The other day, in the grocery store checkout line, a stranger asked my daughter about her school plans for the year. It’s a question we get a lot—I guess because she is now old enough for kindergarten and people see school as a good conversation starter.
But I dread this question.
I dread it for my daughter, who is having a hard time explaining why she isn’t going to school without getting nervous. I dread it for me, too. Every time the conversation comes up, I’m petrified I’m being judged for my decision to homeschool.
At first, I thought my fear of being judged for homeschooling was all in my head, but what happened in the grocery store recently confirmed that it wasn’t just my imagination. The people around us, including complete strangers, had a lot of ideas about the right way to educate a child. After my daughter explained that she was homeschooling, I watched as the cashier’s face turned from curious to a less-than-subtle shade of horrified.
“Kids need socialization,” she said, looking me right in the eye. “I think she would really like school.”
Everything in me wanted to respond to her with the indignation her nosiness deserved. I wanted to tell her my daughter was socialized. I wanted to tell her about all of our homeschool, public and private school friends. I wanted to tell her to mind her own business, that she had no idea what was best for my kid. I wanted her to know we weren’t that kind of homeschool family, whatever that means. I wanted to defend my right to educate my children in whichever way I see fit.
But I didn’t. I just stammered on about “making the decision year-by-year.” “Maybe next year we will do something different,” I said.
I fully expected the day to come when I would need to explain my choice to homeschool my daughter. But when it did, I couldn’t stand up for our family’s decision.
The truth is, I’m still struggling to feel confident in our decision to homeschool. When we’re actually doing the work at home, it seems obvious that it’s the right fit for our family. In part, because I like having my kids home right now. I’m also a big fan of the freedom I have to explore a lot of different topics with my kids, to do nature studies in the afternoon, to read Charlotte’s Web out loud in the mornings while we eat breakfast, to take our books out and have school in our front yard.
Still, I find that my confidence fades as soon as I have to talk about it with a public school parent, and I think it’s because I’m really worried I’m being judged. I’m worried I’ll be seen as some kind of hyper-protective helicopter parent who can’t let her children go. I’m worried people will wonder what we’re trying to hide by keeping our kids home seven days a week. I’m worried people will think I’m the one doing the judging, that I’m looking with disdain on their choice to send their kids to public school.
So, when I’m given the chance to explain our choice, I mostly back off or shut the conversation down altogether. It bothers me that it bothers me so much. I feel especially frustrated with myself when my kids are nearby. I don’t want to give them the wrong idea about homeschooling. I want them to know I like having them home and that I think it’s the best choice for our family, but my response to judgement from other moms tells a different story.
It’s hard enough to make big decisions for our children, when it is just me and my partner trying to steer their lives in the right direction, trying not the screw them up. But what if it’s actually the wrong choice? What if this entire year is one big lesson that my kids belong in public school? Having so many people feeling free to judge our parenting choices when they know so little about our family only makes it harder to know what the right choices are. And when they actually speak up and make their disapproval known? Well, that basically sends me into a spiral of questioning my ability to homeschool my kids—or make any other choice about their future.
So, the next time you think about sharing your opinion with a random mom in a grocery store, think twice about how your words could affect her. Try to remember that she is doing the best she can to make really big, really scary decisions for her family.