She juggles a baby on her hip and holds the hand of a toddler, while telling me how her two oldest have started school for the year. “Kindergarten and second grade!” she says proudly. “The house is so quiet without them after all summer of having them both home.”
The obvious question soon comes up. “So will your daughter start school next year? Have you thought about which one she’ll attend?”
I take a deep breath. Since we’re newly friends, I’m not sure how my answer will direct the rest of the conversation, maybe the rest of our friendship.
“We’ve decided to homeschool her.”
She flashes me a look of horror briefly, then we both are left for a split second trying to figure out the most politically correct answer and explanation without hurting any feelings or degrading choices. Her’s is one I’ve heard dozens of times:
“Oh my, I could never homeschool my kids. I just don’t have the patience.” (Sometimes “patience” is substituted with “time/energy/background.”)
I watch her balance the needs of her two littlest, clamoring for her attention, as she calmly sorts out sharing issues, wipes noses, and hands out little snacks. I wonder if she has any idea how much patience she really has. I’m left with a rather uncomfortable silence between us, which I fill with reasons why we homeschool.
I was a teacher. We move a lot as a military family. I didn’t get a cohesive education growing up because of moving. She’s not even 5 so it’s “easy.” She’s my only child.
The list goes on and I find myself putting down what I do in order to find some kind of a common ground. She’s on the same course; quick to defend her choice: “great schools nearby, didn’t expect to have these two so close together” while putting down herself for not homeschooling.
On the way home, I begin to wonder why this conversation is almost predictable between parents who have different schooling choices. Many of my fellow homeschool moms have the same type of interactions on a regular basis, and often it’s from family members who assume people who homeschool hate public school. Quite the opposite in most cases, but instead of leaving it with, “Public/private/homeschooling works for us” we all dance around what we presume are the feelings and opinions of the other, leaving everyone feeling crappy about their choice and their answer to why they picked it.
Homeschooling often has an elitist mentality attached to it. Many feel that by homeschooling, we’re telling everyone else, “Where your kid learns isn’t good enough for my kid. So good luck with that.” I’ve seen time and again homeschool moms being told they are amazing, super human, incredible, so smart, self sacrificing. It sounds wonderful, but it’s not. Really, it puts us in a box that we can’t fit in and isolates us from everyone. We are cranky, flawed, naive, constantly questioning our decision, and long for time to ourselves. Telling me you could never homeschool for those reasons means that you’re probably not going to be a great support system for me, and we’ll always be at odds. You and I both need relationships where we are able to relate, sympathize, and encourage the other — even if we don’t do the same things.
What we need is to be comfortable enough with our own choices that we don’t put them down to others. We are so worried about someone judging us or defending our choices that we can’t even dish out a real compliment to another struggling parent.
We need the ability to tell another parent, “It sounds like you made a great decision for your family.” Then we leave it at that. No excuses, no awkward conversations on who is “better” because the answer is neither. Just unique.