“Why aren’t your kids in school?”
The lady at the checkout raised her eyebrows accusingly, peering over the rims of her glasses to size up my three children. It was one o’ clock on a Tuesday afternoon and her tone indicated that she highly disapproved of our jaunt to the local Kmart at that time.
“Uh, well, we homeschool,” I replied with a sheepish, apologetic grin. I looked at the plethora of household goods we were purchasing and wondered if she was judging all of that too while she checked us out.
“Well,” she retorted, “They ought to be doing schoolwork then, don’t you think?” Her gaze transformed slightly from harsh judgment to condescending pity. “Hmmmm. Homeschool.” She ran her eyes up and down each of my three kids. “What about socialization?”
As she smiled sweetly and completed our transaction all I could muster was a meager, “Thanks.” For several months after that I intentionally avoided running errands until it was a “normal” time for kids to be out of school.
I didn’t know what to say to people who questioned our choices. I didn’t know if it would work for us or not. I didn’t know how our kids were going to turn out without a “normal” education.
Fast forward about three years. By this time, I was confident enough in our choice to homeschool that when we encountered opposition I saw it as an opportunity to do some “homeschool PR.” I met the (frequent) socialization question with, “Oh, yes, socialization IS a problem. Sometimes we’re having so much fun with all our groups, clubs, and sports, we need to start saying ‘no’ so we can get our academics done!”
After another couple years I found myself inwardly daring someone - anyone - to challenge me about our family’s decision to homeschool. Bring it on! I thought.
I knew why we did it. I knew it was right for our family even though it was different from the norm.
Then I became acquainted with a few other homeschool moms who also knew.
They claimed that homeschooling was right for every family. In fact, it was a mandate given by God that “good Christians” should homeschool their kids. These women also seemed to have some inside scoop on how to properly discipline, which extra curricular activities were appropriate or not, and what behaviors were expected of a good homeschool wife and mother.
I did not fit their particular standards.
Apparently I didn’t know as much as these women did about was right for our family and in our homeschool, so I kept my mouth shut to avoid judgment by these veteran homeschoolers.
It brought me back to the checkout lady at Kmart who scrutinized and judged me and my children because we homeschooled. Now I felt scrutinized and judged by fellow homeschoolers about how I homeschooled.
And woe to those families who chose not to homeschool their children.
My perplexed and quiet observation of these critical women reached its zenith when my husband accepted a position which required us to move to a bigger city about three hours away. The comment I received was, “Oh, we would never move to Madison! It’s such a dark place with such terrible political influences.”
It was time to speak up. I was done with my fear of judgment.
“Well,” I said. “If there’s one thing I learned from living in Los Angeles, it’s that God is everywhere, so I’m pretty sure he’s in Madison too.”
When we moved, I was grateful for the opportunity to hit “reset” on my apologetics skills with both skeptics and fanatics regarding homeschooling.
I had now learned that although I knew what was right for my family I didn’t need to prove it to others.
I also learned that each family has its own journey. I’ll follow God’s path for my family, and they can follow His path for theirs. Education is not “one-size fits all.” (Isn’t that why we homeschool?) If my family’s choices and relationships are bearing good fruit, do we really need to change them (or even appear to change them) to conform to other people’s standards?
I decided it wasn’t worth my time or energy to try to control what others think about homeschooling, about me, or about my family.
In the process, I discovered that being free from my own fear of judgment by others enabled me to have more compassion, love, and acceptance of others.
I even learned to stop judging the homeschool moms who I felt were judging me. (My criticism of their criticism was just as judgmental!)
And guess what? We love Madison. We stayed the course with homeschooling and continued to love each other without creating a list of rules for what homeschooling and family life should look like according to so-and-so.
Did I encounter judgment, prejudice, and criticism from more anti-homeschoolers and more homeschoolers once we moved? Sure. But not enough to rattle me for very long.
God didn’t call our family to homeschool so that I could become wrapped up in other people’s opinions. He simply called me to follow the path He laid out for me and my family and love everyone else right where they’re at.
If I could create a new scenario at the Kmart checkout, it might go something like this:
“Why aren’t your kids in school?” (She peers over her glasses with a disapproving look.)
“Ma’am, we homeschool and we’ve finished for the day.” (I make eye contact and give her a warm smile.)
“Hmmmm. Homeschool.” She runs her eyes up and down each of my three kids. “What about socialization?”
I’m still smiling at her. “It’s a common question we get from most people who aren’t familiar with homeschooling. If you’d like to hear more about it, I’d love to share with you how it works for our family. Would you like me to call you some time to chat about it?” (I wait a moment for her response.) “For now, I’d like to get these kiddos back home. They’ve had a big day of chores, school and errands, and we’ve got a social event after dinner tonight. You have a beautiful afternoon, Ma’am, and thank you so much for your interest in homeschooling.”
This world is full of people who will judge us on both sides of the homeschool pendulum. We get to decide if we want to absorb and/or reflect their critical judgment or simply love them where they’re at and let it go.