How to Interact with Homeschoolers

“Wow, you have your hands full! Do you ever get a break?” or “You’re so brave – I could never do that!” These are the two comments I hear most. I freely wander with my school-aged little people around the larger Denver area. We’re just living life, but everywhere we go people point out how different it is.

I rely on my Minnesota-raised, courtesy smile. I used to think I had to stick up for “my kind.” More often I defend my kids’ awesomeness, their right to be comfortable out the world without bearing the weight of others’ judgment. But I can’t avoid that.

Homeschoolers are their own breed, I know. We’re totally weird and most of us love it – I know I do. The news that I homeschool, by way of a friend’s introduction, is often welcomed with as much of an eyeroll as I want to give when I hear it. Why am I introduced into a defensive position? Maybe my friends think this tidbit is interesting, but pointing out differences doesn’t make it easy to connect. I don’t always feel up to defending my lifestyle choice.

And most days, I don’t feel particularly brave. I am living life against the grain of the drop-off culture – which looks easier from afar, I’ll admit – and forgoing productive alone time during my kids’ younger years. All I wanted, and am still striving for, is a lifelong connection between us. I wanted to keep that energetic joy of togetherness, even when I do drop my kids off for playdates or classes of their choosing.

People have largely forgotten how to speak to children as though they are themselves people. We rarely get a question that isn’t school-related. As my kids grow, they’re better able to understand people’s comments as efforts to connect. They used to ask me, “Why do they send their kids away?” They worried children might be sent off because they were too demanding, too difficult. It’s a far longer, more complicated answer for most of us. It’s also easy: school is our cultural norm, the default.

Please do not ask how I socialize my children if you’re unable to look one in the eye and ask a personal question that does not evaluate his reading level.

How to recognize us
Is it a homeschooler or a random kid, post dentist visit? If the harried-looking parent in your Target checkout line has multiple kids along during school hours, it’s likely you’ve spotted a homeschool family. Good eye!

Her kids might be fighting in line, like yours, or arguing with their mom over a package of Starburst. You’re not required to speak with them. If you do, try to make the interaction ring with kindness, just as you’d want for your family.

“Hey, we both got grapes!”
“Are you going to help your mom carry all of that?”
“It looks like every fingernail is painted a different color. Did you do that yourself?”
“Do you homeschool? What do you like best about it?”

Positive comments or zero interaction. I know positivity feels, to some, like an endorsement. It isn’t. Allowing people to move through life without the burden of your opinion isn’t a gift, it’s a basic understanding of personal agency.

A smile is not support, but it is kindly, and we are all heart-breakingly human. I will smile back.

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