I have not reached the end of any conversations about homeschooling without receiving some variation of the socialization question. It comes in many forms. Won’t your children be sheltered and socially awkward? How will they make any friends? Don’t they need spend their time with kids their own age?
The question is entirely understandable. Many of us built our first friendships on school grounds. I have relatives who have found life-long love with their high school, and even middle school, sweethearts. I know that we can find companionship and fellowship in school environments. For that reason, the question of socialization was an important one for me to answer as our family considered embarking on our homeschool journey.
The Purpose of Socialization
At the heart of the socialization question is concern about our children’s ability to make friends and “fit in” with their peers. We want to ensure that our children are capable of holding their own in their personal relationships and in public settings. Finally, we want our children to build lasting relationships and thrive among their peers. Those are valid concerns but I believe they neglect a fundamental component of socialization. Socialization to what end?
According to sociologists and anthropologist, socialization is “a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.’ Arguing that homeschooling detracts from socialization begs the question, “Who are we socializing our children into becoming?” I don’t know about you, but I am raising adults. I know they are cute and squishy right now but one day they will be cute, but less squishy adults with responsibilities, professions, and callings. If that is the case, perhaps it is not such a far fetch idea that I would want their primary influence and instrument of socialization to be their (adult) parents and other likeminded adults.
Ultimately, we would like to release our children into the world with our influence as an ever-present guidepost. The time we have to instill values, mores, and disciplines is limited. Homeschooling is an efficient way of redeeming that time. This is not to say that you lose all influence over your child when you send them to school. (I despise the mommy guilt/shaming culture that deals in fear to make parents feel incompetent----more on that in another post.) I do believe, however, that educating your children at home can help you be more strategic in socializing your children.
Strategic socialization is not a network-marketing tool. Instead, it is how we instill appropriate social skills into our little ones. It is an ongoing process and an organic algorithm that includes play dates, children’s church, piano lessons, co-ops, family visits, volunteering, sibling play, and cuddle time conversations with Mommy and Daddy.
You might think this kind of socialization would necessitate a hover-parenting approach to life but I have found the opposite to be true for our family. I am fortunate to be able to spend so much time talking to, playing with, and being questioned by my oldest daughter that, not only is it a relief when she steps out to interact with others (Homeschool mom burn out is real, especially for introverts like me!), but I use those opportunities to “test out” the effectiveness of the values, behaviors, and social skills we instill at home.
We fail these tests often.
For example, because my E-bear (my oldest) is able to get up and go to the bathroom whenever she pleases during the day, it took a few practice rounds at our church’s children’s ministry before she got the hang of raising her hands before getting out of her seat. That isn’t too big of a deal. After all, when she is an adult, she is free to head to the potty at will.
Sometimes, though, we fail miserably.
If there is one area where this failure is most evident it is in how well my girls handle my divided attention. I mean, how many times can one repeat “Mommy” while their mother has a 5-minute conversation with a friend? It is frustrating for me, but in truth, it is to be expected. For the majority of the day, they have my undivided attention. That doesn’t mean that I do everything for them, but it does mean that they are accustom to instant access to me. So when we go out and mommy meets with other people, the struggle gets real!
“Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. Mommy can I…? Mommy should I…?”
Back to the drawing board.
It is frustrating but it isn’t an indictment against homeschooling. It’s just something we will work on. I say "we" because part of working this out includes some growth on my part. I can set better boundaries. I can be more prepared with things to keep them occupied when I have an engagement. We can help them develop patience. We can learn. Remember, socialization is an ongoing process, so even Mommy and Daddy don’t have it all together. I remember being awkward and inappropriate at times as a child and I have plenty of awkward and inappropriate moments as an adult. I am grateful to be able to walk my girls through those awkward and inappropriate moments in the comfort of our own home.