HA note: For this two-part post, we asked members of the Homeschoolers Anonymous community the following question: If you grew up in a bad or less-than-ideal family and/or homeschooling environment, what are things that people around you (other family, friends, community members, etc.) could have done to help you and make your life better, more tolerable, etc.? We edited and compiled everyone’s answers into a list of 40 suggestions and will present those suggestions in 2 sets of 20. Each set is a group post compiled from various people’s answers.
< Part One
21. Remember to distinguish between the children and their parents.
If you homeschool for non-religious reasons, strive to distinguish between religious homeschooling parents and religiously homeschooled kids, rather than negatively lumping them all together as “religious homeschoolers.” With your own kids, try not to model contempt for those religious homeschoolers, especially not the kids, even if they proselytize or repeat views with which you strongly disagree.
22. Create opportunities for the children and their families to broaden their horizons.
Keep your own children safe and socialized with diverse peers, but when possible, consider organizing pluralist homeschool events at which religious homeschooling families will feel welcome. These can broaden the horizons of all kids involved and help break down the “us-and-them” of religious vs. secular homeschooling.
23. Challenge them.
Disagree with them in a kind way. Most these kids are parroting the same rhetoric they’ve heard for years. Say it’s not a sin to be gay, that atheists have the same capacity for morality, that liberal Christianity has a solid theological basis, that you don’t believe in a young earth and don’t think it’s necessary to maintaining faith. They’ll probably disagree with you, but it opens you up as someone who they might be able to ask questions they don’t already know the right answers for. It gives them permission to consider alternative view points, just knowing that someone they respect can have good reasons to think in a different way than the conservative noise machine. Speak Christianeese if you can, but let them know that you can have conversations where the bible is not the only authority. Tell them about the way other countries work ± it challenges our extremist rhetoric when other places make things like healthcare work.
24. If they have mental health struggles, encourage them to get help.
Let them know anxiety and depression have real causes, they are not sent by god or caused by the devil. If they struggle with those things, let them know they can ask for help from someone who won’t try to exorcise them.
25. Encourage them, period. Let them know it gets better.
I wish someone had told me that I would be able to make it on my own both mentally and physically because I was strong and capable. Give them hope that there is life beyond the prison they are in and that with enough determination and planning you are fully capable of escaping. Let them know that the life they have outside of their parents’ home is so much more beautiful and amazing than they can imagine and that although the road is hard it is worth every effort it takes to get there so don’t stop trying.
26. When appropriate and welcomed, show them safe physical affection.
If they aren’t uncomfortable with it (always ask first) give them hugs and pats on the back and warmth. My family was not a touchy family, more about rules and basic provision than affection or pleasure. I hug my mother perhaps three times a year, tops, and this has been the case since late elementary school when she stopped forcing me. I probably have an inclination to physical affection naturally, but this affection desert I grew up in definitely starved me painfully. It was awkward at first when I got to the age where friends started hugging me (when I got out of the conservative circle the first few times) but as soon as I acclimated my heart started opening up a bit, because of the affection suddenly available to me.
27. Encourage them to accept and love their bodies.
Everyone here has such amazing, positive suggestions and mine is going to sound really lame but here it is: Tell her she’s pretty and give her a reason that’s nothing to do with her home schooled outfit. When I was in the hospital having my appendix out at age 11, right before I went under, the doctor said “You have such gorgeous brown eyes. You’re going to drive the boys wild one day.” Throughout my years of homeschool depression, house church, frumpiness, everything, I clung to that doctor’s words like a teeny-tiny lifeline.
28. Teach them about consent.
It would be really helpful if you discussed things like consent and that it really is ok if you say no… and also how to contact a domestic violence center.
29. Only teach them about consent (and other such things) when they’re comfortable with it.
If they’re getting married or in a relationship, it’s ok to discuss sex/relationship related things. But if they’re creeped out or obviously feeling like you shared too much information, please stop for the time being.
30. Help them realize public school isn’t the Anti-Christ.
As a public school teacher, I try to talk to some of the folks about the cool, fun, educational, and wholesome projects and activities my students are doing at school or how advanced their learning is. I also try to give examples of how Christian kids in my public school are able to share their faith.
31. Counter-act the demands of exceptionalism.
Let them know it’s okay not to focus on “being a leader” or “changing the world” or “being a light.” You can just be you, have fun, play or read or watch TV all day, and you haven’t wasted one second.
32. Teach how to establish boundaries.
Encourage them to be careful of mentors who try to treat you like their child. We have broken relationships with our parents, so we crave these bonds, but it’s often the first red flag for someone who will try to control and spiritually abuse you. Get comfortable with being treated like an equal, it’s something you need to expect in relationships or you will get walked all over. You’re not better than anyone else, but neither is anyone else better than you.
33. Respect their boundaries.
If a child (teen, young adult) who is still living at home after their homeschooling career tells you “I really can’t talk about that” or “I am uncomfortable discussing that”, please for the love of all that is holy, drop it. Bring it up sometime later, but not the same day/week/month. There is a reason they asked you not to discuss it.
34. If they’re high schoolers, give them information about what they will need to finish.
If they’re high schoolers, give them information (or just implied indicators phrased as questions like “so have your parents written up your transcript yet?” if you’re being subtle) about what they will need to finish, have documented, etc. to go on to college or a particular career. Their parents might not know or care about this, or they might be actively obstructing it. There’s no way for the teen to know this if their social / internet / library access is censored. But they’re still the ones who will pay the consequences later in life.
35. Help them with resources to succeed.
Help or show them how to find the right resources and make good choices in housing, employment, and whatever else might be necessary to get out.
36. Help them prepare for the work place.
If you have a lucrative skill/trade, or one that looks great on resumes, offer to tutor them in it. (Example: Any computer skills, handcrafting items, foreign languages, etc.) Things like that will help them get out living on their own and buy them (literally) time to catch up on school if they need to, or earn money, before pursuing higher education on their own. Pitch it to the parents as extracurricular, and better yet as free. Lesson time would also give you time to connect with them, invest in them, and encourage them emotionally.
Also, teach them about finances: I wish someone had taught me how to work and save, instead of isolating me from money so that I didn’t learn to manage it.
37. Help them get breaks from their family.
If you have offered for them to stay over, find a reason like dog/cat/baby/house sitting. Let them know they can use your internet, cable and peruse your books. Offer food they can eat (if there are dietary restrictions, be mindful of those) and understand if their parents freak out and don’t let them do it. Start challenging those parents but maintain your relationship with the (teen/adult) child. Odds are, they’re stuck at home “care-giving” and have no outlet, especially if they are not working, but also if they are.
38. Stand up for them against their family.
One thing I wish someone had done was stand up for me. My dad used to grab me and spank me — hard — as a joke for “things he didn’t catch me at.” He still did this when I was a fairly old teenager. He sometimes did it in front of friends of his for a laugh and not once did anyone not laugh. Not once did anyone stand up for me. I wish they had. I regard those people as unsafe people now.
39. If you’re going to help them in a drastic way, actually be prepared.
If you offer a way out, be sure you have all the ducks in a row, because they likely have very little resources at their fingertips and cannot truly function as an adult “outside”. Think of them as being raised in “The Village” and finally being outside for the first time. They are going to need a safety net.
40. Don’t give up on them.
Stick around. If you sense that anything might be wrong, stick around and find out what it is and what you can do. Even if the family situation makes you uncomfortable, even if the parents hate you and creep you out.
Stay in the child’s life.
It will take a long time for them to come to trust you, but once they do you can be an invaluable lifeline. Let them know that they can always come to you. If anything really concerning comes to light, call CPS. If nothing happens, call CPS again. I had someone in my life who was an “outsider” and for the most part a stranger, but she instantly grasped that our family was messed up and could see how unhappy I was. The four most important things she did for me were: 1.) Offer me a free place to live (I was 18 so that was an option). 2.) Convince my mom that I needed to see a therapist. 3.) Tell me over and over and over again that I was pretty and talented and could do anything I wanted. 4.) Listen.
As I grew to trust her I poured out my whole story for the first time, and she listened and offered genuine sympathy. She also let me know that yes, my mom really was abusive and that my situation was not normal. She affirmed and validated all my feelings.
Don’t give up.