Quick! Why are you different than me?

A couple weeks ago I was in a McDonald’s Playland, thankful my children weren’t markedly increasing the decibel level, when one of my girls ran up to me (towing a 3-year-old Korean girl) and introduced her new best friend.

I had been eying the mother, wondering about introducing myself, and very shortly had my opening.

It is my opinion that about a third of parents in such a setting are very eager for conversation. The trick is recognizing which ones they are.  Assuming I, too, am one of that minority on a given day.

The other mother talked about her challenges, what brought her to Alaska, and got around to asking me what school my kids went to.

I’m beginning to think this is the SAHM’s substitute for the generic “what do you do for a living” conversation staple.

When I said I homeschool my children she was genuinely surprised. In a completely non-nasty way she asked, “Why in the world would you do that?”

And I realised I didn’t have an answer for her.

That isn’t to say I don’t have an answer.  I mean I didn’t have an answer for her.

In the 5-10 minutes I’d been talking with her, I had gotten the broad picture of a person battered in her opinion of herself and her ability to best care for her children.  Any meaningful reasons would sound in her ears like the need for her to teach them how to walk on water.

I fell back on my generic “Oh their father and I were both homeschooled. It’s our normal.”

But she was genuine enough that wasn’t enough for her.

“I’ve heard all sorts of scary stories from my [Public School Principal Friend] about former homeschoolers who were utterly unprepared academically.”

Again, this wasn’t at all oppositional.  She’d never been introduced to an alternate line of thinking.

As gently as I could (not wanting to undermine/discredit PSPF), I pointed out that PSPF never would have an opportunity to meet the homeschoolers who were thriving, and weren’t there plenty of stories about non-homeschoolers struggling in the same areas?

She acknowledged this with a look of surprise, but went on, as can be expected, to personal defensiveness.

This was what I had wanted to avoid by focusing on Jay’s and my background. There are lots of reasons to homeschool, and our reasons primarily hinge on things that will make non-homeschoolers very defensive (here’s an example, if you need it), so I try not to quickly go there, since I don’t feel it’s very productive.

She claimed, rightly or not, that her limited English would be a huge preventative to her children learning. In fact, she insisted by way of example, it was because of her that her children had been so slow in learning even to speak.

And I knew sadly I was out of my depth.

I tried to speak some encouraging things about the effectiveness of reading aloud, the success of a Korean homeschooling mother I know. I urged her not to worry about developmental tables, and didn’t even get into sign language as a stop gap for language acquisition, because her eyes were already glazing over.

But by the end of the 45 minutes together, what came to my eye was a tired mom who’d never been encouraged in (or maybe even informed of) her level of influence over her own daughters.  She was tragically resigned to “staying out of the way of the professionals.” And it gave me a new category of public schoolers.

We all categorize.  Some call it stereotyping (I think that’s too narrow a word). It helps us make sense of the world around us.

I’ve been using the phrase “outsourcing parenting” when discussing the choice to stick a child in daycare/preschool/public school, and after meeting this fearful lady, I have a new sub-category.

I will admit I’ve used the phrase somewhat scornfully about “people in general” who just do it because that’s what Americans do, and with more understanding when I actually know the people who make those choices, but with this lady it seemed to be more visceral than either of those options.

It was Frederica Mathewes-Green who made the observation, “No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.”

That’s the sense I got from this mother.  She was sacrificing herself (I might say her self-esteem) on the mistaken assumption that someone else had to do a better job than her.  Because they were someone else.

Someday, when I’m wiser, and I hope not too much older, I pray I will discover my “elevator pitch” for homeschooling. That perfect, 15-30 second soundbite that encapsulates my reasons for this decision.

Then if someone feels the need to argue and/or defend their reason(s) for a different choice, at least I know I’ve said what I should say. Because, really, if they were listening, that’s what they asked me to say.

One thought on “Quick! Why are you different than me?

  1. Mom Teena says:

    I home-schooled because there was no other choice and still keep our family in tact and living the lifestyle we had chosen. However, I was quick to see the advantages in my opinion: direct control over subject matter, more individually tailored instruction to meet the needs of very different personalities and abilities, less wasted time on non-essentials, etc. There are more, but I can’t think of them right off the top of my head.

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