Monday, July 19, 2010

The Importance of Community

Moms (or dads) were not meant to homeschool alone. Often, we’re so busy lining up activities for our kids that we forget to line up activities for ourselves. No, I am not advocating adding “another thing” to our overcrowded schedules that will cause more stress than it cures. I’m talking about making sure that we have like-minded people around us who can inspire and encourage us.

Community activities such as online homeschool groups, emails, and phone calls can be done in your pjs—alone at home. These activities are great for asking questions about curricula, finding out about new programs, reading encouraging articles, and gleaning information about the next stage in your homeschooling life. They’re great for not feeling totally alone on the homeschooling journey. They reiterate that you’re not the only one whose tenth grader decided she didn’t like chemistry and quite trying. They’re great for generating new ideas on storing craft projects, school projects, and books. Online homeschool communities provide a wealth of information.

But, computers and telephones shouldn’t be the only communities on which you rely in your homeschooling life. And having eight kids in the house 24/7 doesn’t count for a community, either!

We need real, live, big-people hugs. We need to be able to look our friends in the eyes, see them nod empathetically, and pour our hearts out.

Husbands are great, really, but we still need girlfriends who have walked a mile in our shoes. While my husband whole-heartedly supports our homeschool, he’s not actually teaching algebra every day or trying to figure out how to make a transcript. Yes, you need your husband’s support and he can give you a hug and tell you that everything will turn out all right. He can even read the riot act to the teenager to get her attitude straightened up. But, he’s not in the trenches day in and day out.

I don’t want to discount the importance of relying on God, either. If God is left out of the equation, our homeschool won’t add up to all it could otherwise be. Solomon’s advice on friendship emphasizes this. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–12, NKJV).

We need real, live fellow homeschooling moms with whom you can interact on a regular basis. We need other women who are doing the same thing we are doing every day. When we drop our kids off for co-op classes, 4-H, or soccer practice, we’re depriving ourselves of a chance to connect with other moms. I’m the first to say, “You don’t understand how desperately I need five minutes to myself” because I do need time to myself, too. That’s a topic for another day, though.

Here are a few ideas on creating homeschooling communities for yourself: Take the chance and introduce yourself to the other soccer moms; reach out to a new homeschooling mom; don’t pull back from the hug proffered by someone you don’t know well. Most of all don’t be superficial. Real community is not fostered by fakeness. Real community is fostered by transparent emotions, by revealing our weaknesses, and by forgiving others when they don’t meet our expectations.

In case anyone’s wondering, I wrote this for myself. I’d rather smile and pretend that I’m a super, organized, homeschool mom who has it all together than admit that I struggle with scheduling my time and teenage attitudes. I’d rather hold onto my hurt when I feel brushed aside than forgive and loosen my hold on expectations. I’d rather rush to eat lunch at home after church than admit I need a hug and to talk. I need to embrace the community that’s around me instead of holding it aloof.

One final thought: “The poor man is hated even by his own neighbor, but the rich has many friends” (Proverbs 14:20, NKJV). In other words, the thriving homeschooler has a community to inspire and encourage her.

This article appeared over in the Heart of the Matter Online community a few weeks ago. The picture above is me (on the left) and a friend from college who also homeschools. We met for a much-needed girlfriends' weekend a few months ago.

Q4U: What steps are you taking to ensure that you have a community to inspire and encourage you in your homeschooling journey?