socialization these days, or that it’s an abnormal peer-to-peer socialization was taken as an attack on public schools.

I think his response was perfectly normal.  In fact, I think homeschoolers have heard this myth so often that we become defensive and rude about it at times.   We forget: as parents, we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing.  We want our kids to grow up to be decent, upstanding, contributing citizens of society.  We want the polite child to grow up into the polite but resolute adult who stands firm for what they believe in.  We want our kids to be compassionate, kind, and full of empathy.   We all want the same thing.  We may go about it different ways, but we want our kids to be good kids.

So I’ve decided that my response to that question is going to change – to be a bit more flexible depending on the situation.

Instead of going on the defensive, I’m going to evaluate where the questioner is coming from.  Are they asking out of curiosity?  Out of concern?  Out of a controlling impulse? (believe it or not, that happens a lot with the family questions.)  My response will vary based on their starting point.

 

Curiosity

If they’re asking out of curiosity, then I will educate.  It might be the 14, 925 zillionth time that I’ve heard it, but it’s probably the first time that they’ve asked it.  They’re curious, and they really want to know how this thing works.  We’re bucking the system, and people who came from within that system often have no idea how we do it.  Depending on the situation, I’ll briefly reply with the options homeschoolers have now, and I’ll laughingly point out that we have to make time to stay at home.  We’re not hermits, we’re roving explorers!

If they’re friends who really want to know how things work and are considering homeschooling, then I might go into more detail.  A short synopsis of how our week usually works.  A breakdown of what time we can allot to academics versus going out into the wide world and making friends.  I’m happy to point out the bonuses to homeschooling and how we can manage time better because our class size is smaller.

 

Concern

This is probably the most common starting point.  It doesn’t matter if the person is a cashier in the grocery store or a neighbor, they’re still concerned that our kids may not get what kids need to grow up happy and healthy.  And I’m glad for that.  That’s a wonderful thing – that other people care enough about my kids to ask if we’re doing the right thing!

My response will probably vary depending on how well I know the person.  A random stranger?  I smile and joke about making time to stay home.  A casual acquaintance?  I might go into more depth.  A family member?  I’ll share details – what we’re doing, classes and groups, and all the varied ways that we’re learning how to deal with people in our daily lives.

Just like with the Curiousity people, those asking have no idea how homeschooling actually works.  They only know what they experienced in public or private school and they can’t find any common ground to understand homeschooling.  I may have to educate a little to help relieve their concerns, because going outside of the traditional box can seem a little scary.

 

Controlling

This category starts off as concerned.  Then they keep asking.  They make pointed little snide comments.  They pull the children aside to ask them “don’t you really want to go to school?”  They truly think that homeschooling is harmful, and they refuse to listen to any sort of explanation or education.  They view homeschooling as a deliberate attempt to keep the children away from a “normal” childhood, and they’ll fight tooth and nail for what they think is best.

My response is to deal with the concern, then quit talking about it.  There’s no point in engaging in a Controlling personality, because you’ll never win.  It’s not about homeschooling.  If it wasn’t homeschooling, it would be something else, like letting your child take karate lessons instead of dance.  Or letting the kiddo grow his hair long.  It’s always something with the Controllers, so why bother fighting about it?  Don’t engage: smile and say “we feel that we’re doing the best thing for our child” and leave it at that.

 

Medical

This is a very special category that burns me.  Almost every medical professional we’ve encountered has a negative opinion and doesn’t hesitate to state it.  Even those not connected to our kids.  And of course, every specialist that deals with the Engineer has a very definite opinion about homeschooling.

One of his specialists asked about how he’s doing in school EVERY single time we go.  Specific questions – detailed questions – and last time I did something completely mean and turned the carnivorous plant faucet on and let him have the full blast of the Engineer’s passions.  He looked a little shell-shocked after the Engineer enthusiastically told him all the things he’s doing for school.

This is a case where I have to tread carefully, because these professionals are the ones judging us.  They’re the ones who will make a diagnosis and put important little notes in the Engineer’s files like “crazy mother is harming her son by not letting him attend public school.”  I’m kidding – but only partially so.  Medical professionals have a lot of power over us, and as a bloc, they do not approve of homeschooling.  (in our experience, at least.)

So I walk lightly.  I mention all the social aspects.  I point out the learning disabilities and how we accommodate them at home in a way that public school cannot for now.  I detail how we’re doing this class or this group and mention how well he’s doing making friends at playgrounds.  I blather.  I give lots of details.  I do what it takes to not look crazy.

 

Opinion

Then there are the people who don’t ask.  They state the stereotype as truth.  They fully believe that homeschooling lacks the right kind of socialization and that only a traditional school can fill that need.  They refuse to discuss it, or if they do, they get offended by anything homeschoolers say in defense of homeschooling.  They take it personally.

In this case, I tend to smile and agree to disagree.  You do what’s best for your family, and we’ll do what’s best for ours.  If they want a fight, I’m happy to take the Curiousity approach, but I understand that I cannot convince them unless traditional school ceases to work for their family too.  Maybe if it does, they’ll remember our conversation and rethink what they previously rejected.

 

 

We all need to remember that we’re parents first: not homeschoolers, public schoolers, or private schoolers.  We’re parents, who want our kids to grow up and make us proud.  We chose different routes to accomplish that, but my route isn’t better than yours.  It’s better for my family.  It might not work for yours.

I promise, I’ll try not to tell you that my children aren’t puppies  (because socialization is for dogs, not children) if you promise not to accuse my kids of being weird.  Let’s just be parents together and make this thing work.  Right?

 

 

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