CC image courtesy of Flickr, Chris Preen.
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “TheLemur” is a pseudonym.
While still quite young, my maternal grandparents health went into decline, and fate decreed mum was the one who had to consistently deal with that, year after year. She cumulatively became vastly more stressed, and thus, I believe, subject to a more emotional application of the already strict ‘rules’ in place. Let me deal with how her preoccupation, super imposed on the extant regime impacted on me – first in what she failed to realize and do (socialization), and secondly in what she did do (authoritarian parenting).
Mum brought wholeheartedly into the homeschool talking point the family alone was the ideal unit of socialization.
Not a base vehicle, mind you, for a broader socialization with the world, but a self-sufficient social ecosystem.
Although Mum was forty when she had me, her first child, she had two mischarges out of three more pregnancies. Such attempts are related to the supposedly ‘Biblical’ role of a woman to have large families and to be ‘keepers at home like it says in Titus 2!’ (a rather wanting interpretation of the context). She was a gender essentialist zealot, appropriating all the ‘Godly’ hang-ups. Women should only wear skirts. Modesty is essential. Dating is wrong. Oral sex is wrong (even in marriage). Women should not be educated like men, and mum wondered out loud sometimes if they should be allowed to vote (curiously in the country that first universalized the franchise). With beliefs like that, it’s no surprise she swallowed the relatively more modest claims of family-centric socialization. I remember overhearing dad say to her at one point, ‘don’t you think the boys should be with people their own age group more?’ Mum definitively responded, ‘NO, because once that happens…[insert all the ‘evils’ of peer pressure]. So it was just my brother and I, 95% of the time. He was four years my junior, which proved the ideal gap for squabbles. We were old enough to be interested in the same things but sufficiently temporally removed to grate on each other’s differing abilities. I often behaved like a bit of a beast toward him, exploiting my greater development to torment him. But when you’re constantly around someone to the exclusion of all others similar to your own age, you view the person like a chronic annoyance. Stripped of positive associations, they become easy to treat poorly. But I was still castigated for not ‘being my brother’s keeper.’ (Fortunately, the older we both got, the better we related to each other).
Although it would be a distortion of the truth to say I saw no friends ever, for the vast majority of the time, I dealt with a rising sense of isolation.
Because I could adequately converse with adults, mum deemed I was on track socially.
The problem, of course, with this little gem of homeschool counter think, is much of our social development comes through interaction with our equals in authority and ability. A child-adult interaction will always incorporate a measure of formalism. You don’t exactly grow as a person respectfully answering Mrs Smith’s generic inquiries about your education. Indeed, it wasn’t until university I made a friend with whom I could openly discuss personal matters.
I remember I became very upset when my parents wanted to drag me up to Auckland to see some show involving aging stars like Diana Rigg read extracts of English literature. My younger brother got to stay the day with a friend who lived down the road. At ten years old, I envied his dumb luck no end. Missing the rare chance of socializing for an ‘educational opportunity’ burnished the event onto my mind. It exemplifies the narrow definition of development some homeschoolers appropriate. The strange thing is you come to defend your peer abstraction; to say otherwise would mean you had succumbed to the great evil of ‘peer dependency’.
In my reality, my social interactions suffered. I feared school children. They were ‘the other’, a horde of confident, yelling, heathens. Mum used to take us for ‘nature walks’ in the local park, which boarded a number of classrooms of the local school. I cannot describe how uncomfortable I felt walking with my mother in my home made clothes under the scrutiny of what felt like a thousand eyes.
Paranoid about being dobbed into the ERO, mum would mutter ‘you are being watched’, which only served to make my feel like the Powers that Be could be making detailed notes on why I should be removed from the family.
That, of course, would be a disaster. She let us know the storm troopers of the state were always ready to snatch away children and herd them together with all the other juvenile fuck-ups.
My parents confessional progression since the American Baptist fiasco had domiciled then within a doctrinal persuasion that stressed grace, rather than law. Unfortunately, the doctrinal fealty to grace did not translate into mum’s everyday attitude. What’s more, the adherents of the sect were few in number. The reprieve of Sunday socialization would not be available to me. A lot of ‘services’ I attended were informal Bible studies that ran for an interminable three hours. There was no youth group, and my parents didn’t believe in them either. We split off from the group after a while and started our own group in a church building near us. When I say ‘group’, I mean my family, and at most, two other families. Mum’s first concern was to inform me I would be sitting still and listening with the family, and I would NOT be allowed to sit with my friend from the other family.
Most weeks, my social life was limited to twenty to thirty minutes after church.
My friend from that time is one of only two homeschoolers I still know today. Every now and then, the other family would take themselves off to a larger homeschooling church for greater social contact. They would have to drive past where our group met in order to do so. I would get to watch my slim social life literally drive away.
I also began to notice how mum sabotaged her relationships within the homeschool network. She acted in a catty way toward the mother of my friend because her parenting style did not exactly conform to mum’s view of the ‘good.’ See, mum would become massively enthused with a particular family or group for a while. They would be held up as the Ideal, Godly Standard. Then she would get bored of deifying them, or they did something to upset her (an easy task); and she would cut ties. The constant grandparents saga also ensured her preoccupation and stress, two traits not conducive to social attractiveness. A homeschooled child is entirely dependent on the network parents foster for social connections. But thanks to the anti-peer ideology, she had no qualms about wrecking her own relationships, and thus breaking off mine.