After a recent exchange with an online friend, I got to thinking about how much (or how little) support we had when we started homeschooling.
We started when Anne entered first grade, because we were concerned about keeping her love of learning alive. Some of her preschool and kindergarten experiences had left her -- ahem -- less than enthusiastic.
I investigated homeschooling all through her Kindergarten year, finding out about the process, and possible curriculum, researching the legalities and scoping out the support systems available in our community.
Atticus was a bit reluctant, given that he's a public school teacher, and we both support the ideals of public education. But, solid investigation, convincing evidence about the benefits, and ongoing conversations about what I'd learned paved the way for acceptance. By the time Anne's Kindergarten year ended, Atticus had both come into the Catholic Church and was completely on board with homeschooling.
We dove in the following year and I began to take advantage of the aforementioned support systems in our community.
Oh, wait a minute. There weren't any.
Well, no, that's not entirely true.
In my early research, I'd looked for some other Catholic homeschoolers. They were scarce in our parish. Among fellow churchgoers, there was only one homeschooling family. They had a daughter in college and a son in junior high. Hmmm. Not exactly ready-made playmates for my children.
And, the mom in that family gently warned me away from the local Protestant homeschooling group, as she'd felt criticized and challenged by them for her Catholicism. She was a lovely person, though, who eventually helped us out with state paperwork, and some hand-me-down curriculum, for which I was very grateful. But, realistically, I knew that our families wouldn't cross homeschooling paths very often.
I knew two other women who had actually homeschooled for a time. They invited me out for coffee during my fact-finding mission and tried to talk me out of homeschooling. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. They'd both hated their experiences, and wanted to be sure I was getting all sides of the story, not just the rosy pictures painted by homeschooling books and websites. (One of those women is still a dear, close friend of mine, and we now share a good laugh over her dire warnings.)
To get back to my point: local support was not abundant. But, I was so drawn to the idea of homeschooling that I pushed on. I looked at my options:
Option One: Give up homeschooling.
Nope. Couldn't do that. It just sounded too good.
Option Two: Take my chances with the local Protestant group.
Hmmm. Yes ... entirely possible. I wasn't intimidated by other people's views of my faith.
Option Three: Tailor my support from among our school-attending friends.
Yeah, yeah, that's the ticket. We already had friends ... I'd just hang on to those friends, right?
Yes and no (with a little more on that later.) Ultimately, what I did was an evolving combination of Options Two and Three. Although we didn't partake of all of the local group's activities, we did meet one family with whom my kids clicked, and they've remained friends ever since. By remaining open to what the group has to offer, we've been able to find friends and like-minded people in unexpected places.
The tailor-made, school-friend support came from taking advantage of opportunities to keep Anne in touch with her Kindergarten pals. We made after-school play dates, met on weekends, and planned special times together.
Our first year, we also took a "Gym and Swim" class at the Y, and met a homeschooling family that lived about 30 miles away. A new avenue of support! The girls became good friends, but I would never have known that family existed if I hadn't started homeschooling that year.
Over the last seven years, our support system has been a fluid, changing thing. At times, a torrent of activities inundates us. We meet new people and dabble in new things. At other times, life settles into a more enclosed, serene family routine (this has happened when a friend moves away or we simply decide that it's time to pull back and slow down our busy-ness.) And, as sad as we've been to see old friends move away (and it's happened all too often), new friends do seem to wander into our lives. Our needs are met, one way or another.
And for my personal "Mom" support? I've turned to a variety of sources. There's long-distance support, dear friends who homeschool in other towns, with whom we get together a few times a year. There's the telephone, for catching up with my dear friend, Andrea, who once tried to talk me out of homeschooling. There are local friends who, while they don't homeschool, understand everything else that a mom goes through.
The internet and online discussion groups are invaluable, too, and have saved my sanity more than once. Sometimes, the internet has led to real life encounters, like this one. And, it's played a part in helping me connect with a new and -- gasp! -- local homeschooler:
A couple years into our journey, I reached a point of discouragement. Though our first years had gone beautifully, the school-friend dynamic was changing, Anne was getting older, and I was really starting to feel the need for some friends -- for some other homeschooling, Catholic, local friends -- who could become a bigger part of our life. I prayed, in that annoying, insistent way that I have, "Okay, God, now listen: I need someone else, or I may just have to quit homeschooling. I'm not sure I can keep doing this if You don't send someone." Happily, He agreed with me and soon I received an email from a woman saying that she got my name from a regional homeschoolers' directory. She'd be moving to our town soon, and could we arrange to meet? Oh, joy! I was delighted, especially when I met her and we hit it off immediately. As it happens, the whole family is great and they courteously provided a friend for each of my children (two of her kids are girls the same ages as Anne and Betsy; our daughters became instant best friends, and J. and I were each pregnant with the next set of best friends -- Ramona and C.)
It's important to note, too, as I touched on earlier, that a homeschooling mom's best friend might not be another homeschooling mom. Yes, it's great to have other people nearby who understand your lifestyle, but if all you've got is your best girlfriend who sends her kids to school, that doesn't mean she's not "support." If you can get out for some chocolate with a friend you love, well, hey, that works, too. It's all about finding things that will refresh you.
In the end, the question of support is an important one, but it's not the only one. For me, I know that I had to trust that I was capable of providing my children with what they needed, and that God would provide what I couldn't handle. Without a ready-made support net of other homeschoolers, I did have to work a little harder and be a bit more creative with our schedule and our social life, but it has more than paid off. I can honestly say that my kids have never lacked for friends, activities or support.
And, thankfully, neither have I. The support just keeps showing up, in one form or another. Local, long-distance, and bloggity ... it's out there.
(Postscript to the online friend who got me thinking about this post: Please know that I'm not trying to talk you into homeschooling. Really, I'm not. I never presume to know and understand all the nuances of someone else's family, so that's not what this is about. I just wondered if our journey might be helpful or encouraging to someone -- anyone -- out there. So. I'm not as obnoxious as I might seem.)