I’ve recently returned from spending time with extended family, as many of us do around the holidays. And like some of you, we are the only members of our extended family that homeschool. As the kids run around, the dads watch the game or head outside to do manly things – the moms chat. Work, life, houses, clothes, teenagers and eventually school are all topics up for grabs. Sounds familiar, right?
The thing that struck me this time around was the similarities rather than the differences. We still do math in our pajamas a few times a week, don’t get me wrong. But when it came down to the struggles our children faced with bullying, mean girls and cliques – it’s all pretty much the same. I think I shocked some family members when I told them that we have dealt with such things. Well, we do. Maybe your homeschool family does not but from my limited experience, I’ve realized my children will learn right along side their public school counterparts how to deal with mean girls, mean bullies and their reactions in these situations. Most homeschool families are no longer living in a bubble and because of that, our children face many of the same struggles that public school children face.
We attend a wonderful homeschool enrichment program. It’s run by amazing, self-sacrificing people and staffed by volunteers. But every Friday this crazy thing happens. Over one hundred sinners fill the halls of our old-elementary-school-turned-church to attend the Friday School program. Sinners! Can you believe it?! People from miles around have the audacity to send their little sinners to a homeschool enrichment program! And as I hang my head in shame, I’ll admit to being one of them. I believe that we are all born sinners. Jesus Christ died a very long time ago to save us from our sins. But as children are growing, they learn how to control that sinful nature. In that learning, good and bad choices are made. Sometimes it’s your children making the good choices and being the victim of another’s bad choices. Sometimes it’s the other way around. But I can say, without a doubt, that when a bunch of children that are still working on controlling their sinful nature are gathered together, no matter what the environment – there’s a good chance that some bad choices will be made.
It’s easy to stand outside and look in, making assumptions about what’s going on ‘over there.’ I think that’s what happens with homeschoolers and public schoolers. We are so busy judging each others’ educational decisions, we forget that we are all parents. Parents that love our children and are trying our very hardest to raise children that serve the Lord, function as members of their communities and are generally pleasant to be around. Even though our educational choices may be different, we can still encourage one another to keep on moving forward with this hard thing called parenthood.
So as a parent that happens to homeschool, it may be surprising for a public school parent to hear me say ‘I understand’ when she shares a difficult situation about bullying. But the sad reality is that we have experienced bullying. My daughters have felt the sting of cliques and the hurtfulness of mean girls. They have been the bully or the mean girl. We are all raising sinners – whether we choose to educate them at home or in a school setting – and pretending that one is relationally easier than the other only creates dividing lines that do not need to exist.
The best thing a parent can do to prevent bullying or mean girls is to teach at home. I’m not talking about math or science (although you can email me if you’re curious about how that works!). I’m talking about teaching kindness, empathy and compassion. A strong sense of self and the courage to stand up for what they believe to be right. The kind of character qualities and expectations it seems our society has lost in so many ways that are written throughout the book of Proverbs in what many call an outdated, ancient book. Those qualities are what will change the world, the bullies and the mean girls. No new programs. No new curriculum. Simple, old fashioned, God given wisdom.
It’s time to stop pretending that homeschool students are immune to the struggles that face public school children. We have all faced bullies and mean girls. We have all been hurt by the sting of cliques – even long after we graduate from high school. And if we’re completely honest, we will admit that bullying doesn’t end when you graduate. Now is the time to teach our children how to break down the walls cliques erect, to silence the bullies with words of strength and kindness, to calm the mean girls with demonstrations of compassion and self worth. It has nothing to do with where they’re educated. It has everything to do with building in them the character and strength that will make them the kind of person that won’t tolerate such things.