Homeschooling: Handling Skeptical Extended Family

A guest post by Jesse.

Watching my wife set out on the path to homeschooling, I knew that what she needed most was support.

I never doubted her ability or dedication towards doing the job for a second.  Filling this role has been the direction she was practically built for, and she’s filled in the blanks with a dedication towards learning how to do those things that she didn’t already know.  She works harder at her job than I sometimes do at mine, and I find myself having to live up to her.

She needed support from me, both emotional and financial, and while both are important, I think it’s that first that would have undermined her choice most.  Money is necessary, sure, but you can find ways to get around the lack if you’re determined (and she is; I’m not exactly bringing home the bacon by the truckload).

Without support, however, I don’t think she could have made it past the first few weeks.  I know I couldn’t have. And so, when she told me about a situation involving a woman and her mother, my heart went out to her. Apparently, this lady is homeschooling her children, and her mother is making critical statements in front of the children.

I heard this, and immediately thought of Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood saying, “I’m gonna cut your heart out with a spoon!”

Later, “Why a spoon, cousin?”

“Because it’s dull, you twit, it’ll hurt more.”

How do you handle this? Everyone’s situation is different, so there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution, but I know how I’d handle it with my own mother, if I were in this poor lady’s shoes. First, I’d have to decide what I’m ultimately hoping to achieve by even saying anything.  Do I want her support, or do I want to just get her to stop making these negative statements?  In my experience, you can’t win support in a single dialog; most people need to think it through on their own, so I’d set my sights toward the more acheivable goal of preventing this negative energy from getting into my life.

I’d take Mom out of earshot, maybe on a walk or some neutral ground, and tell her point blank, “Mom, these things you’re saying about homeschooling hurt me.”

Then I’d keep my mouth shut, and listen. Oh, sure, you can go in with the explanation guns a blazin’, talking about how much better your choice to homeschool is than public schooling, but then again, you already know these reasons.  You believe in the choice you made, otherwise you wouldn’t have devoted so much of your time and energy into a lifestyle that has to be one of the most taxing choices one can make.  Your choice doesn’t need defense, does it?  So why start the conversation in a way that places you automatically into both a combative and an inferior, defensive position?

No, I’d stand on the conviction that my choice doesn’t need defense, at least not yet.  Instead, I’d confront Mom with the repercussions of her comments.  Not with anger, but with honest confusion; as in, why would you choose to hurt me this way?

Then I’d prepare myself for what comes next, and I’d do my best to be open to what I hear. Maybe Mom has truly valid concerns about what I’m doing that she can’t voice any other way.  Maybe she doesn’t understand how her actions affect me.  Maybe she just doesn’t understand what I’m doing, but that’s why I’m doing this; not to hurt her in return, but to open a dialog.

Maybe she’ll just say, “Oh, hey, I’m sorry, didn’t realize.”  I’d forgive her immediatley, but ask her to be candid about her concerns. Maybe she’ll launch into a discussion about why she thinks I can’t do what I’m doing.  That’s going to be hard to hear, but I think perhaps I need to hear it.  If her opinion didn’t matter to me, I wouldn’t be hurt.

In any case, I’d do my best not to play the victim here.  I’d listen, and try to calmly explain this decision I’ve made with my life and the lives of my children.  I’d also remember that while I want her support, I don’t need it.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be carrying on in the face of her actions.

I’d also consider, beforehand, how far I’m willing to go with this should it turn confrontational.  Personally, I’d go as far as possible with a calm attitude, but if I couldn’t keep my composure, I’d tell her that, frankly, these are my children, and while she doesn’t have to respect my decision to me, she does need to respect it in front of my children.  Maintaining discipline is hard enough without having someone scoop the ground out from under my feet.

I don’t think it would get that far, though.  I think if you approach someone with an open hand rather than a closed fist, you can usually come to some terms if they’re willing to stay open as well. She does care enough to voice concerns, if she’s going about it in a hurtful way. And if you handle it with grace, and with tact, that can go a long way towards getting this other person to reconsider you and your decision to homeschool.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mary Jo February 9, 2011, 8:03 am

    “If her opinion didn’t matter to me, I wouldn’t be hurt.” This is SO true! Why is it that we are hurt most by those we love most??? Because the opinions of others don’t matter to us like those of the ones we love.

    This is a great article and reiterates the teachings of Christ in Matthew 18:15 about handling conflict. Not playing the martyr; not going in with guns blazing, but humbly, quietly, privately addressing one who has hurt or wronged you.

    We could do so much honor to the name of Christ and advance a good reputation for homeschooling, if we would all follow this advice!

  • Real Life Sarah
    Twitter: reallifesarah
    February 11, 2011, 8:53 am

    This is great Jesse! I love the part about focusing on the outcome you want. Her opinions probably won’t change, but you CAN ask her not to voice them in front of the children. You can focus on validating the *kids* not the mom. Saying something like, “The kids are really proud of the things they are accomplishing. And they love you so much. You can really help them by encouraging them, instead of criticizing me.”

  • Amy February 11, 2011, 9:10 am

    I LOVE this. It is so well-stated.

    I get “the talk” (aka, her opinion) from my mother-in-law once a year. She basically says the same thing every year, socialization, blah blah blah. I listen politely, but I do not defend my stance. For one thing, this is my husband’s mother, and I try very hard to respect her. For another, my husband and I have already stated our position as to why we are homeschooling. Once is enough for me.

    Will be sharing this with my husband!

  • Amanda (the sister)
    Twitter: RamandaHarvey
    February 13, 2011, 4:12 am

    I like reallifeSarah’s answer: to try to turn the mother toward positive communications. It sounds as if mother is being extremely passive aggressive by bringing up such concerns in front of the children rather than discussing them with homeschooling lady. I hope it all works out in the end for her, but you’re right that she shouldn’t feel the need to defend herself–the decision she has made will speak for itself in the long run, anyway. Hopefully, her mother will eventually realize that she isn’t failing her children when she sees that they are successful in their activities.