One thing I never expected to deal with in homeschooling was drama – certainly not drama from fellow parents. If anything, I imagined that my kids would have their fair share of friend drama at some point, but I never considered the possibility that I might also confront parental cliques and have to wade through the waters of rejection and gossip that go right along with scenes out of Heathers. It turns out I was naive: parental drama is commonplace.
As an outspoken person, I have inadvertently offended homeschooling friends without even knowing I did so; I have apologized for my mistakes; I have lost friends who were not willing to give me a second chance; and I have forgiven others who have hurt me. Rejection stories abound within the homeschooling community – I often meet parents who are struggling to readjust after devastating social experiences. Because of this, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the social dynamics amongst homeschooling parents and how to avoid – and resolve – drama. Here are my six suggestions:
- Always remember that homeschooling friendships are first-and-foremost about the kids, not the parents. We go to great lengths to find and befriend fellow homeschooling families so that our children can form long-lasting friendships. The groups we join, the classes we take our kids to, the field trips we arrange, etc., are not for us – they are for our children. It can be a great bonus to make friends ourselves within a homeschooling community, but the reason the majority of us are a part of these communities at all is for the benefit of our kids. We should try not to lose sight of this as we interact with fellow parents. It is worth maintaining respectful relationships with them – they don’t have to be our BFF’s, but we should aim to always keep it kind and cordial – for our kids’ sake.
- When an issue arises with a parent of one of our children’s friends, we should try not to gossip about them to other parents. This is so basic that it feels silly to mention, but people gossip all of the time. We all do. We often don’t even realize we’re doing it … we think we are just sharing experiences in order to get feedback. The problem is that speaking about other people behind their backs not only destroys trust between us and them, but it also shows the person we’re sharing with that we can’t be trusted. Does it help us resolve our issue? Usually not. Usually it only helps us feel justified and supported in our hurt feelings and creates a greater chasm between ourselves and the friend we have conflict with. If we are people that find it necessarily to verbally process difficult situations, the key to doing this harmlessly, I believe, is choosing a neutral person to share with. A sibling, partner, or close friend outside of our homeschooling circle can offer us advice without bias.
- Do your best to resolve the conflict face-to-face. With email and texting constantly at our fingertips, it takes extra effort to arrange to meet someone face-to-face. But when conflict arises, it is worth postponing communication for a time in order to arrange an in-person meeting with our friend. I have lost friends from not doing this. Even the best intended emails and texts can be misinterpreted when sensitive emotions are involved. Do we feel slighted by someone? Did we slight someone else? We should ask them to meet with us in person so that we can look into their eyes as we apologize for what we did wrong or explain to them how what they did hurt us. After all, if we are hurt by someone it means we care about them – people we don’t care about can’t hurt us. And if we care about this person (and especially if your child cares about their child) it is worth putting extra effort into resolving the conflict.
- Do unto others as you would have done unto you … or more importantly, as you would have done unto your children. Again, a basic moral rule here, but one that is often forgotten. If a fellow parent says or does something that hurts us, it is easy to react by shutting them out, badmouthing them to other parents, avoiding them at events, and otherwise pushing them out of our social circle. But what if we were that parent? What if we said or did something that was interpreted as an offense, but no one took the time to ask us what we meant by our words or actions? What if we were ostracized and pushed out of the social group that included all of our children’s homeschooling friends? We should be thoughtful before judging another parent’s behavior; we should take a moment to put ourselves in their shoes. It’s important to realize that not only are our children’s carefully earned friendships at stake, but that the way we handle discord will set a lasting example for them. The majority of us homeschoolers are sincere people who want what’s best for our kids, yet we are not necessarily experts at navigating social minutiae. We make mistakes. Mistakes that are usually forgivable (who hasn’t had a bad day? Or a bad year?). Which brings be to my next point …
- Be compassionate. Let’s not assume that we know the whole story – almost without a doubt, we don’t. Did someone say something that just thoroughly rubbed us wrong? Let’s ask ourselves if they meant to rub us wrong and/or insult us, or if they just tend to be more vocal and forthright than we are comfortable with. Let’s also ask ourselves what might be going on in their personal lives to leave them weary and unable to react with the same patience and poise as they might normally do. Judging with our hearts instead of our heads will go a long way towards keeping drama at bay. This is not to say that we should take flak from people or accept verbal attacks – it is imperative that we tell someone if we feel offended by their behavior – but leaning towards forgiveness and giving second chances rather than cutting ties at the first sign of dissonance is worth striving for. Our children will thank us someday – compassion on our parts might result in them keeping a friend they care deeply about – and more often than not, the offensive comment was unintended. So before we take someone’s remarks or actions personally and pass judgement on their character, I believe we should do our best to compassionately understand where they are coming from. Everyone gains when we let our hearts lead.
- Be forgiving. When forgiveness is possible, forgive. In our lives before children, it may have made sense to pridefully stand our ground when someone did something we did not agree with … but not so much now. We are constant examples to our kids, and they are learning how to treat other people through us. Again, if someone truly does something erroneous – like put our child in a dangerous situation – it is probably wisest to cut ties with them and move on after explaining to them why you are doing so. But for the typical homeschool parent faux pas – like inadvertently criticizing the curriculum we use, or not showing up to an event we organized – forgiveness should not be reserved. It seems to me that many people do not forgive because they feel as though they are weakening themselves when they do so … as if they are allowing people to walk all over them. But I have personally found the opposite to be true. When I forgive, I feel stronger. I feel safer and more secure and more energized than when I ceaselessly hold on to hurt feelings. Maintaining pain is exhausting. If at all possible, consider forgiving fellow parents who, like you, are trying their best to cultivate warm, welcoming communities for their children.
These steps are clearly not gospel – they are simply the guidelines I’ve cultivated in my own social world to keep relationships with my friends and acquaintances as healthy as possible. I share them now because I believe that we collectively have much to gain by keeping our homeschooling relationships strong, and much to lose by severing ties and isolating ourselves from the larger homeschooling community in Portland. This is not a huge city, and, as homeschooling parents, we are connected more than we realize – let’s each do our best to keep this network healthy and thriving!