Written by contributor Kara Anderson.
We were invited to our new neighbors’ house for a backyard movie night – and I knew it was going to come up.
Because we’re homeschoolers.
And he’s a public school teacher.
There was going to be that question – that “why?” that strikes fear in our hearts, because if you’re like me, you’ve been down that road, and you’ve gotten smacked head-on by a 18-wheeler of judgment and misunderstanding.
My semi-truck moment came several years ago with a man my husband knows crashed my mom’s birthday celebration. (Truly.)
“So why do you homeschool?” he asked.
We were new to homeschooling, and so stupidly, I tried honesty.
(My son was an early reader, but had little patience for the letter-of-the-day worksheets so loved by his pre-school. Rather than send him to a place where he was just bound to get in trouble …)
“Well, my son was an early reader …” I started.
And before I could explain further, the man pounced: “So was David Koresh.”
Seriously? For clarification sake, I want to point out that he wrong. (I think he had confused his cult leaders.)
I learned an important lesson that night, though – that sometimes, a heartfelt rainbows-and-cupcakes monologue isn’t the best approach when somebody wants to pick a homeschool fight.
Here are a couple of things that work better:
1. Oh, I don’t like to debate my family’s choices.
This one works on everything from cloth diapering to why your child can’t watch PG-13 movies with Grandma. I find it most effective when stated in a very relaxed way, because I’m not looking for a fight — I’m looking to be all done with that particular topic.
“Oh, I don’t like to debate my family’s choices,” I’ll say with a wave of my hand, as if I’m incapable of getting worked up, and have never, ever attended a nurse-in or written an emotional 3-page letter to the editor about library funding cuts.
Nope, I’m quietly strong and graceful. I am Princess Diana and the Dalai Lama.
And I am changing the subject to the weather now.
2. I focus my attention on educating my children, not strangers.
I like this one at the grocery store, but I rarely say it aloud. I do repeat it to myself, while smiling politely at whoever is standing in front of me questioning our life and everything that defines us.
Because sometimes it is worth it to make a point, or to defend your choices, and sometimes, you just really need milk and bananas.
3. We enjoy it.
I know. This seems too simple. You need to hit folks with more reasoning, right?
No. Because reasoning only works on the reasonable, and then only sometimes.
When I tell someone that we LIKE homeschooling, it immediately shuts down most potential negative responses.
Because expressing your own joy:
- isn’t judging their choices, which can make people feel defensive.
- isn’t an attempt to educate them, which only works if they are open to new ideas.
- isn’t indicating that you are up for a debate, or that you want to continue that particular line of questioning.
Why do we homeschool?
Because we love it. Thank you for asking.
Perhaps at this point you are wondering what happened during that backyard movie night.
Which brings me to my last thought:
4. Cool it, John Wayne.
Don’t go into every interaction looking for a fight. Most people who ask about homeschooling are just making conversation, and the entire time you are carefully constructing a well thought out answer, they are trying to remember their grocery list or their brain is otherwise consumed with their own business.
Some are genuinely curious, but most don’t want an argument. (And even if they do, disagreements are one thing, but fights often aren’t worth the time and energy, so choose wisely.)
My neighbor the teacher doesn’t seem to care whether we homeschool our kids, because really, it doesn’t affect him in any way. I could ask him why he chooses to teach public school, but the truth is, that doesn’t affect me.
He’s nice to my kids, and patient with my poor landscaping. He’s a good neighbor and we’re blessed to have him.
So instead of entering into a verbal sparring match about our differences, we found a lot of common ground that night, while watching a movie about creatures from different planets learning to get along.
Our families laughed as we indulged in sugary snacks, and I think it’s safe to say that we accepted each other, despite being on slightly different paths.
And while the kettle corn and ice cream were great, I think that the quiet acceptance we found that night might have been the sweetest treat of all.