When They Don’t Get It

Why I Homeschool: Surviving the holidays when family doesn't get it

You’re about to enter the holiday season which is uniquely challenging to homeschoolers. All fall, you’ve blissfully gone along planning your days, teaching your children, enjoying the closeness of family learning unaware that anyone outside your four walls would suspect you of inflicting harm or undermining your children’s social skills or academic prowess.

Enter Thanksgiving.

The “non-homeschooling” contingent will assemble and take over for the “state” on your behalf. While passing the glazed carrots to little Theo, Aunt Tilda will quiz: “What’s 2 times 6, darling?” Not to be outdone, your mother-in-law will probe 6th grader Emily: “Do you get out much, sweetheart? Have you any friends?” Your father will subtly remind you that you haven’t got a degree in education and with the economy the way it is, wouldn’t it be wiser to get a part time job in your specific field to help support your husband rather than wasting your time all day in the house? Finally, your brother (whose wife works full time outside the home) wonders how you can stand to be with your kids all day, every day.

We don’t need certification or testing because our families do a wonderful job of it all by themselves! If you come from a family that supports your homeschooling experience, rejoice and make them extra pumpkin pies! They are the wonderful few (I come from such a family and am deeply grateful).

Even if your family is supportive, you may find yourself at a Christmas party where other adults pretend curiosity about your choice to homeschool while conveying thinly veiled skepticism about your qualifications (yes, that happens to me frequently).

I have a few tips for sticking up for this renegade lifestyle you radical parents have chosen on behalf of your kids.

1. Don’t justify your choice by touting your credentials or qualifications.
Even if you have a teaching background, leave it out of the equation. The homeschooling movement benefits from a bold declaration that parents are adequate to teach children to read, handwrite, and calculate times tables. Let skeptics know that you are as much educational coordinator as instructor, as your kids get older. Remind them that they are making educational choices on behalf of their children too!

2. Focus on the enjoyment you get from being with your kids.
More important than discussing the failures of the school system is emphasizing how much you love being with your kids. No one can take that away from you. Most parents are startled to realize that being with your own children 24/7 is a pleasure, not a dreaded task. To argue with you means they are admitting they don’t enjoy being with theirs in the same way.

3. Talk about ‘family learning’ instead of school or education.
Many parents imagine assignments, grades, and lectures when they think of homeschool. They can’t picture imposing all that discipline and structure, while retaining a happy family atmosphere. Homeschool is different than institutional learning because the family is learning together. Discuss how everyone gets involved at their own level when working on a history topic or science experiment, when freewriting or listening to a novel read aloud. Tell them about tea times and poetry. Resist the temptation to explain how what you do matches what a school requires.

4. Validate their authority in selecting the educational choices they’ve made for their kids.
This is perhaps the most important thing you can do—talk about educational choice. All of us make choices in how we educate our children. Let them know that you support their enthusiasm for the school system and that you can see how that’s working out for their kids (find whatever good is occurring in their lives and support it). Then share the unique joys of homeschool.

5. Resist defending your kids’ social lives.
That one rarely goes anywhere good. We’ve all been programmed since toddlerhood to believe that socialization matters and that it happens at school. Trying to get adults to understand differently is an exercise in clacking your noggin against a cutting board! So side step it like this: “My kids have great social lives. You know us. We’re into people, just like you!” Something to the effect that lets them know that you aren’t worried one tiny bit about their futures as successful people in the world.

6. Don’t bash school.
Sure fire way to set off fireworks over the mashed potatoes. Focus on what you love about homeschool, share one or two challenges (if appropriate) so that you don’t sound like a propaganda machine, and affirm your relatives for the great kids they have. We are all insecure about our choices so be a voice that lets your family know that you support them in their parenting, too! (If you aren’t impressed with their parenting, the holidays are not the time to bring that up!)

7. Take responsibility for the outcome of homeschool.
I always like to remind inquiring people that I know I took a risk by keeping my kids home. I tell them that I didn’t know how it would all turn out, but I was willing to take a chance and make corrections as I went. I even say that my kids may make different decisions for their own children when they are older. I avoid committing to superior learning, better college admittance scores, brilliance in my offspring, or anything that puts pressure on my kids to be poster-children for homeschooling. They don’t need it or deserve the scrutiny. I take all the skepticism on to me, and I let the failure they may associate with my homeschool choice fall on my head. Protect your kids. Don’t tout their astounding brains because Aunt Shirley will immediately conjure a pop quiz.

8. Don’t talk to rude people.
Turn away insulting comments with a polite, “I’d rather not talk about homeschool on my Thanksgiving vacation. This is my time off.” Curmudgeons don’t deserve the full “why I homeschool” defense.

The bottom line is this: You homeschool because it feels like the best educational choice for your family. That’s a good enough reason for everyone. And you can stop right there, if you need to. There’s always the remote control, pie, and football to distract the persistent.

Happy holidays!

Image by mjmonty (cc cropped, text added)

7 Responses to “When They Don’t Get It”

  1. Becky Parker says:

    Great list! I particularly like #7. One way I’ve responded to questions is to simply say that each form of education has strengths and weaknesses. I’ll give what I see as the strengths and weaknesses of learning at home as we’ve done it. Many times questions aren’t hostile; people are only trying to understand. (I’ve answered LOTS of questions from friends who are Chinese and are fascinated by the very foreign concept of homeschooling!) I also think your point about family learning is a great one! It’s very difficult for some people to get away from education as bells and tests and large classrooms filled with children who listen.

  2. erin says:

    julie, what a meaningful post, not to mention timely. i am sharing the link with all the homeschoolers i know. you sneak in reassuring us by giving us “lines” for others. thanks.

  3. Ashley says:

    Thank you for the uplifting post. You might want to proofread that, though. It should say “whose wife works full time.”

  4. Julie Bogart says:

    Ashley–good catch! Will fix it now. Thanks.

  5. Valerie says:

    Thank you for this post! I would love a similar list to prepare my children on how to respond to the behind the scenes pressure they receive from cousins and neighborhood kids.

  6. Tonya says:

    Thanks for all the great ideas. I don’t get too much grief about homeschooling, but I do have some family members that like to “compare” our children and their knowledge. It drives me crazy. Each child has their own pace at learning and just because they don’t know something off the top of their head doesn’t mean I’m doing a bad job at homeschooling them or that they should be in school. My boys are average, highly imaginative kids and they do very well at home. Thanks again for the ideas!

  7. Elisa says:

    This is so great. A friend of mine, Leonie, sent me this article. Such great ideas and polite ways to share why we homeschool. Thanks for a nice article and great tips.