“Power shapes what a person does, influence shapes who they become“. Erwin McManus
Apparently we were being watched. We had travelled to a new town and didn’t know many people, so we decided to wander around town. The roasted bean fragrance from the street lured me into a trendy coffee shop. Stranger-watching amused us, but the fireplace kept us there on this January winter day.
I had finished my non-fat cappuccino. The kids finished their Schweppes. We were at the bitter end of our Professor Noggins ocean card game and a middle aged man walked up to our table. “These all yours?”
Common question I’ve heard repeatedly since my third was born. The fourth child took the curiosity to a whole new level. So I’d heard the question so often that I’d finally given up on my sarcastic reactions. “Yup, all mine,” with a smile.
“Well, you have a beautiful family.”
Surprised at his sincerity, I said a simple thank you.
“You have to tell me how you’ve done it. They’re just all well-behaved and good to each other.”
Ha. Not always, my friend, I think to myself. Wish his perception was my continual reality. Having said that, I could see that they considered each other, helped each other, spoke gently to each other lots of the time.
I don’t have a secret. Of course, you knew that.
But in my quest to socialize my children, I’ve learned…
1. Forced association is not socialization.
Why are people worried about my children being socialized? Do my children have routine opportunities to spend seven hours with twenty four other children? Would I be happy hanging out with another twenty five people every day if I could choose it?
Yes, I have to put an effort into connecting with others. But I get to decide who those ‘others’ are and how they influence my family.
One of my kiddos has learned how to come out of her shell. Others never owned a shell. Some have learned to give other kids a chance that they might not instinctively connect with. They are learning to be kind to others that aren’t always kind to them. Some of them are learning to curb their sharp tongues with the assistance of their mama (but probably also learning sharp quips from her too).
They’re learning to consider their siblings. They’re learning not to bicker, but rather talk things through, and to listen to each other’s perspective.
They’re exposed to a regular community. They regularly interact with adults, whether they’re my friends, kids of all ages, parents of other kids, service strangers (post office, grocer, café), and their music teachers. And they talk to them as comfortably as they’re talking to me.
We’re doing things differently, but we aren’t lone social islands.
2. Who I am, my focus, my struggles, my idiosyncrasies, and my strengths rub off on my children.
Who else was I hoping they would mirror? They were born onto this earth because I chose to bear them, because I wanted children. Who else should lead them, guide them, parent them? I didn’t have them to turn them over to the someone else to parent.
Having said that, it’s a misnomer to suggest my children are mentored just by me. There are loads of people in their family and their community that shape who they are becoming: youth leaders, dance teachers, choir directors, friends, and family.
Suggest that they are picking up too many of my bad habits? Frickin, yup (that might be me). But when I see something negative reflecting back at me, I consider if there is something inward I need to look at. Self-examination has been my constant companion as I parent my children. Sometimes it’s them, not me. They are separate people in fact.
3. Socialization and social opportunity aren’t the same things.
Social opportunities abound. My children, and most home educated kids I know, attend youth groups, hang out with friends, travel to new cities or countries, attend guitar and piano lessons, homeschool co-ops, college classes, dance classes, gymnastics, choir, swim lessons and soccer camps…I could go on and on. We’ve got more time to be with other people now that we’re educating at home.
Socialization opportunities also abound, and is an ongoing effort. Teaching kindness, patience, consideration, a sharing spirit–these get taught every single day. My children have siblings; therefore, constant opportunities abound.
They learn to be confident partly because I am also confident. But I think mostly because they are listened to, looked in the eye, spent time with in a slow, organic way: in other words, they know they’re important because they are important in our lives.
4. What you see isn’t what you get.
Nice kids aren’t always nice. Perfectly kind people don’t exist. There are stories behind the stories in everyone’s life. My husband and I have moments where our eyes are rolling, heads steaming, extreme deep breathing, trying to avoid yelling or throwing consequences around equal to my consumption of Lays potato chips once a month. But we get to work at our socialization as often as we help our kids learn theirs, so it’s all good.
Thank you random stranger. In the end, I accepted that stranger’s compliment. The hard work I put in every day is well worth the effort, and it’s nice to have it recognized.
So what’s the secret? There isn’t one. But you knew that too.