I Just Want to Be Normal: Alice’s Story

siblings

I am the oldest of four.

My three siblings are… an interesting little bunch. I’ve babysat them for the past couple of years while my (recently widowed) mother works a part-time job. As much as I’ve come to appreciate their individual personalities and how they’ve come to help me mature, I’ve struggled to care for them.

The thirteen year old is especially nosey when I’m trying to work on any of my writing. I have no idea if she does this on purpose, but it just happens. The five year old is very attached to me, and while I love it and wouldn’t trade it for the world, it gets exhausting real quick when she wants ice cream and I have to be the one to make it and no the others cannot get it for her because I make it perfectly.

And then there’s my brother.

My brother’s always had a strong-willed personality. It made the first year or two of babysitting him (along with the other two siblings) quite difficult at times. He would constantly ignore my attempts to uphold the rules my mother had previously set up. After a few too many discussions and emotional breakdowns, we decided that he’d have free reign (short of burning down the house or hurting people). Whatever he didn’t do that he was supposed to? That was “taken care of” when Mom got back.

Most of the time, he just gets off with a warning. He rarely get punished like my thirteen year old sister and I do. He can slack for a couple of days (not do jobs and schoolwork), when I get upset over him not being held to the same standards, he perceives it as an attack against him. He was always the victim. Of course, I never know any better. When Mom gets home, it’s hard for me to switch from the “mommy” role to “sister” role. Part of me still needs to make sure that everyone is being obedient. He’s become my focus because he’s the one who slacks off the most, and yes, it eats at me that he’s Mom’s favorite. Hey, have favorites all day long, just don’t let them get away with shitty behavior and admonish the older ones for being upset with it!

Keep in mind that I started this whole “babysitting while she went to work” thing at age thirteen or fourteen.

My dad was still alive then, but he couldn’t do much to help out because he suffered from a physical disability which led him to staying in bed a lot, and he was a really gentle man so he couldn’t really discipline my siblings like my mother did. Then, when he passed away a couple of months ago to a gruesome, debilitating cancer, the role of second parent was placed on me.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t “hate” babysitting my siblings. Despite their conflicting personalities, they can be a hilarious group to be around. (Just as long as they’re not sorely pissed off at each other. They have their mother’s temper for sure.) But even when my dad was around, I struggled (and still sometimes do) with taking care of them “properly.” Being placed in the role of “mother” at fourteen years old for up to eight hours was not the most pleasant of experiences. At that age, my brain wasn’t equipped to deal with the mother-like duties of being the sole caregiver of three children under thirteen.

Even though I was placed in the role of “mother,” I still had to obey and enforce my mom’s rules. Her “don’t answer the door to anyone” rule isn’t the main problem here, nor is the “lock the door behind me” rule.

My problem is that I’m pretty much isolated with three kids (thirteen, ten, and five) inside an 800 square foot house for anywhere from 8-10 hours.

No sunlight, no fresh air unless we turn off the A/C or heater and open the windows. And people get grumpy when they’re kept isolated in such close quarters. We all get the cabin fever from hell. It might not be so bad if I was allowed outside to go get the mail. Being the oldest at sixteen, I figured my mom might extend some privileges to me and allow me to go outside. If not to the mailbox, then at least on the front porch. It’s not like I’m going to go and make out with some boy on the front porch or in my yard, for God’s sakes. I barely have any real life contact with boys as it is, asides from going to youth group once a week and my occasional trip to the store. Heck, I don’t even have any male friends in my life asides from the married Christian adult men. I mean, what she could be worried about? What could I possibly accomplish being outside in my front yard where all the neighbors can see me?

I’m mature enough to babysit three kids for hours on end, but not enough to go outside for a few minutes. Or she’s just paranoid of kidnappers.

It was 2:15 yesterday that everything finally exploded in my poor little brain. Mom had called earlier and said something had come up and she needed to stay a few extra hours at the office if that was okay with me. And of course, I’m gonna say “Yeah, it’s okay with me!” Because what else can I say? It’s not like the kids were misbehaving at that time. Sure, they had the occasional argument, but I expect that. They’re siblings. They’re not going to get along 24/7. Hell, I still fight with them.

But she’d been doing this for a few days now, working until 5:00 and not getting back home until 6:00. It sucked, because staying inside all day was taking its toll on me. I try my best to pay attention to the kids when they need it, but it’s hard to keep my cool when the two younger ones are constantly arguing and the thirteen year old is going through one of her moods again. It’s overwhelming to try and solve the problems of three children, or at least calm them down.

And if I actually manage to do any of that? I’m too brain-fried to even do any of my schoolwork.

I know the moment I sit down, the drama will start again. So I don’t even try any more. Hell, I don’t even try to get the others to do their schoolwork. It’s not like I can force them to do it. And if on the rare occasion they actually do their schoolwork? The five year old will probably need them while I’m in the middle of explaining a math problem.

Mom doesn’t always ask about the school work situation when she gets back home, but when she does, it ticks me off. I just spent eight freaking hours with your kids. I haven’t had the time nor the energy. And wait…what? Now you want to tell me to go do it? Great! So I spent 10-5 with the kids, and now I have to spend 5-9 doing my schoolwork and whoops, would you lookie there? It’s time for bed! Yay, my whole day is gone. Now to go to bed and repeat the exact same thing in the morning.

The fact is, I’m a teenager. Yes, I need to be responsible and help watch the kids while she works, but I want a life. A life where I can have some fun before I go full-blown adult in a couple of years. I don’t want to spent the rest of my teenage years babysitting and doing schoolwork all day.

I want to go out and have fun. I want to meet people. I want to make friends.

I just want a semi-normal life.

I have friends both from the public school and homeschool environments, so I’m able to see how our lifestyles vary. Being in the public school system doesn’t always make life better, and it doesn’t always mean the parents are less controlling. I’ve seen homeschooled teens with parents who have proper boundaries, but aren’t over-emphatic with them. I’ve seen public-schooled teens with parents who…well, to put it nicely, don’t understand that there’s a difference between a sixteen year old and a two year old.

I just want to be normal. I just want to be a good sister, and when I need to, a good mother to my siblings.

I just want to do things right, for once.

A Sister, Not a Parent: Sage Lynn’s Story

siblings

Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Sage Lynn” is the pseudonym chosen by the author.

I absolutely love being a big sister. In the darkest times of my life, thinking of my siblings kept me going. I would do anything in the world for them, and they know it.

However, my relationship with my siblings is also complicated. 

When, as a kid, I expressed concern that I didn’t get to hang out with kids my own age and wouldn’t know how to do that when I went to college, my mom quickly told me that “if you can get along with your siblings, you can get along with anyone.” Naively believing this, I struggled with the guilt of wishing I had perfect, loving relationships with my siblings (“Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends,” anyone?) and the reality that we just didn’t get along all the time, even though we loved each other fiercely.

As the oldest of eight siblings—a small family by the standards of the church I grew up in—I grew up with mega responsibility. Early on, I learned that my role was to take care of younger siblings. I babysat, cooked, sewed, cleaned, taught, and filled dozens of other parental roles. My younger siblings would accidentally call me mom, something that landed me in the middle of a fury storm as my mom raged at me for usurping her place before retreating back to her room to try to deal with the depression she refused to seek help for. I was proud that I could run the household.

Luckily, schoolwork was incredibly easy for me (even though the material was comparable to a standard traditional school education), so I managed to get a great education even though my time was full with chores and housework. I would often get installed in the kitchen, doing schoolwork at the table while I watched several of the youngest children so my mom could teach the middle ones. From the age of seven, I took on making breakfast and lunch every day—by the time I was nine, I was making dinner as well. I have a knack for involving kids in whatever activity I happened to be doing, something that was honed in my years at home. Some of my happiest sibling memories involve making meals in the kitchen. My mom never had much patience with them, but I loved nothing better than to find something for them to do and have some company while I worked.

Our bond was not always nurtured under such happy circumstances, though.

My mom had anger issues and could flare up at short notice. My dad’s way of dealing with it was to ignore it, leaving for work early and coming home late. We had an unspoken rule of covering for each other as much as we could. Any animosity we felt was laid aside in the event of an anger outburst.

Walking on eggshells is the best way to describe what our life felt like.

When my mom was fine, our normal sibling arguments and jealousies sprang up. We loved each other, and we also fought; this was when life felt the most normal. When my mom was angry, though, we worked like a well-oiled machine. Each older child took a younger one under their wing, and even the babies seemed to realize they needed to be quiet and keep sweet. We came to look forward to when my mom would leave the house for hours or days on end—although we never knew if she was ok or not, we were able to have fun. We didn’t have to worry that any laughter would be shushed and any argument would incur violent punishment. We’d clean the house, make meals, and care for our younger siblings under and unspoken agreement that delegated certain jobs to each of us. It worked, and it provided the most security and schedule we ever had.

Sure, we were acting more like adults than kids, but we also got to tease each other and come up with goofy rituals that made the chores seem easier. For example, my next older siblings and I often cleaned up dinner together. We split the jobs into three main parts and each took one. While we cleaned, we’d tell jokes, sing songs, have arm wrestling matches, and talk about our days. When my mom was home, however, we were expected to do our work in silence.

It was easier with my younger siblings. I left home for college out of state when they were still fairly young. While it tore my heart apart to leave them, since I was their surrogate mom, it was the best thing for me and them. I still have good relationships with them—I feel more like I’m their aunt than their big sister. When I’m at home, we will do activities, go out to eat, and have fun. My parents have loosened up some with them, and I am no longer afraid of my parents, so things go much better. Even though I still have a lot of anxiety about leaving them and feel more responsibility than most older siblings probably do, I know that I am no longer responsible for them.

I also know that I don’t have to get along with any of my siblings perfectly.

In fact, socialization is an entirely different thing altogether. My older siblings still believe a great deal of the fundamentalist teachings we grew up with, but they are also all still living at home. When I’m at home, I walk the fine line of not disagreeing with my parents’ worldview, principles, and positions in front of my siblings while simultaneously believing that their attitudes are often dangerous and harmful. If I want to continue to interact with my siblings, I have to keep up this balancing act. At the same time, as my siblings get older, I hope that they see me as a safe person who will accept them for whoever they are and whatever they believe.

Gradually, perhaps, they will see that the girls have other options than being wives and mothers, although that is perfectly fine if that is what they truly want. They may see that women and men are inherently equal, and that neither needs to conform to traditional expectations of gender from any source.

I will always love being a big sister. For most of my life, though, I did not know what being a sister meant.

Today, I am truly a sister, not a parent. And I love it. 

Their Happiness Does Not Depend on Me: Asenath’s Story

siblings

Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Asenath” is a pseudonym.

Since my siblings were my main source of “friends” during my K-12 homeschool experience, I didn’t learn much about how to choose friends or how to maintain a friendship. Maintaining a relationship with a sibling who lives with you 24/7 and cannot leave is very different from maintaining a friendship with someone whom you may have to make an effort to get together or stay in touch with and who can leave if they don’t like the way you are treating them. Also, some friendships are temporary and in my adult life I have tended to be far more loyal to friends than they have been to me and far more crushed by losing friends because I didn’t learn at a younger age that it can be normal to move on from certain friendships.

I have spent a great deal of my adult life being very lonely because I expected friends to come to me and didn’t take responsibility for developing my social life and doing the work of leaving my house and meeting new people and developing friendships. At 31 yrs. old, I am finally realizing that there is not a shortage of friends and that I can go out and make and choose friends rather than grasping at the few people I already know, hoping they won’t leave me.

Since I didn’t have peers in my homeschool experience, I went through my childhood constantly comparing myself to my sister who was two years older than me.

She and I were often grouped together for classes like history and science, and I would be working one to two grade levels above the normal grade for my age, so that my sister and I could work together. I was in college before I finally realized that I was in fact smart. I had pretty much concluded that I was dumb because my sister had usually out-performed me, and I had never taken into account the advantage she had in being two whole developmental years older than me.

My next sister, who is two years younger than me, is extremely smart. She is a lightning fast reader and also talented at math. While I was trying to keep up with my older sister, I was also very motivated to stay ahead of my younger sister, and I would get very discouraged whenever she out-performed me.

There was a strong sense of sibling hierarchy in my family, which I am still coming to terms with.

When my older sister left for college, I was sixteen. Losing her was devastating to me, and I went into a depression in which I felt like I was walking through a dark mist and might fall off a cliff at any moment. I didn’t know how to live without a big sister because my entire strategy for living was based around watching her and imitating her successes while avoiding her mistakes. When I turned eighteen, I didn’t go to college because I was still so depressed about losing my sister that I thought I would surely die if I left the rest of my family. I didn’t really have any plans for after high school, so I spent two years in limbo, staying at home and helping my mother before I finally went out and found a job.

I have three younger sisters and seven younger brothers, and I felt pressured to provide parenting for them from a very young age. I was also spanked into compliance at a very young age, so I never resisted and in fact actively participated in trying to please my parents by parenting my younger siblings. I also spanked some of my younger siblings, which is the biggest regret I have about my whole life. Today, I don’t believe in spanking. No one has the right to hit me and no one ever did. I do believe that there are peaceful and non-violent ways to set and maintain appropriate limits for children and to teach children how to behave and make good moral decisions.

As an adult, I am still in the beginning stages of developing separate relationships with each of my siblings. However, I am not close to most of my siblings because I am afraid to let them know who I am today and the ways in which my beliefs differ from those I grew up with. I have also really struggled with being able to interact with my siblings while resisting any pressure I still feel to parent them. It helps me to remember that each of my siblings is smart, capable, able-bodied and of sound mind. If they need help, they can identify what help they need or want from me and ask for it directly.

Their happiness does not depend on me.

I am not loving them (or myself) when I act as though I think it does.

10 Things (Former) Homeschoolers Wish Their Parents Knew While Homeschooling

12098056_f1024

Introduction by Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator; list is a group effort by numerous members of the HA community.

*****

UPDATE, 01/05/2015: The title of this piece is, “10 Things Homeschoolers Wish Their Parents Knew While Homeschooling.” It is based on members of the HA community finding the “10 Things” in a homeschool parent’s article similar to statements they commonly heard growing up. The similarity proved too close for comfort. Thus these community members are expressing their reactions to those statements from their own experiences. This list represents the experiences of those contributors; it does not claim to be the universal homeschooling experience.

*****

Two days ago, this post came across my Facebook feed titled “10 Things Homeschool Moms Wish You Knew.” The blog post is generally about defenses of their homeschooling methods, especially in regards to math education, socialization, grade-level, and comparisons with kids who attend public schools. Her second “Thing” disturbed me greatly because, like her son, I could plan a Bible study (about math!) at age 15, but I still struggle with basic high school math.

“2. Our kids are behind in school.

It’s true. My daughter can’t spell “were” to save her life. She’s 13, for goodness sakes. My son hasn’t opened his math book in…well, let’s just say, it’s been a while. They are behind in some subjects. But, let me let you in on a little secret…your kids are behind too. Now, before you start arguing with me that your child just made principal’s honor roll, let me ask you this: Can your 17 year old change the brakes on a car? No? What have you been teaching him? Can your 13 year old plan a Bible lesson and teach a whole room full of students? No? What has she been studying?? Mine can do that and more.”

While changing the brakes on your car will save you some money on occasion, missing out on a fundamental math education will substantially limit your capabilities as an adult. Not every child is gifted in math, but that doesn’t mean you give up or don’t keep at it.

So in the spirit of viral counter-lists, our survivor community has compiled their own:

10 Things Homeschoolers Wish Their Parents Knew While Homeschooling

1. Your choice to homeschool was never about us. It was about control, it was about you. It was about creating little robots that mimicked your beliefs and did what they were told so that you could show off how superior we were to the whole world. It wasn’t the best decision for us, sometimes it was a really bad decision. But that didn’t matter because your belief that homeschooling would save your kids and make them Super Christians matter more than our individual needs.

2. Some of us were behind in school and are now behind in life. This is not a good thing.

Don’t assume real-life experience and book-learnin’ are mutually exclusive…. and don’t assume that we got either one. Our parents phrased it as this tradeoff existed between “well, your kids are up to grade level, but MINE have life skills,” but often, it didn’t work that way at all. We didn’t get the education we should have had, but we also did’nt learn most of the things that would have helped us in the “real world” later on. Bills? Checkbooks? Banking? Insurance? Credit cards? Managing money, being self-supporting, holding down a job, driving, etc etc etc? Nah.

3. Fundamental schooling is more important than your religion. Forcing your beliefs down our throats at the cost of educational building blocks is immoral

4. Despite the lies you’re told, you don’t have to homeschool to be a Christian. Have a little faith in your own parenting abilities when your kids go to public school. When our parents got impatient because we couldn’t learn what they were teaching, they should’ve changed how they taught or sent us to school so we could actually learn. Not screamed or locked themselves in the bathroom.

5. Admit when you’re in over your head. It’s okay.

6. That’s legit. People should leave kids alone.

7. It would’ve been nice to know what our grades were. That way when we graduated and entered the real world, we would know whether we were good competition for our peers or woefully behind and unable to get scholarships and jobs.

8. You say we were socialized. Which actually meant that we were pretty good at talking to adults. But many of us have no idea how to relate to peers. Peers scare the crap out of us. Kids are good, we can talk to kids. But some of us still struggle to see ourselves as adults and peers of adults and struggle to relate and socialize with other adults our age. This is the product of most homeschooling socialization.

9. You worry? Did you ever stop to think those worries were legit? You say “if you can’t say anything nice about our choices, then please just don’t say anything at all.” But you also describe educational neglect and your children’s lack of basic skills. I was glad every time someone stood up to my parents – like when my grandparents fought for months for my parents to allow me to receive a newspaper subscription.

10. You said “We like being different. We are okay being different, and we hope you can appreciate us for our differences!” Do you think your kids feel the same way? Would they even tell you if they didn’t? Because my mom said the same things. But the fact was I hated being different. I hated being weird and the freak. I hated it all and was miserable because of it. So speak for yourself.

Differentiation and Emotional Cut-offs

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Kamaljith K V. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Kamaljith K V. Image links to source.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on September 15, 2013.

Murray Bowen’s theories on differentiation of self and emotional cut-offs provide an excellent lens for viewing the complex relationships that exist between family members who were raised in quiverfull and Christian patriarchal families. In such situations, family roles are artificially skewed by religious influence and the necessity for sibling-parenting due to sheer numbers in the family.

Bowen’s theory on differentiation of self describes how people are inherently dependent on each other. At the same time, each individual needs to balance how much to conform to a group for acceptance (a universal need) and to what extent to be emotionally independent in order to deal with unavoidable conflict without having to take sides or dissolve emotionally. (You can read more about Bowen’s theory here.)

Bowen’s theory of emotional cutoff describes how sometimes people with complex relationships in their families may choose to create distance from family members or declare a permanent separation from them. The theory explains that this is not always a good solution because there are patterns of relationships that are formed in childhood that dictate how the individual relates to new people in life, because they may look to new people to fill emotional roles that are inappropriate to the relationship.

I left my quiverfull family when I was 17. I was the oldest daughter (second child) of nine. For a while I remained in contact with many of the people who contributed to the safety of the patriarchal environment, including my father and leaders of the church he attended.

Acceptance in a group is a universal need, but a problem arises when the cost is too great.

I had not really found a new group yet at this point, but the cost of acceptance in the former group was to return home and submit to my father. That was not an option for me.

*****

Conflict happens, it is unavoidable in order to take part in social connections. By conflict I do not mean drama or arguments. However, not everyone will agree with everyone else. Thus there needs to be a way of dealing with this between friends or loved ones without meltdowns and emotional cut-offs, simply because instituting an emotional cut-off when the going gets rough is not a sustainable method of remaining in social connections. Even if you were surrounded by people who were willing and able to float in and out of contact on a whim related to an emotional incident, at some point a complete lack of trust will be reached and one side will not be willing to reconnect.

If a person flees from painful social and family connections to others, they will come to new relationships with a greater emotional need than is typical in a friendship. They may find others who are also looking to fill that greater emotional need in themselves, which is how co-dependent relationships are formed. This is also not a good solution because co-dependence will eventually harm someone, whether one side moves to a new co-dependent relationship and drops the other, or if they sink too far into their emotional relationship to the detriment of their own mental health.

The goal of differentiation is to avoid emotional cut-off but also stay away from inappropriate emotional connection while remaining in acceptance in a group.

For me when I left the patriarchal system, I had to find a new social group to obtain acceptance from, while learning how to avoid the pitfall of an inappropriate emotional connection. Those inappropriate connections did take place, but eventually I learned what was happening and how to avoid it.

Differentiation means being able to be a whole person in spite of what is going on for other people or what negative stimulus is experienced.

There is a saying that other people are not responsible for how you feel. This does not mean that people can treat each other poorly by any means, and if they are involved in a social contract that states that they will treat each other well, they are bound by that contract. Triggers and negative stimulus will happen all the time in life; it is impossible to exist in a safe vacuum without these. The bottom line though, is that you are responsible for how a trigger makes you react. Everyone is at a different place, and there cannot be an expectation that everyone will be able to take responsibility all the time. Self-awareness and growth takes time, and people deserve the help that is required to get there.

When I was working on my social work degree, I provided counseling to women who had experienced domestic violence. This was obviously a very triggering experience for me, but I was working with two very wise women who suggested that rather than hide from what was triggering me, I actively face those triggers and deconstruct them. This means that rather than dissolve emotionally when I heard a sad situation, I perform my job in that room and help the survivor process what had happened, and then later when I became sad about it, acknowledge why I was feeling sad, that it was because something happened to them and I could relate to it, instead of just feeling sad and then taking that sadness into other relationships.

There are a very large number of intricate relationships in my family. Some of us do not talk at all. Some of the siblings talk rarely. I have made it clear to a few of my siblings that if they have something that they would like to talk about, they can text me and let me know what they would like to discuss and we can do that, but that I will not take surprise phone calls from them. Interestingly, the siblings I have that arrangement with do not text and let me know when they want to discuss something. They try to call and I let it go to voicemail, and they do not leave voicemails. They just try again and again, and I usually send a text asking what is going on, and get no response.

I have one sibling I get along very well with. We do not share exactly the same views on everything, but we certainly respect each other’s right to hold different views. We spend time together but respect each other’s space. We have fun times but only discuss the past when we both agree to do so. I have another sibling who has quite a different lifestyle than I do, but we still get along. We discuss what is different about our views without the intention of getting the other to change her mind. We do not spend much time together because our different lifestyles put us on such different time tables and locations that it is rarely possible.

I have another sibling with which I have a more confusing relationship, and we have a relationship when she wants one. Currently she does not, although she didn’t end a relationship in a dramatic fashion, more so she faded out of my life. I have three younger siblings who still live with my mother. I do not see the two little brothers much because I do not go to my mother’s house. I do see my youngest sister on a regular basis, and we have a good relationship.

My relationship with my mother is complex; I am not spending social time with her. I do not have a social relationship with my father. On the few occasions I have seen him in the last several years, I have taken a moment to make sure he knows I think he is an abhorrent human being. I’m not loud about it, but he knows. I have refused opportunities to meet with him in the past several years to discuss our relationship, and he doesn’t try anymore. As far as I know, it has been quite some time since he has even mentioned my existence to anyone. I have sometimes seen him around town without talking to him.

In the past, I would have described some of these relationships differently. Some of what happens in these relationships is triggering. However, I believe that I am responsible for how I feel after interactions with my family. I don’t think I always was responsible. I had to learn that I was responsible and learn how to take care of my own emotions, so there was a time that I was not responsible. There is also the chance that at some point there will be such an overwhelming amount of negative events and triggers that I could lose responsibility for a while. However now that I know, I am still responsible to eventually move on or to get help to do so.

People need acceptance, and people need other people. They need to take part in a social contract where they receive help and help others. It facilitates such relationships if they can take responsibility for their own emotions and be whole people in spite of what happens. No one can be perfect all the time and shouldn’t feel pressured to try to be perfect. People can work toward emotional independence and an ability to stand firm in their own heads even when everyone around them is doing something that they shouldn’t.

Learning about yourself is a powerful enterprise.

It’s Not Just the Religious Homeschoolers: Alianne’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Lee Haywood. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Lee Haywood. Image links to source.

Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Alianne” is a pseudonym.

We’re both in our twenties now, but my brother and I were homeschooled from elementary school through high school graduation. To put it simply, the entire experience was an absolute nightmare. However, it didn’t appear that way to other people nor did it appear like that on the surface of the image our mother and father tried to present to everyone.

When I was a child, people would comment on my writing or math skills and would give credit to homeschooling or my parents who happily bragged about it. But the reality was that my mother taught me absolutely nothing. She wasn’t even remotely skilled in either math or essay writing. I taught myself how to be very skilled with math and writing techniques, without any help from my parents whatsoever.

In my older brother’s case, the “education” he received was also absolutely zero and he didn’t fare as well as I did. Our parents rarely tried to help him, and hardly mentioned him or any skills he had to anyone, let alone bragged.

Our mother and father epitomized the braggadocio of homeschool parenting:

Always mention the “good” side that’s beneficial to them, and lie and stretch the truth of anything negative that would prove the opposite of the image they’re trying to present to everyone as truth.

Now that we’re older and we’re more capable of understanding what our mother and father really did to us, we’ve both realized that many of the common phrases and rationalizations that homeschoolers use simply aren’t true. To keep it simple, I’ll only post the main three misconceptions we came to realize:

1. Socialization:

Homeschool parents will use the excuses that their children are socialized because they join groups, have many activities, even have friends from public school, etc. However, parents will often neglect to mention the fact that in many families these activities only happen occasionally or just a few times per week. Many children don’t have any real interaction on a daily basis with other children and are only allowed to interact at the parent’s convenience, not in the way what the children really need.

My main point aside from that, though, is that many children are not being socialized properly or learning how to deal with regular social situations, or aka the “real” world. For example, the majority of the people my brother and I grew up around (we lived in a middle class, nice neighborhood, not a terrible one) had addictions, and were dangerous people who had many issues (although neither of us really recognized that until we were in our teens). Being surrounded by dangerous and unsafe people all day isn’t what I would call a safe, healthy, or normal environment for a child to grow up in, let alone the “real” world. Public school may be bad in some instances, but at least the kids will be surrounded mostly by other children (and also, not all public schools are huge terrible places of bullying or drugs/alcohol/sex, now that I’ve heard the stories of people who actually went to public school, I understand that) and not grown adult men and women coming off drug and alcohol highs first thing in the morning.

2. The parents know their children better than anyone:

No, many parents think they do, but they certainly don’t, and neither did our parents. I had anxiety issues and anxiety attacks all throughout my childhood, and was very shy until my late teens. In my brother’s case, although he was very social, he was bullied in elementary school, and had been a target for other children since the day he started. However, once we both reached late teens/adulthood, our issues went away for the most part. Why? Because we were away from our parents’ influence for longer periods of time than before, so their own anxiety and emotional issues no longer had any effect on us. We were both able to act normally for the first time in our lives.

So while our parents would have said that they knew we both had different issues and that’s why we had to stay at home, our issues came directly from being around them. So their decision to homeschool the two of us did absolutely nothing to benefit our lives. We honestly would have been far better off in public school and with two working parents.

In other words,  forcing the child to become the main focus of the parents doesn’t necessarily help them to grow.

It may temporarily stop the problems and it may even help their education to an extent, but it won’t really help the child to deal with situations on their own terms. How can you have your own terms, when the belief system you have and everything surrounding you is dominated by your mother and father?

To be fair, I’m aware of the fact that public school can have the same negative effects on children. However, I’ve met plenty of people who went to public school and who aren’t monsters, drug/alcohol addicts or terrible people by default. Public school doesn’t force every child on the planet to have issues and problems. There are many kids who go to regular school and turn out perfectly fine, don’t have bullying issues, are extremely intelligent, very self-motivated, etc.

I realize people use those same justifications to homeschool, but what I’m trying to say is this: When a child goes off by themselves and isn’t surrounded by the parents’ influences all the time, they will be exposed to different points of view, not just their parents’ main dominating viewpoint. They’ll also have the opportunity to develop their own selves when they are away from their parents. Thus they have the opportunity to choose by themselves to not do dangerous and unhealthy things. By finally being away from our mother and father, my brother and I were able to make safe and healthy choices and set boundaries with other people by ourselves, finally, and for the first time in our entire lives.

Also, I’ve read horror stories online about children who want nothing more than to be homeschooled because the bullying is so severe. Some of their stories actually sounded very similar to what my brother went through. I’ve also seen firsthand the emotional and physical effects of what he endured from other kids. So I’m not naive regarding what can happen to children in public school systems, or dismissive of what happened to my brother in the slightest. However, I’ve also talked with him about it, and as a grown man in his twenties he completely agrees with me that the homeschooling was a horrible idea that helped neither of us. It was all for our parents’ emotional benefit.

Furthermore, as an adult he’s now perfectly able to stand up for himself and will tell people exactly how he feels about something, even if it’s rude, might incite people, etc. He’s able to do so because as he got older he handled people by himself, without our parents influencing everything 24/7 and learned how to deal with it. Our mother and father were both very weak people emotionally, and that definitely rubbed off on both me and my brother.

3. Homeschooled children are almost always better, more educated, and amazing awesome kids — especially compared to public school children:

No, that’s not even remotely true. There are sites and forums where you can read many of the stories from homeschooled kids who had miserable and dysfunctional childhoods. And to make it clear, I’m not just referring to the religious families. My family was semi-Christian and semi-New Age. My brother and I had never attended a church or sermon a day in our lives. My parents never forced religion on us in the slightest manner.

Also, most of the Homeschool/Unschool blogs you see on the internet are written and promoted by the parents. There aren’t very many positive blogs written by the children, because whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the majority of homeschooled kids aren’t happy or well adjusted in society, so they can’t write something that isn’t true. Yes, I have read stories from graduated homeschooled kids who say they were happy the entire time they were homeschooled. Yes, they might honestly have been.

However, to have the audacity to deny and pretend that there aren’t many, many homeschooled children living and interacting in dysfunctional families is absolutely ridiculous.

Of course, you could say the same for public school, but at least in that situation the children can actually get away from their households. Contrary to popular belief, they aren’t always places where the families get along wonderfully well, or the children are always happy to be around them. Homeschooling may seem to work very well for a young child, but I’ve never in my life met a homeschooled teen who was happy. Some of them would put on a facade and pretend they were, but once I got to know them… Well, I’ll just say drugs/alcohol/having sex at a young age/depression isn’t only for public school kids, not even remotely.

The parents might not be aware, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Many of the blogging parents will exaggerate how awesome the homeschooling is and leave out all of the negative effects, or how the children really feel about everything. In our case, my brother and I were miserable 24/7, but our mother and father never mentioned that to anyone. We didn’t mention it, because we were afraid at how angry our parents would have been if we told the truth about how we really felt. Also, we felt very isolated; we interacted with public school kids too, but for the most part we knew that anything we said would eventually get back to our parents. Having a close knit community, or living where your parents schedule everything doesn’t exactly give a good opportunity to be honest about anything. And for the record, our parents weren’t extremists who did the forms of abuse found in many of the stories on Homeschoolers Anonymous. For the most part, they acted fairly normally and mainly just had social anxiety issues.

Yet my brother and I weren’t more educated in the slightest. The only reason I was able to even graduate highschool was because I used an online school program. My brother wasn’t able to get past highschool level, and so he suffered a lot academically as well. One thing I can’t stand more than anything else I see parents write on the homeschooling blogs, is how homeschooling takes so much effort. That’s not true in every case, and it’s certainly not true by default of being a homeschooling parent.

Both of our parents didn’t put in much effort at all for our education. Our father put in absolutely zero of any kind of effort, and left everything to our mother. She stayed at home, and I can honestly say that she would spend 8-10 hrs of her day watching television, and taught us absolutely nothing. Also, there are many other homeschooled kids with similar stories, who suffered a lot academically due to being homeschooled/unschooled.

On the other hand, I have read stories of successful unschool graduates who made it through college. So, I’m not denying the fact that it can be done. However, my point is that if a child can survive being homeschooled/unschooled and still make out okay, and doesn’t have any severe issues to deal with, then public school would be effortless for them, and in my opinion that’s where they should stay.

Finally, I understand that public school doesn’t work for children with special needs, or who have more extreme issues to deal with. However, I absolutely believe that (aside from children in very complicated situations), homeschooling should only be used very temporarily, and not ever seen as a permanent solution. You can solve some issues with homeschooling, but that doesn’t mean you should just stick to it for the rest of the child’s life. Whatever issues the children have will need to be dealt with eventually.

Hiding them from the world and people for the rest of their childhood doesn’t solve or fix anything.

Public school may not be seen as the “right” environment, but it’s the main environment the majority of people grew up in. So if they haven’t dealt with their issues, when they finally reach the adult world people will still be acting and functioning the same way they were before, so trying to pretend that doesn’t have any impact later on isn’t realistic. Most importantly, it keeps the children away from other opportunities and situations that could have actually been good, and far better than the homeschooling.

3 Ways Homeschoolers Actually Socialize Differently than School Kids

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Patrick Gannon. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Patrick Gannon. Image links to source.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on November 10, 2014.

I recently came upon a post titled 3 Ways Homeschoolers Socialize Differently than School Kids. Curious, I clicked. I should have known better. Predictably, the post was written by a homeschooling mother who has no idea what it’s like to actually be a homeschooled child. In this post I will respond to the points made by blogger Jennifer Fitz, speaking from my experience as a homeschool alumna.

1. Homeschool kids break their own ice.

I picked up my son from his Confirmation kick-off event, a true microcosm of suburban 9th grade living.  We were delayed in departing, and I noticed he was chatting with a boy I’d never met before, who had “Chris” written on his name tag.  We got in the car.  “So I saw you were chatting with, um, Chris? Is it?  Nice kid?”

Usually the boy has a few interesting stories to share about the people he meets. This time he shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I just started talking to him when you showed up. We were so busy doing ice breakers we didn’t get to actually meet anybody.”

Yeah, homeschool kids don’t get ice breakers.  You show up at a new event with people you’ve never met, and your parents leave you to the wolves.  “Go find some kids.  Or make yourself useful somewhere.”

They always do.  It can take as long as five or ten minutes, if it’s a large group event the kids are joining midstream.  But my kids never sit in a corner neglected.  They are in the habit of introducing themselves, striking up a conversation, and finding something, anything, in common with whomever is tossed their way.

Some children are more extroverted and others are more introverted. What exactly does this have to do with homeschooling? My public schooled daughter walks right up to other kids and introduces herself. My shy homeschooled little sister does not, preferring to hang back much longer until she feels comfortable. Trust me when I say that this isn’t about homeschooling.

2. Homeschool kids spend the bulk of their time with people different from themselves.

Sitting at a lunch table with the same five friends every day, exactly the same age, same academic track, same clubs, and same fashion tastes?  Yeah, that never happens in homeschooling.  Mixed-age, mixed-neighborhood, mixed-ability social circles are the norm among homeschoolers.  Cliqueishness is a no-go, because 1) the parents lose patience with that nonsense fast and 2) on any given day, you might have to be friends with exactly that one person you would have happily excluded if only this were the lunchroom and you had the choice of your favorites.

Growing up, I never, ever had a friend who was not also able bodied, middle class, white, evangelical, and the child of two married heterosexual parents. Heading off to college came as a huge shock because I was suddenly thrown in with people who were completely different from me. But this makes sense, if you think about it. When you are homeschooled your social world is whatever your parents choose to give you. Some homeschooling parents will expose their children to a wide diversity of people, but others will keep their children in a homogenous bubble.

My daughter is only in kindergarten, but already she has been exposed to more different people than I was through high school. There are black and white kids in her class, middle class and poor kids, children with Christian and atheist parents, children with single parents and children with parents who never married, and disabled children. My public schooled daughter is experiencing more different people in kindergarten than I experienced until college.

Jennifer adds this:

From there, it only gets more different: Homeschool kids spend a lot of time with grown-ups.  Not just their parents.  Not just teachers.  (As a kid writing fiction, I could only ever think up “teacher” for a profession for my adult characters, because that was the only profession I was ever exposed to enough to have an idea of what the job entailed.)  Homeschool kids spend their formative years going wherever their parents go, doing all the adult chores that grown-ups do.   The people who live and work in their community aren’t stage hands for a me-centered teenage drama; they are the community.  Homeschool kids get used to having spur-of-the-moment adult conversation with grown-ups of every age, profession, and cultural background.

Actually, socializing with adults is very different from socializing with other children. As a homeschooled child, I never had a problem socializing with adults—I knew they would praise me for how mature and smart I was, how hard working and diligent. Other children, on the other hand? Haha, nope. I got on fine with the other homeschooled children in my social circle, but I was literally afraid of public school children. They were so different from me that I had no idea how to relate to them. They were scary. I had to enter a public high school to take the PSAT, and I was so anxious I was sick that morning—not because of the exam, I wasn’t worried about that in the least, it was the entire idea of being surrounded by public school kids. I couldn’t handle it.

Now I am not saying that every homeschooled child is afraid of public school children, or that this is the natural product of being homeschooled. Absolutely not! But Jennifer makes a mistake in generalizing from how she is socializing her son to how every other parent out there socializes their children. What kind of socialization homeschooled kids get is almost entirely dependent on their parents. Some parents are absolutely crippled by the lack of socialization they have in their homeschooled upbringing while others thrive and develop healthy social skills.

You cannot look at one homeschooled child and predict another’s experience, because the only thing different homeschooling families have in common is that the parents are in sole control of their children’s academic and social development.

3. Homeschool kids form deep, lasting relationships with the people they treasure most.

A reality of homeschool life is that you might have certain very dear friends you only see a few times a year.  Of all the many friendly-acquaintances you gather everywhere you go, a few really resonate.  They’re ones who understand you.  They’re the ones you could spend hours talking to, and when you pick back up again six months later, it’s like you just saw each other yesterday.

School friendships are a little bit like this, in that you socialize all year with whomever is at hand, but very few of those friendships carry forward once you’re no longer in the same class or club. It’s easy to imagine at school you’ve got a real friendship going, when really those friends will drop you as soon as they find something better.

The homeschooling difference is that there’s never any illusion that you’ve got five best friends sitting next to you at lunch each day.  You have to be intentional about cultivating your friendships, and you’ve got the mental space to do it in.  When you find that one good friend, you make an effort to stay in touch.  You learn to use whatever resources you have at hand to arrange a way to get together more often.  Sometimes you discover that the friendly acquaintance was only ever just that, or the friendship wanes as your values and interests diverge later in life.  But it’s not uncommon for homeschoolers to have multiple deep, lasting relationships that endure for years despite distance and long separation.

Does Jennifer have any idea how hard it was to be 16 and only see one of my closest friends four or six times a year? It wasn’t even that they lived far away, it was just that we weren’t in any of the same activities and we were completely dependent on our parents for transport. Jennifer thinks this is some sort of positive benefit of homeschooling? Does she have any idea how hard it was to go on stating that this person was one of my best friends even as I had no clue what was going on in her life because I hadn’t seen her in months? I just can’t here. Jennifer may look at the five best friends she had at lunch in middle school as only temporary friends, but at least she actually had friends she saw regularly. I didn’t.

Jennifer seems to be applying “absence makes the heart grow stronger” to children’s friendships. It does not work like that.

It’s absolutely true that out of a large group of people you will only resonate with a few. The problem was that, as a homeschool kid, I didn’t have a large group of people to draw from. I had to take whatever I got. Now yes, I had some good, solid friendships. I had to, because if I didn’t I would have had no one. But there were also times I hung on to a friendship with someone who didn’t really fit because, well, they were the only option I had. I read one study that said that homeschooled children have fewer friends than their peers, but that they value the ones they have more. Well duh, I thought.

So what if my public schooled daughter has five best friends sitting by her at lunch who will move on and change and grow different and branch off in different directions as they grow? At least she sees them more often than once every three months. And you know what? My friends from childhood grew and changed too, as did I. Being homeschooled didn’t magically make all of my friendships last forever.

If I had to come up with a list of how homeschoolers actually socialize differently than school kids, what would I include on the list?

1. They more dependent on their parents. While children who attend school see other children daily as a matter of course, homeschooled children only see other children as a result of involvement in various activities or making plans to get together with another family. These things rest solely in the hands of the parents.

2. Keeping up friendships takes more effort. I cannot even begin to count the number of times my siblings and I begged to have a friend over or to become involved in an activity so that we would see a friend. Public school children may be able to fall into friendships, but we didn’t have that option.

3. They can’t afford to be as picky. Mostly, I was friends with the children of my parents’ friends. After all, if our parents weren’t friends it was unlikely we would see each other often enough to have anything you could give the label “friendship.” In other cases, homeschooled children are forced to turn to the internet to find friends.

“What about socialization?” Homeschooled parents have been asked this question over and over again for decades. I understand finding it annoying to get this question so many times, but it’s a good question, and one homeschooling parents should take seriously. I’m really tired of reading blog posts by homeschooling parents arguing that homeschooled children are actually better than public schooled children. Trust me, I heard this growing up, too! Hearing this didn’t make me any less afraid of public schooled children, and it didn’t magic me more friends.

Look, if you are a homeschooling parent, your children’s socialization is up to you. If you do your job right, your children will have a large pool to draw their friends from, have close friends they see regularly, and be comfortable around a wide range of different people. But this is not guaranteed. It’s something you have to work for.

As a final note, I am aware that not all children who attend school simply fall into friendships, and that there are children who attend public school and are still profoundly lonely. I don’t think parents of children who attend school should assume they don’t need to pay attention to their children’s social needs. All I’m saying is that when parents homeschool, they take their children’s social needs solely into their hands, and that’s not a responsibility they should take lightly.

Socialization and Psychological Maltreatment: Isolating Children and Teenagers

socialization

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on October 3, 2014.

This post deals with parents isolating and controlling their children’s social interactions; of course my parents and many other homeschooling parents have engaged in many other forms of control, but this is one that people don’t seem to realize is a problem. Below, I give some examples of social isolation and control in my own life, and then reference work from Roberta Hibbard, Jane Barlow, and Harriet MacMillan to show how social isolation can be a serious problem for children who are subjected to it.

As I have said in previous posts, many of the people who were involved with my family over the years still don’t really get what the problem was. They will admit that my parents were a bit overprotective. Depending on the day they might even admit that my parents were controlling. But they always cycle back to trying to convince me that my parents were just doing their best, just trying to keep us safe. Then sometimes the same people concede that not everything was perfect but assure me that my father has changed.

I don’t spend much time around people who think they are in a position to re-write my history for me.

Once when I was about 15, I was something like friends with the neighbour girl. She was about 2 years older than me, and very conservative (more so than we were, in some ways – they attended a very conservative Mennonite church). Her parents and my parents ran in the same circles and spent time together talking about fundamentalism (not their word). Her dad had a home business, and one day she called and asked if I wanted to go with her to a little hamlet about 15 minutes away to pick up a part with her for her dad. My dad turned this invitation into a really big deal. He told me I had to ask her if I could call back in a few minutes so we could discuss it. I hadn’t been out of the house for days, and I really wanted to go on this 30 minute adventure with her.

I sat down with my parents, and they went over how they felt I had behaved over the past while, pointing out instances of rebellion and ways I could have tried harder in helping out around the house. In reality, I was a full time mini-mom, I cooked and cleaned and homeschooled my siblings and gardened and changed diapers. I wasn’t being taught anything anymore, although I was still being “homeschooled” I didn’t say any of that to them. I displayed appropriate contriteness and promised to mend my behaviour, and I was allowed to go. They selected several chores I would need to complete before going, and said she could pick me up in an hour. I called her back, very excited, and she reacted with confusion. It was just a short trip to grab something and she just wondered if I wanted to come. Furthermore, it was an errand she needed to run quickly for her father, and she had not planned to wait even the fifteen minutes it had taken for me to call her back, much less another hour. She went and checked with her dad, and he agreed he could wait an hour if that meant I was able to go.

This is the problem: when a teenager is “homeschooled” like that, not really doing school work anymore, and spending most of their time being the assistant mother, it actually costs the parents for the child to do something that doesn’t serve the family. And I want to be clear, although my parents were notably controlling, it wasn’t just them, there are quite a number of girls that I knew at that age that experienced a similar level of control. Every chance I had to get out of the house was treated with exaggerated importance. And then my parents have that added power to exhort even more compliant behavior.

I could give so many more detailed examples of this, like the time I “lost all privileges” (of which there were few) for being a few minutes late getting back when I went with another neighbor Mennonite girl into town to – wait for it – drop off her mother’s homemade quilts to customers. My father decided what a reasonable time was for this errand that had nothing to do with him at all, and I had the girl rush me home in a cold sweat when I realized I would be late. This errand was one that was planned in advance, and I had to earn the privilege to go with days of displaying a perfect attitude, and days of hard work. And being a few minutes late meant I lost the ability to go anywhere for months. My father allotted two hours for the trip, and we were about 20 minutes out of town. That gave us 1 hour and ten minutes to do all her errands for the quilt business.

I know a number of Mennonite teenagers from a certain church when I was 14-15 and my brother and I were invited to their youth groups. We also wanted to attend church with them on Sunday evenings. My parents treated each weekly occurrence of these activities as special privileges that they arbitrarily allowed us to earn sometimes but not others. I often wanted to go to someone’s house after church, or have someone over, but my father would not give advance permission, or even answer me if I asked him after church. He would sometimes turn to me in the van as we were leaving the parking lot and tell me that I could have someone over, or that if someone wanted me over I could go. By then, everyone would already have plans so I sometimes went back to the group and pretended to ask, and that no one was interested. I was too embarrassed to try to make plans at that point. If I refused to go over, he would be upset with me and say that I didn’t really want that privilege and shouldn’t be wasting his time asking.

My parents were able to pass this behaviour off as protective. And technically that is true, I suppose. So what is the problem?

First of all, the way they restricted my social activity, including Sunday night church, really skewed my concept of social interactions.

Social activities were something that I coveted and dreamed about, but experienced so rarely that I didn’t know how to handle myself. I tried to be funny and make people enjoy being my friend, which of course just made me seem odd. I felt envious of others my age that were allowed to have regular social interactions. Those with a more normal social life seemed more well-adjusted then me, and I felt this when I was with them, which increased my feelings of inadequacy. I felt like those with normal privileges were more important than me, because I was sometimes put in the position to try and solicit their attention and invitations. This skewed my sense of value of myself and others.

Because I had to behave so carefully in order to get a chance to take part in a social activity, there was a sense of fear attached to other people, especially other teenagers. It also increased the sense of control that my parents had over me; before I was interested in spending time with other youth, there wasn’t much that I wanted, that my parents could actually provide, that I was motivated to work for, and our family was reaching a point of chaos that meant that there wasn’t much parental approval to work towards. So I was motivated to perform my duties at home purely to get out and see other youth. My parents kept me fearful and off balance by sometimes allowing this and sometimes taking away the privilege with no explanation. My father said that if I didn’t know the privilege was being taken away, maybe I needed to lose more privileges in order to learn to respect him.

The biggest problem I have with this control over social interactions is that it stifles the learning of social lessons.

It is a form of child maltreatment to teach a child to act in an abnormal way, and therefore a form of neglect to not teach them lessons that they will need to function in adult life. I simply didn’t get enough exposure to other people as a child and teenager, and the skewed value of other people and of social interactions meant that I didn’t learn how to be a friend. I didn’t know how long a visit with a friend should last, and I didn’t know how to see that a visit was reaching an end. In fact, it was so hard for me to get out that when I was out, I often overstayed my welcome. It also impacted my ability to build planning and decision making skills.

In their report titled “Psychological Maltreatment” in “Pediatrics”, Hibbard, Barlow, and MacMillan provide a table outlining six different categories of child maltreatment (find it here). According to this table, the simple act of confining a child and restricting their community social interactions is a form of maltreatment likely to result in social maladjustment. Under the heading of exploiting/corrupting, there are two descriptions that my parents fulfilled: “Modeling, permitting, or encouraging antisocial or developmentally inappropriate behavior” by not allowing me to develop appropriate social behavior, and “restricting/undermining psychological autonomy” by not providing opportunities for me to learn to plan and make decisions in social interactions with enough information.

Isolating children and not allowing them to interact with other children and youth is a form of psychological maltreatment. Not allowing children enough opportunities to learn how to behave in social situations and not providing them with opportunities to plan and make decisions in social situations is psychological maltreatment in the exploiting/corrupting category.

“Socialization” was a joke to my parents, as it was and is for many homeschooling apologists, but the different aspects of isolation are easily categorized as psychological maltreatment.

Hibbard, et al, state that psychological maltreatment may result in a child feeling that they are unloved or only valued for what they provide to the parent, even if the parent did not intend to cause harm. They state that the effects of this maltreatment can include problems with adult attachment, including attachment to their own children, and trouble with conflict resolution in adulthood.

If a woman is to have a career and friends of her own, she will need these skills. Even if one ascribes to the school of thought that the purpose of women is to get married and stay at home with children, it should be clear that this type of isolation will not result in girls growing into well-adjusted stay at home mothers. To succeed in such a role, women will need to have social skills, planning and decision making skills, conflict resolution skills, and good attachment in order to have good relationship with their husbands and children. If a woman is to engage in some type of out of home employment before getting married, these skills will vital in that setting as well.

Socialization is not a joke; it provides several essential skills for adult life in various settings. Isolating children and youth is not a joke, it is psychological abuse, and can have serious consequences for those who experience it.

Homeschooling, Culture Shock, and Me

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 1.23.18 PM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on February 26, 2014.

This is a good week. My university is on spring break, and this means I don’t have to be around people (other than the family I obviously live with).  I can play in the snow, cycle, study, write, submit conference papers, clean house, and relax.

My western social skills were set back after not socializing with westerners for three years.

In SE Asia I had friends, but there was no pressure to make friends with my peers. In fact, peer-socialization was almost unheard of. If a teacher at my language school had a birthday, everyone was invited, regardless of race or age.

This had two positive implications for me. First, I did not have to work at making friends. It just fell into place. Secondly, I felt more safe. I never had to fear that so-in-so was a teacher, and therefore, I could not invite her over for dinner, and I never had anxiety asking people for favors. There was no public-private divide. I did not have to hide. Thirdly, I was not viewed as a freak for having friends significantly older than me.

I find Canada extremely lonely and frightening at the same time.

Some days I nearly have panic attacks before one of our seminars because I find the clique frightening. As even the grad school newsletter pointed out, no one is less than 20 or over 40; mostly people are in their 20s.  Everyone comes from a vastly different background than me, except that I’m expected to put the past behind as soon as I walk in the room (just to get the idea of how I might not feel like I’m in their boat: before last year, I was parenting teenagers). And then there’s the lonely part. Despite being apart of the community, we are all fiercely independent, myself included. Sure, we ask each other for rides home sometime, but every time we do, it’s considered an inconvenience, or doing a friend a favor. In Asia, it was considered a blessing to help each other, and no big deal. Everytime I’m waiting for a bus, and someone passes me up, I piece of my heart still feels rejected, because in Asia, we pick people we know up rather than shove it off on strangers.

Lana Hobbs, from Lana Hobbs the Brave, and I talk about this on twitter sometimes because we both suffering anxiety from large groups and even simple things like traffic. I don’t know what to do about it because I never had this problem in SE Asia. But I can’t deny it. Even the traffic gives me anxiety.

Part of it is the west produces pressure to perform publicly. Lana Hobbs and I were both homeschooled. In homeschooling, there is a ton of pressures, such as looking good, cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and making the parents look good, some more.  But in the work world, or the university world, the performance goes beyond the family or community. We have to produce a lot of papers, work constantly, and blend in a crowd – a crowd of people who are a sea of strangers. This is the world where we have to smile and pretend like we fit in, when we don’t.

It’s hard to describe to people what it’s like to be a foreigner in our own land. The best way to describe it is to think of traditions and customs of another culture.  In our tribal community in SE Asia, picking one’s nose is not considered rude. Now I’m in Canada. I’m a freaky, rude moron if I pick my nose.

Honestly that culture shock I felt coming to Canada is just a fraction of the culture shock I feel after having left my homeschool community. Sure as a kid I still ate with a fork and used toilet paper, unlike the tribal community in SE Asia; however, there was still so many mannerism from my past that are equally shocking, or different, to those in mainstream North American culture. This is why I am frightened in public.

What is frustrating is that when I blog about these things, inevitably people come by and say everyone feels different, and everyone is a freak in their own way. I think they miss the point for two reasons. First, I’ve never denied other people’s stories. For example, I’ve long acknowledged that LGBT people have been bullied, excluded, and treated as if there is something wrong with them. As a result, some may feel as if they are an outsider because they aren’t the “default” “straight.”  My story does not discredit someone else’s story. We just have different stories.

Secondly, people seem to forget that there is a trend among those who were homeschooled. Darcy wrote about how we homeschoolers even have our own historical events. So I don’t think we can say this is just personality that makes me an outsider.

I’m not always an outsider. I’m an outsider when I’m inside mainstream culture.

Thirdly, this is just a challenge; first, for homeschool parents to rethink some of this, and secondly, for people to rethink how they treat others. People do treat me different, and I never know what to do. Do I try to hide my pain and pretend like I am just like everyone else, or do I explain that I was homeschooled in a religious home? Most people don’t care to listen to my story since they have their own stories, sometimes worse than mine (understandable), but by not telling people, I’m also put in the position of hiding, and that’s not fun either.

I’m lonely and frightened, but I have no one to talk to about it. If public schoolers are so certain that they are lonely, weird, different, or an outsider, they need to start speaking up, not hiding and pretending like there is one sweeping narrative that we all need to conform to.

I’ve said this before. Despite how much I hate the discrimination and pride in the homeschool world, I have not found the liberal world more safe. There’s always that set narrative, and everyone is expected to fit into it. One of my professors described it this way. We used to have a small circle that everyone had to conform to. This is what a woman looked like, this is what a man looked like. Now we’ve just expanded the boundaries and made the circle bigger, but the circle is still there.

In many ways, I think my homeschool background was the small circle, and now I live in the big circle.

Of Homeschooling and Cohort Effect

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 8.31.41 PM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on November 22, 2013.

Sometimes I feel like I’m from another country. Or maybe another era. I’m a child of the 80’s, yet I know nothing about being a child of the 80’s. I can’t relate to pop-culture references and feel awkward when people my age laugh about something I’m supposed to know about but don’t. I see funny posts entitled “You Know You Grew up in the 80’s and 90’s When….” and I get maybe 2 references in the entire article. Sometimes it’s funny and I laugh at myself. Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes I sit in a group of people and wish I knew what they were talking about, wish I had that camaraderie they all seem to have, wish I didn’t feel like an oddball, like I will always be an oddball. Sometimes I like being an oddball, when it’s of my own choosing. Sometimes I wish I had a choice in the matter.

I’m studying all kinds of fascinating things as I’m finishing the last half of my BA in liberal studies. The psychology and sociology-related classes are my favorite. I came across this word and concept a few weeks back: Cohort. And suddenly, things started falling into place in my head; ideas with a lot of gaps and holes and flashes of pictures started forming and making sense, like pieces of a puzzle that were missing but aren’t anymore. Cohorts…..cohort effects……and it hit me:

Homeschoolers are basically their own cohort.

No matter what part of the country we are from or how old we are, we experience a cohort effect that other people in our age group do not. Even though all people from our generation are technically in the same age cohort, homeschoolers are actually in their own cohort with their own sociocultural-graded influences that the rest of our culture did not experience. We often joke among us that we were our own sub-culture. But I think it’s deeper than that.

I was asked as an essay question for a class to write a couple paragraphs on how cohort effects have shaped my worldview on things like politics, gender, science, and religion. And I thought, where do I even start? I’m not just in the cohort that was born in middle class white America in the 80’s. Matter of fact, I have very little relatability with anyone in my birth/generational cohort because I basically grew up in a completely different cohort.

Oxford Reference describes “Cohort” as:
“A group of people who share some experience or demographic trait in common, especially that of being the same age …”

The Psychology Dictionary defines “Cohort Effects” as:
“The effects of being born and raised in a particular time or situation where all other members of your group has similar experiences that make your group unique from other groups”

This is usually used to describe a group of people born at the same time, who experienced similar history, and their similarities in development. Like Generation X. Or Millennials. Or Baby Boomers. People born in the same time and the same place. Though it can also be used to describe sub-cultures within cultures.

The cohort effect is something that must be taken into account when studying developmental psychology or lifespan development, because something could be erroneously attributed to an age group that actually describes a cohort, a group of people that shared specific happenings, demographics, or historical events. This article has a very good, simple example of this effect in studies, and why it matters.

Those of us who were part of the pioneer Christian homeschooling movement, no matter how extreme or not, no matter where on the spectrum of conservative to liberal we were, we relate to each other in ways we cannot relate to the rest of our age cohort. In reality, we experienced history differently. We had our own culture and our own leaders and our own historical events that the rest of America knew nothing about, but that were very important to us. They defined us and we were proud of that. It’s not the fact that we were all home educated that creates this dynamic. It’s the fact that we were all part of a home education movement that was not just counter-cultural, but *anti* cultural.We were raised in a movement with varying degrees of the same teachings and varying degrees of sheltering, for all the same reasons. We were, most of us, raised under the influence of the same leaders.

Find me a religious homeschooler from the 80’s and 90’s that doesn’t know who Josh Harris is. Or has never heard of courtship. Or HSLDA. If you don’t, you are the exception and your parents were probably hippies that didn’t want government interference in their families so they homeschooled you in a bus on a mountain somewhere (like my husband. Heh.) Think about these concepts for minute and the pictures and memories they conjure up: Ken Ham, Abeka, Rod and Staff, homeschool conventions, the Pearls, modesty, denim jumpers, fear of going outside before 2PM, Bill Gothard, courtship, parental rights, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, evils of rock music, submission, Saxon math, biblical manhood and womanhood, women’s roles, keeper at home, “what grade are you in?” “I have no idea”, Creationism, ATI (either you were in, or you thought that at least you weren’t as weird as the people that were), R.C. Sproul, Howard Phillips, quiverfull/huge families/ “are they all yours?!”, Mike Farris, government brainwash centers (aka public schools), evils of dating, head coverings, fear of child-snatching CPS, evils of feminism, evils of sex ed, evils of Halloween, evils of pagan Christmas, evils of kissing before the alter, evils of peer pressure, homeschool co-ops, culottes, endless questions about how you get socialization and whether you do school in your PJs, skirts-only, Biblical Worldview, Republican conventions, government conspiracy theories, 15 passenger vans, no TV, Mary Pride, family bands with matching clothes, and King James vs. NIV. To name a few.

Not included in that list are the major historical events that we *didn’t* know about or experience the way that most people in our age cohort did. The killing of John Lennon, the Challenger disaster (which I didn’t know about until I was an adult), the fall of the Berlin wall, the massacre of Tiananmen Square, the Rodney King trial, Princess Diana. Not to mention the lack of knowledge of entire segments of history such as the Civil Rights Movement or the Suffragette Movement. We knew nothing of pop culture: music, movies, art, except that they were “worldly”. These were deemed contemporary, products of a relativistic worldview, and thus worthless, while we studied the Reformation period or the Founding Fathers or the Civil War instead.

We are the products of a pioneer movement; the good, bad, and ugly. A movement many of us have grown up and left behind, some of us floundering in the world we are trying to be a part of now but were never prepared for because we were told we were not supposed to be “of this world”. We have similar memories, both positive and negative. We look back on our own lives and we relate to one another, even if we’ve never met in person. Thanks to the internet age, we who thought we were alone and weird and oddballs have found each other, found people that are as oddball in all the same ways as we are. We have found that we are not alone in a culture we don’t understand but pretend to anyway. We may be in similar or vastly different places in life right now. But no matter where we are in life, and what we believe now, we have a shared experience that no one else in our generation has. 

This can be a difficult concept to share with other people. Last night I was out with some new friends and they were exchanging stories of their first kiss and getting in trouble for sneaking out or smoking or drinking or playing hooky, and when it was my turn, I said “Well, I got in trouble for wearing pants”. The silence and stares were deafening. Had I said that in a group of ex-homeschoolers, there would’ve been laughter and rolling eyes and sympathy. Because we *know*. We get it. We lived it. We can laugh about it together.

“The effects of being born and raised in a particular time or situation where all other members of your group has similar experiences that make your group unique from other groups”

Perhaps I’m using these terms all wrong and someone smarter than me can correct me. I just know that for better or for worse, the definition fits. And it really explains a lot.