When I was a new homeschool mom, I researched local support groups. I wanted to learn more about homeschooling, which had been first introduced to me through the now defunct Mothering magazine. At that time, only a few online sites about homeschooling existed. A to Z Home’s Cool was one of the few sites available and that helped. But, there’s nothing quite like real people to talk to and befriend. And, I wanted to glean from those with real-life experience, not just read how-to articles about methods. Much to my amazement, some of the women in my local group started homeschooling in the late 1980’s (and still carried some of the legalistic attitudes of those earlier years, which I will get into in a minute)! All this experience, advice, and fellowship benefited me, but there were drawbacks. While we need the fellowship and support of other homeschool moms, we don’t need their judgement. Homeschool mom, beware of homeschool mom cliques.
Homeschool mom cliques
Sometimes, homeschool moms divide themselves up based on their children’s ages or their own personal interests, such as knitting or quilting, reading or gardening. It’s natural to want to associate with others of similar interests. But, sometimes, it’s based on homeschooling method. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, either. However, the danger comes when we start thinking that our method is better than other methods. Or, that our educational choices are superior to someone else’s.
I have experienced this in two different settings. In one setting, I heard statements like this:
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- You let your kids read those books? Mine are only allowed to read wholesome, historical fiction.
In another setting, the parents were very hands-off. They said things like this:
- Your kids do chores? I don’t want to ask my kids to do anything that they don’t really want to do.
- Why do you have rules about video games and television?
- I don’t ask my kids to say they’re sorry unless they feel like it.
(I will note that this second group included secular, radical unschoolers. To find out how to implement God-honoring unschooling, click HERE or check out my book, God Schooling: How God Intended Children to Learn HERE).
Legalistic attitudes about homeschooling methods
Unfortunately, some of the long-time homeschoolers seemed a bit judgmental. Others embraced the original 1970’s ideas of family-centered, DIY education. However, the more legalistic, judgmental ones held leadership positions and voiced their opinions more openly. Being a new homeschool mom, they made an impression on me and I felt guilty because my choices didn’t fall in line with what they said. Were they right? Was I making a big mistake?
Their attitudes promoted the lie that one homeschooling method produces certain results and others don’t. The truth is, a particular homeschooling method doesn’t guarantee our children will choose Christ. (In fact, some of the children from those legalistic families have since walked away from their faith.) It doesn’t guarantee they will get scholarships, let alone go to college. (One of the most maligned homeschool methods, unschooling, got this family several Ivy League scholarships. So…) It doesn’t even guarantee that they will learn what you hope they will. And, if your children make bad choices, don’t go to college, reject their faith, and don’t seem to remember anything you tried to teach them, it is not because you homeschooled them. Read more about dealing with those disappointing feelings HERE.
First, I think most of us acknowledge that there is no one right or wrong way to homeschool. We all make choices based on the best fit for our children and family situation. Some children thrive on worksheets, many children don’t. Some families embrace a DIY approach that includes an eclectic mix of games, living books, textbooks, and notebooking. Others prefer a boxed, open-and-go curriculum. Many also create their own method of homeschooling, borrowing from a mix of classical, Charlotte Mason, and unit studies. While we have our personal preferences, we need to be careful not to judge other families based on those preferences. Every homeschool mom is different and what works for one mom may not work for another.
We also need to be careful about becoming legalistic toward ourselves. Guard your heart, homeschool mom, against comparing yourself to others and doubting your choices! When others come at you with judgmental statements, be careful that you don’t believe those lies.
While we guard our own hearts against judging others’ homeschooling choices, how do we handle others’ legalistic attitudes toward us? Here are some ideas:
Respond respectfully, yet firmly.
“I’m glad you have found something you like. However, that method/curriculum/style doesn’t work for our family. Homeschooling allows us to choose. Please respect our choice as much as I respect yours.”
Sometimes people judge out of ignorance. So many myths and misconceptions abound. Maybe their comments open up an opportunity to speak truth to them in a loving way. You could say, “You know, maybe for one of our support meetings, we could have a panel of moms who all use different styles. You could help new homeschool moms learn about your style and I could share some nuggets about my style. And, we could invite some other panelists to talk about their styles. All of us would probably learn something new to help us accept and understand each other better.”
Form a new group or join another, more supportive group.
Sometimes the culture of a particular support group prevents us from ever feeling accepted and respected. Christian relaxed homeschoolers (or Christian unschoolers) often feel caught between two worlds. While often misunderstood by other Christians, they don’t really fit in with secular unschoolers, either. If this is you, it may be better just to move on or form your own group. For a time, I did this. For about five years, I led a small group I named Christian Chicago Area Relaxed Educators (CCARE). Then, for a variety of reasons, I gave the reins to another homeschool mom. Eventually, several of the core members of the group chose to become part of their church’s group and CCARE disbanded. As an alternative to this, you could consider joining my private Facebook group designed for homeschool moms like you.
Bullying by another homeschool mom
Sometimes legalism in homeschooling goes too far and it morphs into subtle bullying behavior. I’m not talking about name calling. I’m talking about these experiences:
- Other homeschool moms avoid you
- You overhear moms talking about you
- Moms roll their eyes or mumble something softly whenever your child does something they don’t approve of
- Moms approach you directly and say something judgmental or offensive about you or your children
Little tolerance for differing parenting styles
Bullying behavior in homeschooling circles doesn’t always center around differences in homeschooling philosophies. Many times, it centers around differences in parenting philosophies, especially among Christians. (One of my personal favorite books about Biblical parenting is Give Them Grace: Dazzle Your Kids with the Love of Jesus.)
Some Christians are very hard on active, wiggly kids who ask a lot of questions. A certain segment feel that all children should sit still (sometimes for over an hour), keep their hands to themselves, and not speak unless spoken to. I suffered because my children loved to touch everything (all of my children have special needs), climb everything, and upset the status quo. They weren’t wild, but I learned to pick my battles with them so I could avoid exasperating them (Colossians 3:21, Ephesians 6:4).
“How do you know she has Asperger’s?”
I have never met anyone parenting four children with special needs (two of them with ADHD!), except one woman who chose to adopt several mentally and/or physically disabled children (God bless her!). So, what happened one day when I met with two other homeschooling moms involved with teaching my Aspie daughter, surprised and angered me.
My daughter regularly attended some classes with other homeschoolers and I asked to meet with each teacher. I wanted them to be aware of her special challenges. Another mom approached me and asked why I was speaking with the teachers. Baffled by her question (What business is it of hers, really?), I told her, “My daughter has Asperger’s.”
She said to me, “How do you know that?”
How. do. I. know. that.
Why would I make something like that up?
This was the same mom who previously told me that my daughter had no manners and couldn’t keep her hands to herself. She said all this to me based on an incident where my child was rubbing her hands along all the doorways because she liked the smooth feel of the wood. This same mom expected my ADHD son to sit still for an hour, looking at her and listening attentively while she read a classic novel. (A book that he struggled to understand because he also has dyslexia and a language processing disorder). I regularly saw her frown and shake her head whenever she approached me. She never tried to get to know me, only judge me and talk about me behind my back.
All of this swam around in my head as I said, “She’s been tested and four different professionals have seen her. She has Asperger’s.”
I walked away, angry. Not one of my better moments, but . . . .
What You Can Do
This wasn’t the only time I ever experienced bullying at the hands of others. However, I didn’t expect it from another homeschool mom, especially a Christian. And while I don’t know anyone with four special needs kids, I do know folks with one or two. These ladies I know have struggled with their special needs children and have also been judged and shunned by others. How should we respond?
First, if you are a homeschool mom who judges other moms who struggle with their children, stop! Sometimes, these moms, like me, have special needs children with invisible disabilities. Just because the child looks normal and seems bratty doesn’t mean that he is. After all, invisible disabilities are quite common. For example, according to CHADD, about 1 in 10 school-aged children has ADHD. And, no. Sweets and television watching do not cause ADHD. They do make the symptoms worse, though.
Instead of judging, why not ask, “What can I do to help you in this situation?”
Responding to bullies
Ideas for dealing with the homeschool mom who bullies you are similar to how you might respond to the legalistic homeschooling mom. You can:
- Put out educational material at your support meetings. This is a subtle way of letting moms know that there are women in the group who parent these special kids.
- Offer to speak at one of your meetings about special needs. Again, this accomplishes the same as above. It raises awareness, but goes one step further. Pamphlets get thrown out, overlooked, forgotten. However, it’s more difficult to ignore a speaker and it gives others the opportunity to ask questions.
- Organize a support group in your area just for special needs homeschoolers. This is easier said than done, but in extreme circumstances, it might be the best option. It would also help you find others like yourself.
- Confront the women who seem to be judging you. You can say something like, “You know, homeschooling kids with special needs is really hard. I feel like I cannot go anywhere with my kid because (fill in the blank with your specific struggle). Does your child do that?”
Homeschooling is hard enough without being shunned by the very people who are supposed to be our community. Let’s show each other more understanding and compassion.