The following is a guest post by Kara Anderson.
We were at a follow-up check for my daughter, who had surprised our ancient cat–and paid for it.
Her hand had become infected from a deep scratch, and for some reason, I was convinced this was a sign of terrible parenting. And so, I was already on edge when the doctor asked my 5-year-old how she liked school.
“Ummm, I homeschool,” she said looking to me for reassurance.
She is still not accustomed to people asking this. But I have an older son, and so I am used to it. I also know the inevitable follow-up.
“Do you have a group?” the doctor said turning to me.
“We do!” I answered brightly.
“Good. I just need to be sure they are being socialized.”
Being socialized? You need to be sure?
I felt my fists forming into little bony balls of rage.
But it was best to let this one go, because it probably seemed they were also being exposed to an old, crabby attack-cat. I needed this small parenting win.
It was the truth, though. We do have a group, one that we love — one that is the perfect fit for our family and how we homeschool.
But finding that group wasn’t an easy task.
We stumbled a lot. I stumbled, really. My children clearly inherited some sort of social gene from a relative who must have been part car salesman and part carnival barker. These two have never had trouble meeting people.
And yet, early on I thought it was my responsibility to help them along in the buddy department. We did the things many new homeschoolers do. We signed up for classes and activities. We stalked the local library for other homeschool families. And finally, we joined a group.
It was a group especially intended for younger homeschoolers, and it sounded like a good opportunity to meet other families. Members went to play dates at parks and visited the local twisty-climby kid spots.
Whew, I remember thinking — we were finally part of something. It was so handy to have that answer ready in my back pocket when the grocery clerk or dental assistant asked us how my kids socialized.
“We have a group!” I would say.
Or was it?
My kids were interacting. They were invited to birthday parties. They had “friends.” (The use of those quotes is meant in no way insult the great kids and parents we met. It’s more to denote that although my kids were spending time with other children their own age, and although I was meeting other homeschooling moms, there wasn’t a lot of deep bonding “best-buddies-for-life” taking place.)
Our activities seemed to revolve around parent chit-chat and trying to get a handle on this new homeschooling gig. We were our own little Ellis Island, brought together by circumstance, some of us not even speaking the same “homeschool” language.
Because here’s the thing with socialization: We all know that true “socialization” is not just finding yourself in a group. For some of us (let’s face it, a lot of us introverted homeschool moms) groups can be absolutely terrifying.
And groups where you feel like the odd-woman out? Where you bring up something you read about unschooling or you reference your family’s circle time and you get looks of confusion and panic? Nothing about that feels very social.
For kids, I have to imagine this is even more confusing.
Imagine a child who has a passion for playing the ukulele, meeting a kid whose favorite past-time is mixed martial arts, and for those two kids to be told they need to be best friends based on proximity and the fact that neither has ever eaten a “hot lunch.”
It makes me start to think that the stereotypical paralyzed, socially awkward homeschool kid is really just baffled that his mom keeps bringing him to these weird events.
Our culture is accustomed to classrooms full of 30 kids. Have you ever tried buying a pack of just eight Valentines?
But are these 30 kids all really “friends?” Certainly not in my public schooling experience. They are more accurately boys and girls who the educational system says can all be taught the same things by virtue of their birthdates and zip codes.
And so, just as all second-graders at the local elementary school will not instantly be friends, the smaller sampling of homeschoolers in any given homeschool group might not be best pals either.
Maybe one or two of these kids will connect with your child.
Maybe, you will connect with a mom or two. Somehow, it seems, the mom you connect with will never actually be the parent of the child your kid likes. That’s just the way these things work.
Three years later, we actually have found a group that feels like home. It’s a mixed-age, very diverse co-op of families. Its focus is less on parent-organized social events and more on our weekly classes. It isn’t for everyone. I am now co-coordinator of the group and I will say that without hesitation — because no group is for everyone.
My children (and I) have made lots of friends — kids and parents who share like interests and as the book says, are people who like us.
It feels really good. I know just how good it feels because we walked away from that other group.
Realizing that it just wasn’t where we were supposed to be was difficult. We had to start over. We had to be okay with realizing that spending time with people in a similar situation was not the same as having friends. Was it socialization? Only by the standard American definition of sitting in a room with people your same age.
“Socialization” as a homeschooling family is tricky: you can try to force it, and know the whole time that you are living in a contrived state that will please your family doctor and weird neighbor.
But friendship is easier. You find people who like you. It may take a while, but I promise, the wait is worth it.
Have you found a homeschool group that works for both you and your children?
Originally published on May 28, 2013.