As soon as someone finds out you homeschool, chances are the number one thing they’ll ask you about is “socialization.” But here’s the truth: We homeschoolers chuckle over schoolers’ concerns regarding our children’s socialization. In fact, sometimes we wonder whether our kids should be less socialized so that, maybe, we could get more learning done. The socialization issue is also the most frequently voiced concern of those considering homeschooling, or those very new to it. Once you’ve actually begun the process though, it’s not long before the only socialization concern you have is that there’s too much of it for the kids, and not enough for you.
While it may be true that for those in more rural areas, the kids’ socialization might be a real issue (I’m not sure how people in truly remote areas manage - web classes?, extra driving to social gatherings?, Facebook?), in central North Carolina opportunities abound for hanging out, taking classes with one’s peer group, and volunteering with friends. Of course, this takes a significant time investment on the part of dedicated parents, but people make it happen. Recently, some parents I know saw the need for teens in our homeschooling community to find each other. As the kids turn 12 or so, they tend to stop participating in many of the activities involving younger children, and while they keep hanging out with their long-time friends, the newer teens to the community, like my own, can’t find them. As some teens switch to traditional high schools, and others focus more on their own individual interests, such as music or art (more solitary endeavors), the social pool starts to dry up. These particular parents, aided by their motivated teens, worked together with our local homeschooling resource store, KatieBeth’s, to offer a monthly teen night. The pizza joint across from KatieBeth’s offers discounts to the kids who’re attending, and several parents remain to chaperone from a tasteful distance (which is not, despite our instincts, simply sitting at the next table). The kids are finding each other, flirting and posturing as much as the kids in the halls of your local high school, and us parents, predominantly moms, are enjoying our own socialization and sharing tips for dealing with teen angst and attitude.
For younger kids, finding peer groups is easier. The obvious first step these days is to look for homeschooling groups online and ask about park meet-ups or community gatherings, like the yearly ice-cream social our group has. Attending a La Leche meeting, even if you don’t need advice, also tends to put you in a hotbed of alternative parenting, at least in the communities I’ve lived in, and is a reliable way to meet some homeschooling moms who still have young ones. Another method I’ve heard many moms use is walking up to another parent with school-age kids out in the world when the schoolers are all in their buildings. Sure, you might meet someone who’s simply pulled their kids out for an appointment, or is traveling (and you can meet some really interesting people that way), but I’ve also found homeschoolers with this approach. Local museums, historical sites, and aquariums also host homeschool days several times a year. These are no-brainers as a way to meet kids of the right age to hang out with, or scope out other homeschooling parents with whom you could organize get-togethers.
The real challenge, socially speaking, is for the primary educator to stay socialized – and while there are plenty of dads in this role, we can be honest, this is usually a mom. These moms tend to see each other during the week, between drop-offs, park days, and co-ops, but getting out and away from the kids is where the real pressure relief happens. In our group, we have a monthly evening get-together, alternating between coffee shops, usually ones where they also serve beer or wine (partly at my insistence). What’s sad is how little attended they are; at the end of a long day of homeschooling, usually all you want to do is slip into your slippers and talk to your smoochie or grab a book. Getting dressed to go out doesn’t seem like a necessity or a sanity-saver, but it is. Decompressing with other parents who’ve been trying to convince their kids that grammar actually matters really helps. Admitting to another mom that you threatened today to send your 11 year old to school (perhaps the most severe threat in the homeschooling parents’ arsenal) and hearing that she’d done the same can make you want to weep with relief that you’re not the worst homeschooling mom alive. There’s at least one other who’s just as bad. Other options for spending time with adults include book clubs, volunteering, working part-time, and having one-on-one date nights with your friends, or your spouse, or whomever. What’s scary is how easy it is not to do any of these things and then wonder why you’re quietly going nuts, or suddenly incapacitated by the simplest task. Presumably, if you chose to homeschool your kids, you enjoy being with them, but that day-in and day-out commitment can lead to serious burn-out if you don’t moderate it with some time off at regular intervals. Ideally, that time off does not include talking exclusively about homeschooling, or your kids. My idea of a relaxing evening away from the kids is not getting together with other parents to discuss curriculum choices, or learning styles. Generally, there’s a glass of red wine involved, as well as a lot of inappropriate guffawing and that snorty laugh that embarrasses my 13 year old.
My unsolicited advice to would-be, as well as practicing, homeschoolers is not to worry so much about your little butterfly’s social calendar, but to focus on, protect, and monitor your own socialization. That’s the real crux of the homeschooler’s problem. If you can do that regularly, if you can get out and remember who you are without your kids, you’ll not only be a more effective educator and better parent in the short-term, but long-term you’ll be better prepared to resume your non-child-centered life once they eventually leave home.
Next: How to get away from your kids