“[For] I was a stranger, and you gave me no welcome…” Matthew 25: 43
“What about socialization?”
Ah, yes, the “s” word. We all asked ourselves that question when we first began thinking about homeschooling. We certainly were asked that question by anyone who knew we were homeschooling or thinking about it. I’m sure you know all the answers by now.
“Don’t worry about socialization!” all the homeschool advocates respond.
“Kids make their friends through extracurricular activities anyway,” they said. “Sign them up for clubs and sports!”
“Don’t see what you want? Start your own thing, and you’ll connect with other homeschoolers, easy peasy!” they assured us.
“Join a co-op!” they suggested. “Problem solved!”
“There will be plenty of opportunities to socialize on errands!” they promised.
“Volunteer!” they told us.
“You don’t want that village raising your children anyway!” they warned.
And we don’t. We want the flexibility that homeschooling has provided us for the past five years, ever since we pulled them out of a charter school at the end of second grade. We want the academic challenges available through homeschooling that, frankly, our local high school simply does not provide.
But all those promises you homeschoolers made us when we started out five years ago? They’ve gone unfulfilled. My kids are lonely, and it might be your fault.
“Oh, I know your name!” I hear again as I introduce myself to another local homeschooling mom. “I see it online all the time!”
Of course she does. I’m the one always putting out invitations on homeschooling Facebook groups and email lists. In the past five years, we’ve joined two field trip clubs, two moms’ clubs, a figure skating club, a science fair club, a dance school, 4-H, two separate middle school youth groups, musicals at the YMCA for one child and a string ensemble for the other, and a weekly enrichment program. I have started from scratch a girls’ club, a creative writing club, a chess club, a co-op, a nature hike club, and another science fair club when the first one died. All of these efforts have been sustained for at least one full year, usually two, before we reevaluated and tried something new. We have volunteered for our local food cupboard, children’s hospital, crisis pregnancy center, nursing home, and non-profit home improvement organization serving low-income families. We have sent out general invitations and specific ones, inviting individuals by email, text, phone and in person. We have welcomed people into our home for parties and playdates, barbecues and board games.
We have opened our arms to the general homeschooling public, and we have selected individuals we’ve met and let them know that we’d personally like to invite them into our lives. I have taught my shy kids how to welcome others, even make those dreaded phone calls, even when it’s incredibly hard for them to fight against their introversion.
Why? It goes beyond mere socialization. We have done all these things because Jesus told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked… and welcome the stranger.
We have taken these words of Christ seriously, and yet, with all of these efforts, my twin teens have made exactly one friend between them in five years. That friend’s family sends the kids to public school starting with ninth grade. Guess where my kids want to go next year?
The choice to enroll our twins in public high school or to continue homeschooling remains ours as parents; we will not abandon our kids to make such a huge decision when they are still so young, as wise-for-their-years as they may be. Further, we their parents are fully aware that going to public high school very well may not get them the friends they so dearly want; that it may, in fact, only intensify their loneliness by forcing them to deal with feelings of rejection by a whole crowd five days a week, seven hours a day, not counting bus rides and extracurriculars.
Still, I must ask how we found ourselves here after all the effort we’ve put into the “s” word? Was it something we did? Was it something we neglected to do? Believe me, I’m fully aware how imperfect my kids are, and I’m painfully aware of how imperfect I am. That said, I have to wonder if part of the answer lies in what I hear after that other homeschooling mom says she knows my name from online.
“You have such great ideas,” she says next. “I wish we could fit some of them in. We just always have a conflict.”
That answers why so many of our club-creation efforts have fallen flat in the end. I can only extrapolate from that answer as to why so few people respond in kind to our hospitality. There’s always a conflict. There’s no room in others’ schedules for my kids.
I get it. We are all so, so, so very busy. With what are we filling our schedules, though? Academics are important. Family time is vital. Extracurriculars broaden their minds and interests. Yet spiritual growth, building our paths to heaven, is really what it’s all about in the end. So how does the “s” word figure into our spiritual growth and that of our children?
Are you making time to welcome the stranger? Are you approaching that mom sitting on the outskirts of that playdate? Are you getting to know that mom who’s been around at co-op for months (or years) but doesn’t seem to really talk to anyone? And then are you trying at least one more time, when maybe she doesn’t seem to open up right away? Are you making a return of hospitality, even if your housekeeping is not Instagram material? Are you telling your kids to do more than just cling to the friends they’ve already made and to make room in their groups for kids they don’t know well? Are you teaching your kids how to invite people over and not to rely solely on you for their social lives (because that will get embarrassing and insulting before you know it)? Are you willing to let people into your circle when they might not at first glance look or act like someone you’d choose for a friend—the shy, the different, the disabled? Are you teaching your kids in both word and example to look for signs of loneliness in others and to try to remedy those signs?
My husband and I regularly tell our kids that our goal is not to get them into a good college; our goal is to get them into heaven. Jesus has made it pretty clear that welcoming strangers is part of being with Him in eternity.
My kids and I have done our part. The question is, have you?
Alas, the Holy Spirit may be drawing my kids to public high school. Their loneliness might be His way of leading them to bring His welcome a new set of strangers. I pray for their safety and for whatever their next mission is to bear good fruit. I have grown to love homeschooling, though. I only wish all those promises the homeschooling world made us five years ago about the “s” word had been fulfilled in my teens’ lives.
It doesn’t matter how many clubs we join or start. If you’re not welcoming us, we all lose out.
by Guest Author