I’ve been enjoying the first day of school pictures of my friends. Keep sharing with me how God is providing friends, teachers, and a good education in your children’s lives! As for us, we’re getting ready to begin our twelfth homeschooling year. Our lives look different than some of our friends, but as brothers and sisters, we still love each other and wish the best for each other!
Quite a long time ago, the Sunday school teacher of our adult Sunday school class asked the class to refrain from talking about school choices with one another. Doing so, he explained, had caused contention, and had become a distraction among the group.
I was a new homeschooling mother. Our class had a mix of parents who sent their children to public schools as well as to Christian schools. I don’t know if there was a genuinely ugly conflict that preceded this instruction, but the announcement both took me by surprise and also caused me to take stock of my own discussions and comments about school. Had I said something hurtful? Was I unintentionally pushing families away? In part because of that announcement, I’ve been listening to my schooling friends and paying attention to my assumptions for awhile now. What I discovered was that more trouble is caused by our lack of communication than actually saying hurtful things. In fact, creating taboo discussions makes the problem worse!
A Better Way
In light of our desire to proactively build relationships with each other, we’re going to have to talk about school. Regardless of how you educate your children, school is a major part of a parent’s life. If we can’t or don’t talk about school, we miss an opportunity to learn how to love each other. We can’t pray for each other because we don’t know how to pray!
When we avoid talking about school, we can be overly sensitive and imagine judgement where none exists. My brothers and sisters don’t answer to me for their choices. I don’t know all of the circumstances that lead them to make a particular decision. If we didn’t think our choices mattered, wouldn’t we just do the easiest thing? Yet my job isn’t to persuade others to make the same choices I did. In the silence, we may feel discomfort and feel as though the different choices signal contempt as much as disagreement.
What do we say, then? How do we listen to one another?
Well, I have just a couple ideas that I like. Perhaps you can share some of yours.
First, let’s bring up the subject. Start with “What school do you/ your kids go to?” When they give an actual school, don’t stop talking! Ask “Do they have good teachers this year? How can I pray for them?” When there’s a school holiday, make plans to meet a traditional schooling family at the park! Get together for lunch! Or get together for dinner any time! Many mothers aren’t sure if the homeschoolers even want to be friends with their children; don’t let that be true for you.
If your children attend a traditional school, you may also be uncomfortable talking about school with homeschooling mamas. Don’t be! Find out what they like to teach, and what is hard for them. Every homeschool mama feels inadequate for their task sometimes. Ask them how you can pray for them as they teach their children. Take a risk and ask them how they came to the decision to homeschool, and then share how God has led you.
When we ask these questions, we aren’t suggesting that we agree perfectly about what’s best for our own families, nor even what is best for children in general. We are communicating that we can love well even when we make different choices. Perhaps, some of us will change our approach or make adjustments in our lives as a result of these conversations. But if not, we can still love each other!
Avoid Harmful Assumptions about Each Other
As you learn to know and love your neighbor, you’ll find the negative assumptions don’t have room to settle down. We start to learn the back stories, and the challenges, and the burdens we both carry. Along the way, though, when you recognize the assumptions, you’ll have to root them out!
Perhaps you have experienced a time when you made an assessment about a person, and then discovered later you were horribly wrong in your thinking. Being slow to speak and quick to hear goes a long way in preventing these misunderstandings.
We don’t know all the reasons a person makes the choices they do. And we don’t know what God is doing in their lives. For these reasons, we need to be careful making negative assumptions. It is far better to assume the best possible interpretation of their decisions.
Don’t assume the only parents who are active teachers of their children are homeschoolers. That’s insulting! I see this on social media where a homeschooling parent will post a fabulous example of active parenting. It’s got a #homeschoolinglife tag or something similar. If I were a schooling family, I’d feel amused (and perhaps on some days annoyed) at the assumption that only homeschooling parents do cool science experiments with their family, or read big chapter books together, or plan educational field trips.
Don’t assume we know all the risks other parents face. Every family is different. We don’t always see the behavior problems, the hidden disabilities, the marriage and family disagreements, or the needs of individuals in each family.
Keep in mind that one parent may be open (and desire) a particular school choice, but the other parent may disagree. Don’t assume a person is making a school choice out of fear or laziness!
When I was new to homeschooling and my children were in early elementary grades, I made the faulty assumption that homeschooling young children was about the same as homeschooling highschool students. I learned as my children grew older that homeschooling older children carried additional difficulties that I didn’t understand. Other parents may make similar assumptions about children with special needs, or financial obligations, and so on.
Many of these assumptions will evaporate as we get to know each other, but in the meantime, think the best. Love does that.
Look for What You Have in Common!
As I talk with my friends who have kids in school, I’ve been encouraged to see how much we have in common. We care about whether our children are adequately prepared for the future. We pray for godly friends. We are happy when our children have opportunities to share the gospel or talk about spiritual things with a peer. It’s possible our school choices sensitize us to particular ways to pray and prepare our children, and that’s an asset when we are friends with Christians who are different from us! For example, I’ve become more aware of the need for our children to have opportunities to share their testimony and love people who aren’t Christians, as a result of friends who don’t home school and think I’m a little crazy for doing so! We share the desire for spiritual growth in our children, and I’ve caught some of their particular vision and applied it to our specific lives.
Pray for One Another
We all have blind spots, and it’s not our job to go looking for them in others. However, if we see what we believe is a blind spot in our sister, we can pray far sooner than speak up. God might make room for a conversation in the future, and our sister might make room in her heart to listen, and we might have the humility and even be on the right side of truth to say something. Until then, let’s begin with prayer.
If you believe home school families are missing opportunities to be salt and light, why not pray that God will give opportunities to your homeschooling friends to share the gospel?
If you believe traditional schooled families are in danger of being corrupted, why not pray for discernment, and for godly friends and teachers?
Whatever your reasons for making choices in schooling, take the time to pray for those who choose differently. We are part of the same team, and need each other. We benefit from the diversity within the body. We minister to different people as a result of different circumstances. May our conversations together be full of kindness and mercy!
Extremely sensitive and affirming article. Raises some important issues and gentle warnings regarding manifesting a critical spirit and communicating with a prideful spirit. Well done. My only concern is that the article may communicate that the choice of children school is a “neutral” choice without consequences. The “typical” environments of public, christian and home schooling are significantly different. God holds parents responsible for parental choices. This decision exists in a milieu of variation in 1) Family Christian maturity including discernment and committment, 2) Financial capability 3) Educational/academic quality/gifting and 4) The Social environment. Each of these exist on a continuum –New, novice, immature Christian family or thoroughly grounded; Financially limited to well off; Pedagogical giftedness, temperament and academic skill of the parent–from poor to excellent; educational social environment of a school from conservative to godless, to vulgar, to worldly saturated. Parents can make horrific, naive, and terrible decisions and they can make wise, discerning and humble decisions. There are also variations in motivations. People can be motivated by Godliness, pride or materialism. Humans are masters in doing something for a real motive and then masking their true motive with a more pure sounding motive. Believe me, I have heard some doozies. So while I agree with not being the school police for others, that does not mean that every parental choice for schooling is equally good. It also means that some parental decisions are foolish, shortsighted, worldly and sinful. May God give all parents spiritual understanding, internal honesty and discernment for the choices that they make for their children.
On a practical note rather that telling someone what they “ought” to do, maybe it would be better to share the knowledge, facts and values that guided your decision.
Thanks for these helpful thoughts. I appreciate your caution. I agree that our school choices are far from neutral, and I’m still trying to figure out how to be passionate and humble in expressing my opinions! I like your perspective about our decisions happening on a continuum, and also how sharing why we do what we do can be helpful as we encourage each other.