Q&A Friday: What should I do if my family disapproves of homeschooling?

Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom

Over the past month I’ve received several emails from readers asking about a question I have no idea how to answer.

The emails sound a bit like this (used with permission):

“I have three little ones and have been homeschooling for two years now. My mom has been a teacher for decades and does not support our decision to homeschool. It is difficult not to carry that as a burden.

I believe so strongly in what we are doing for our family, but I guess I’m just curious how others handle a lack of support or encouragement from those most important to them.”

At times my own family members have been curious about our decision to homeschool–what it means, what it looks like–but I consider myself extremely blessed that we’ve never had to deal with direct conflict or blatant disapproval over it.

I know many of you have had to walk this difficult road, and I hope you’ll share your experiences today to help those who are just navigating these challenging waters.

Considering homeschooling in the best of circumstances can be frightening, but adding in extra stresses from family can make it feel truly overwhelming.

Which leads to our question for the day:

What should I do if my family disapproves of homeschooling? How should I approach the topic? What if family members make negative remarks about our choice in front of my children?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. I’m really curious to see how people address this problem. As an academic, most of my colleagues, many of whom are friends, are never quite sure how to react when I say we home school. There is an awkward silence. Sometimes there are questions coming from ignorance (not the pejorative kind).

    I feel the need to explain or defend our decision, but I don’t. I just let it stand. I feel if I explain or defend then I implicitly admit there is a problem with it. I’m not sure if that makes sense or not.

    I know my family isn’t supportive either, though they haven’t said much. They simply ask the same kinds of questions that my colleagues do. One of the most common questions I do get is when our twins will start kindergarten (or the home school version of it). Of course they already have started. They started when they were born. For us it’s more about abilities and experiences than grade levels. That’s a problematic school construct.

    Well, those are just my random thoughts. Again, I’m really curious how others address these problems.
    Jacob’s latest post: Earth Day in Flushing

    • Hey Jacob, it’s Sofia from Sofia’s Ideas! I just wanted to say that I absolutely loved what you said here “I feel the need to explain or defend our decision, but I don’t. I just let it stand. I feel if I explain or defend then I implicitly admit there is a problem with it…”
      The answer is YES, that absolutely makes sense! I wish I could say I was that confident in those situations, but that would be a lie. 🙂

      And I loved “Of course they already have started. They started when they were born.” because I share that sentiment about the arbitrary beginnings & ends to education!
      Fantastic contribution, Jacob, really.
      Sofia’s Ideas’s latest post: this moment

      • Thanks Sophia, I have to admit my response comes from observing my wife, who never feels she needs to justify anything. She just lives her life, no apologies. I aspire to be her.
        Jacob’s latest post: This Moment

  2. As a homeschooling mama for over 15 years, my advice is to fear not. Most that oppose homeschooling are those who don’t understand it or know much about it, or have seen unsuccessful homeschooling. It’s basically fear do to lack of understanding and knowledge.

    Grandparents want what’s best for their children and homeschooling in their day most likely was unheard of. Aunts and Uncles may just not agree with it and are concerned you are biting off more than you can handle.

    My advice is get them involved. Be a part of an active support group, one that includes family programs, art shows, etc. Invite the grandparents over to partake in a nature walk, art lesson. Invite a family member to a homeschooling support meeting so that they can meet other homeschoolers and see that you are not alone.

    If you have hostile family members there will be appeasing them, no matter what you do.

    If a family member expresses their concerns or dislikes to you in front of your children, simply reply in a polite manner and say, “I rather not discuss our disagreements on education in front of my children.”
    Anita’s latest post: Fun Books for My Daughter

    • K Alongi says:

      this is a great idea – and reasoned response, so much better than the next one (you’ll never please so don’t try). While you may never please some, and you don’t have to bend over backward trying, including them is showing love and letting God do some of the convincing. Support groups are great; but u can do a lot even without.

  3. *If you have hostile family members there will be NO appeasing them, no matter what you do.
    Anita’s latest post: Fun Books for My Daughter

  4. My Mother In Law was concerned to say the least when told her we were homeschooling. We answered her questions but her fears were not really gone. I did not get defensive. I understood her concerns, even if I disagreed with them. Because I was willing to listen she at least felt heard. She still worried, but then, that’s what she does. Fast forward three years and my bright, funny, personable children have done more convincing than I ever could have. It does help that my oldest child is mildly gifted in some areas and reads beautifully. When MIL took Erin and her cousin (four months older) out for lunch Erin read the menu and poor old school going cousin looked at MIL and asked “Why can’t I read like that?”, But even without that, the fact that my children are NOT the social misfits that MIL had seen as homeschooled children (a HS family she knew had rude, disrespectful children who behaved like toddlers when they were pre-teen) has reassured her greatly! Those fears would not be allayed by any argument I could put forward, she just had to wait and see. It also helped that a retired teacher she knows said to her “Oh I am so JEALOUS of homeschooled children, they get so much more attention and get their needs actually MET!”.

    In the end, Smile, answer questions politely and as thoughtfully as you can, remember that these people DO love your children and want what’s best, keep the communication lines as open as possible but don’t justify your decision at every point and just move forward. It may take years, but your family may become your greatest supporters.
    Jess’s latest post: When you move to crazy town

  5. My mom is a public school teacher, as I once was, and she is adamently opposed to homeschooling. Despite telling me about the poor basil reading program the local school just adopted, the overcrowded classrooms, the behaviors of many of the children that seem to get worse and younger every year. Despite the fact that my children are currently performing higher than the average of their public school counterparts. I think it is stereotypes and fears that have her concerned. Truthfully, we’ve both seen a lot of people homeschool poorly, without a lot of great examples locally. However, I believe that my family can do it well and I’ve told her she is just going to have to trust me.

  6. I’ll be homeschooling starting in June and I’ve been telling everyone around me, whether they wanted to hear or not, my intentions.

    I’ve gotten mixed comments, but because it’s almost a regular option anymore, people just took it with a grain of salt.

    My mother actually said I was a thousand times braver for taking these steps, with my childen, and she didn’t have the guts to do it when I was young.

    Personally, I don’t think it’s guts or anything like that, I just came to the conclusion one day that it was the right thing for my family.

  7. My in-laws were very skeptical when we told them we had decided to homeschool, but now – three years later – they have seen the positive results and are supportive. But even if they weren’t, at some point you have to be secure enough to say “I’m their parent, and this is what I have decided is best for my children.” Grandparents and other family members have a right to be concerned for our children, but ultimately the children are OUR responsibility, and we have to carry out that responsibility in the best way we can.
    Tricia Ballad’s latest post: The Meaning of Life…er…Blogging

  8. Answer their questions the best that you can, but don’t worry too much about it. I had two sets of people who were very vocal in their disapproval when we began homeschooling, and BOTH have since told me that they were wrong and that homeschooling looks like a great idea. If you do a responsible job schooling your children, the benefits usually become obvious to people close to you. If they never acknowledge that they were mistaken, that’s okay too. Your children are YOURS. You are responsible for them, and you will be the one to live with any choices you make for them, good or bad.

    …..latest homeschooling blog post: http://www.chickensinmykitchen.com/2011/04/day-in-life-part-2.html

  9. I’ve been homeschooling for 17 years and look forward to another 10. When we first started, our family was skeptical. MIL would question children to see if they were up to par or if they wanted to go to school. We were even offered money to pay for private schooling. The key is to just let the proof be in the pudding. Just take it in stride for a few years and they will come around. For my mom, it was seeing the difference in my kids as opposed to the typical teenagers that are rebellious or in trouble. I know it’s hard, but you really just have to let it roll off your back.

  10. The above suggestions are excellent. I think we can tell the difference in the way a question is asked as to whether the ‘asker’ really wants the answer to a question or simply wants to make a veiled statement.

    I am particularly concerned about people who are willing to make comments in front of the children. I would privately and very clearly let them know that I would appreciate that they be sensitive about that, same I was would around their children about their choices, no matter how vehemently I was opposed.

    I don’t think it is possible to get everyone’s ‘buy-in’ and it’s not necessary. I say get real comfortable with your differences.
    Janet Costello’s latest post: Kitchen Remodel – Installment 3

    • Janet, “whether the ‘asker’ really wants the answer to a question or simply wants to make a veiled statement.” That is probably the most important distinction. Sometimes the conversation is quite pointless, if someone has already decided what they think, and why. It’s unfortunate, but you’re right.
      Root and Twig’s latest post: A Moms Time With God

  11. 1) Never debate! Ever.

    2) Let your proof stand firmly in your pudding. 😉 Eventually the evidence will speak for itself. In the mean time, be patient and forgiving of ignorance. 😉
    Jessica’s latest post: Plank Pullin’–Green Eyed Edition

    • Rachael Martin says:

      These are such good ideas. Especially not debating, and not explaining! But I need a backbone??? I’ve homeschooled for 16 years. I am also a college professor (part-time), and have 3 advanced degrees. My father (92, a world-known poet–and his 60 year-old girlfriend), have been hostile from day one. I My first daughter graduates in May, and is going on to pursue a professional career as a dancer, not college. This is “pudding” that is very unimpressive to them. Even though my daughter has an agent, and has done professional projects already, and will continue to do so until she is accepted into a contemporary dance company. My younger daughter wants to pursue art & cartooning as a career. (she is 12, starts high school next year, and has chosen possible colleges already). Oddly, although my father (and mother) both have made GOOD livings in the arts, he is in opposition to me. With no real “worry.” Its just a wrong choice (we’re not politically “left” enough, and are Christian? They’ve never really said), Our kids aren’t exposed to the world. Ah–have you met professional dancers–the non-Christian type? My daughters have been plenty exposed:) So here I am ALL these years later, still trying to “explain” myself, prove my choice is best for my kids, etc. etc.
      There is no explaining the dangers of Common Core, or the room in the schedule of homeschoolers for lots of art and dance lessons, the many friends we have, and so on.
      So I guess my cry is HELP!
      What am I going wrong–in anyone’s opinion out there– in dealing with these family members?

  12. christine Liimatta says:

    I, too used to worry, but my husband and I have become so like-minded and resolved that we don’t need others approval anymore. Like other posts, our children have helped put misgivings aside in us and others as they thrive in this environment. I have found that it is better not to talk about homeschooling to those who do not homeschool, unless asked (and then, keep the answer brief). They, like I was before I homeschooled, are ignorant to the topic and it is not my job to convince them. Be patient, most people will come around as they observe. It is more important that you and your spouse are unified in your goals (and this took us several years) than proving to others that what you are doing is right. Your own doubts are also normal as you need to reevaluate often to make sure what you are doing is fitting your family’s need. Seek out a mentor who has walked before you in homeschooling, go to a conference, read. If you are at peace with your decision, then others opinions will matter less.

  13. Thankfully, no one in my family has been unsupportive, but I think the biggest problem is that people don’t know what you do all day.

    What about having an end-of-the-year celebration? Invite family members and friends and have the kids display their best work (handwriting samples, art projects, science projects, math, etc.), recite memory work they’ve learned, have a spelling or math bee, have them play their instrument or dance or whatever it is they are good at. Have the kids help with the refreshments and decorating and make it a fun thing. I can almost guarantee that the skeptics will walk away at the end of the day bragging about how smart and well-adjusted your kids are.

    • Audrey Simmons says:

      My family also did this, and it was a wonderful way for us to get practice in performance arts, as well as demonstrate things we’d learned! Family members and friends began to look forward to it and ask insistently when we’d be doing it again if we hadn’t mentioned it in a while.

  14. All of these answers are really wonderful — and great food for thought.

    My parents and mil were all public school teachers, as was I. The biggest critic, however, has been my brother-in-law, also a teacher. The grandparents were perhaps skeptical, but nonetheless encouraging. And as someone else said, the proof is in the pudding.

    All our kids are keeping pace with their peers and able to explore the areas that interest them in depth. PS has changed so much over the years, that I think that the grandparents are thankful that we’ve done what we have, even though it went against the grain.

    I am not sure that I can add much to the conversation except to suggest that you get all your legal ducks in a row. Most of the times when ppl have trouble with their local agencies is due to unhappy relatives. Save yourself a lot of frustration by making sure that you know your rights and are in compliance with your state’s laws concerning homeschooling. http://hslda.org is a great place to start.
    Jessica’s latest post: 4 Cheap &amp Easy Ways to Go Green Frugal Friday

  15. Audrey Simmons says:

    My mom has been homeschooling for sixteen years now, and I plan to homeschool my boys.

    I grew up with family that ranged from supportive enough to start homeschooling their own kids (my cousins), to a set of grandparents that constantly, constantly questioned my parents, their ability to teach us (even though they both had college degrees), and whether or not this would limit us when we graduated high school. And this is with /two/ of their own children homeschooling kids, for a total of twelve homeschooled grandchildren.

    When would be interrogated on math skills, reading skills, science skills, etc., during visits. My mom would answer question after question after question. But she was polite and kind, despite her frustration, and I don’t remember ever hating or disliking my grandparents. (I know my mom’s most frustrating moments were when they’d show up for a surprise visit during a school week, and we’d get, “Why aren’t you doing school? Is this what you do all day?” if she gave us a break to hang out, and “Why won’t you let the kids talk to us?” if she didn’t.)

    Fast forward to now. I went to college on a full scholarship, my sister is in college and I have five siblings at home getting ready to go in the next couple years. Two cousins are in college. And I finished school sooner than a public-schooled cousin who started sooner than I did. Grandparents’ prodding questions have ceased; my siblings don’t get quizzed as much as I did.

    I guess my two cents in this conversation add up to this: Be polite and kind, no matter how hurt or frustrated you are, for the sake of your kids. Their relationships with those skeptics might be strangely unmarred by the time they grow up. And just keep doing what you know to be good and right; it might take time to win them over, but it’s still possible.

  16. First, most people ask us how we came to the decision to home educate. I let them know that the decision was not made lightly or spur of the moment. We researched all our educations options and many different methods and felt strongly that home education was right for us. Then we took it to the Lord. We tell people that we fasted and prayed for quite some time and were content in the inspiration that we received to home educate our children.

    We politely and patiently answer any questions that they may have, but inevitably, they always seem to have something they are not satisfied with, and that is ok. I know that I am choosing right for my children. I see them grow and flourish and there are others that will eventually see this as well and share that feedback with you. Sadly, some people will never come to that conclusion, or admit to it, because of the preconceived opinions they have. You have to be ok with that.
    Ginger’s latest post: 2011 TJEd Forum

  17. I was lucky enough to have two sets of grandparents support us (at least in words) from the start. But after homeschooling for 14 years and talking to *lots* if homeschoolers, I agree with others who have said that sometimes it takes a few years, but it will be your children who convince naysayers in the end. It’s hard to deny the benefits of homeschooling when people see how happy and curious homeschooled kids can be.

    I think it can be especially hard for classroom teachers to accept the notion of homeschooling. (And I’m a former teacher.) The fact that homeschooling works can put into question everything that teachers believe about learning. It *might* help to point out that there are an awful lot of former and working teachers who turn to homeschooling–I wish I had some statistics on that, but I’m always amazed at how many fellow former teachers I meet at park days. (You don’t have to tell your naysayers that a teaching background can be a real hindrance to a homeschooler, at least in my experience! Teachers are so used to be *in charge* and that doesn’t fly so well in a homeschool setting.) “Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense” by David Guterson, is an elegant argument for homeschooling, by a high school teacher who also homeschooled, and did not have his father’s support.

    What I’ve found is that more progressive teachers who value child-let learning *get* homeschooling, while more traditional ones may never come around. Traditional teachers can’t wrap their brains around the notion that kids can learn without “professional” guidance.

  18. My immediate family has been very supportive so far, but for skeptical friends and family, I’ve found that simply saying “We’re going to take it one year at a time.” seems to reassure them. They’re probably thinking “Oh good, they’ll only do it for a year, then they’ll see they’ve made a mistake!” But I don’t care, it lets me off the hook, at least for a year! 🙂

  19. My parents had another baby just a year before I had my first child in my mid 20’s. They wanted to homeschool the rest of us, but homeschooling then was borderline taboo, and we all enjoyed our friends at school. But I think Columbine and other school catastrophes played a part in their decision to keep my sister out of school. They started homeschooling my little sister in first grade and I thought they were absolutely insane. Not only did I disagree with homeschooling but they are old grandparents trying to keep up with a kid already and I thought it was hippie-like and weird. But then when my oldest was in kindergarten, the school lost her one day. It took us hours after school to find her and she was on the bus alone with a foreign substitute bus driver who didn’t speak English or know the area. Luckily nothing bad had happened to her, but she was terrified and so were we.
    At that point, I decided she would always be safer at home with me, whether or not she was at the same academic level as all her peers. I read a couple of homeschooling books that changed my mind about homeschooling, and from then on I have been on board with homeschooling. I can only imagine my mom’s thoughts as I morphed from extreme disbelief to becoming a homeschooler. I suppose it parallels with changing religions.
    We have been learning at home now for 4 years now and love it. I get negative responses from a lot of my friends who don’t understand homeschooling. They think I am depriving my children somehow and ruining them for life. They are afraid my kids won’t know how to socialize as they get older.
    The most common question I get asked is, “When your kids get older are you going to LET them go to high school?” Honestly, the way the public education system is headed, I am not convinced that schooling won’t be online by that time anyway. I never know exactly how to answer that question, I usually find myself defending homeschooling and pointing out that bullied kids in school are committing suicide at a rapidly increasing number, or that my kids have my full attention every day and that is so much better for them than sending them off to be with people who only care about their education and not the whole kid. Maybe my points sound extreme, but I was one of the ignorant ones just a few years ago. Perhaps those who judge us will come around as they open their minds to more possibilities?? I think they just don’t understand how great homeschooling is. It truly is a matter of belief for anyone who doesn’t homeschool.
    I do have a large support system of homeschooling friends. It makes a huge difference to have that support.

  20. Great ideas!
    If you are lacking support with your family, don’t forget to build a support system with groups, other moms or friends that can encourage you along the road! I love how there are so many supportive people out there that can become apart of our “family” and walk this road with us!

  21. Katie T. says:

    This is a GREAT question and I very much appreciate the responses. My family has always been very involved with the public school system (school teachers, school board member, etc.) and they feel they have a lot invested in it. They were vehemently opposed to my sister wanting to homeschool her son for kindergarten last year, and in a sense bullied her into sending him to public school. I am nervous for when we broach this subject about educating our daughter at home just for preschool next year!

    Ironically, my husband is a former teacher, now public school counselor and he is almost more passionate about homeschooling than I am!

  22. I have found that with most larger than life decisions… they are our personal lifestyle choices… and whatever we do we will fail certain relatives that have ideas of what the “perfect” family looks like, and we just don’t fit the mold. It all began with my inlaws when we chose not to have tablecloths at our wedding reception… it has been downhill since then. And their sons went to an all-boy all-achieving all-academic all-sporting school and they turned out fine!!! Yup fine enough for me to marry one of them!!! But we want our kids to have more so we make the decisions that we think are best for them regardless of what the world or our relatives think. Parenting isn’t for the fainthearted… and after eight years of homeschooling my kids are flying… it is hard for relatives not to say how great their grandkids are and still disapprove of them… just saying!!! I won’t fall into the trap of comparisons with their school going cousins and I won’t fall into the trap of “quizzing”… I think whatever decisions we make there will always be folks that support us and those that don’t.
    I try to keep in mind that as a family we treat people with respect and I make a point of not discussing their criticism or our feelings about it in front of the kids. I want my kids to have respectful and loving relationships with their Grandparents… what they do to build up their relationships with our kids is their decision but I won’t be the one caught in the middle.

    • What a great comment!

      You are SO right about having relatives that no matter what you do we will be a failure. One side of my family is very successful in the medical field and my cousin just received her doctoral degree to become a collage professor at the age of 30. In their eyes I will never measure up.

      In the end though it is OUR decision and yes indeed parenting is not for the fainthearted, I never knew I had a backbone until I became one 🙂

      Kim’s latest post: Shopping From The Pantry

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