Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Independence vs. “parental proximity” (a false dichotomy)

Since publishing this post about feeling possibly called to homeschool and yet potentially not being able to, I’ve received some emails from those of you who find yourselves in a similar situation.  My heart goes out to all of you, and this post is for you… to encourage you, comfort you while your convictions are questioned, and (if you want) to give you ideas of what to share with the people in your lives that, well, may simply think you are crazy. ;)

The general consensus amongst those of us in this situation seems to be that, hidden behind the ever popular “socialization” worries (which can be pretty easily refuted), is this idea that we really just don’t want our children to become independent… we are anxious, hovering mothers, who can’t “let go” of our babies. 

This frustrates me to no end because if all the people in my life truly knew what an introvert I am, and how much I value time to myself as well as peace and quiet, they might have an idea of just how hard it is for me to do what I am convinced is best for my child.  I am a very selfish, self-centered person, and it is a daily struggle, battle even, to do what I see as my vocation, and do it well. I am convinced, however, that joy and peace are found in doing what I feel is right instead of simply what I feel like doing.  The first path is based on thoughtful discernment, and the second is the one really based on emotion.

Sometimes our feelings about the education of our children do come out sounding emotional… due to an overwhelming sense that something just isn’t right, and the inability (on my part anyway) to spit out logical information in a detached way, without using that terrifying phrase, “I feel”.  I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to be detached emotionally from any topic that affects a member of my family… but I don’t necessarily see that as a weakness, just as part of who I am… if mothers weren’t the heart of their families, after all, where would the world be?  It doesn’t mean that everything we say and believe, while having an emotional component, should be completely disregarded as emotional drivel.  (I have to say I’m blessed to have a husband who listens to me {when I finally spell things out for him instead of hoping he can read my mind} and isn’t disrespectful in the least, but I know that isn’t the case with everyone’s husband or extended family members.)

It’s hard to be in a place where your motherly intuition is telling you what your child is and isn’t ready for, which style of education might be best for them, and which lifestyle might be best for your family; and yet to be misunderstood and not taken seriously by those around you who tend to see you as a hindrance to your child’s growth instead of seeing you as an advocate for the healthy growth of each individual child.  Personally, I think much of this stems from a general misunderstanding and lack of respect for the importance of motherhood in society today .  But that is another (very opinionated) post for another time. 

I like the encouragement David Guterson gives in his book, Family Matters: Why Home Schooling Makes Sense, as he comments on the affects school has on the parent/child relationship: 

“[The intuitive sense of parents that something isn’t right] is part of the growing alienation they feel from their children, who gradually become estranged from them as they become ever more deeply immersed in the universe of their school peers – an alienation parents erroneously conclude is a ‘natural’ part of their children’s growing up, a necessary prerequisite to their independent adulthood.  This distance, though, is far from natural, and the dismay parents feel about it ought not to be repressed.” (emphasis mine)

I recently came across a book titled, The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling, by Rachel Gathercole.  In it she discusses this idea of “parental proximity” and why it’s not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, it might be a good thing! Perhaps our current culture doesn’t understand because it views the family unit itself in a rather poor light.  I want to share some of what I’ve read with you, as I found it very encouraging and interesting. 

So enough blathering from me.  I will simply share a few quotes with you…

Rachel Gathercole quotes many homeschoolers – parents and children – in her book.  I think this quote from a homeschooling parent about peer dependence is a good one to start with… Independence from parents at too early of an age doesn’t necessarily lead to independence, but simply to dependence of another sort:

“… I believe the decay of family unity is at the heart of many of the social problems our culture is facing today.  Our culture is in a hurry to rush [little children] off to school, where they are placed in a room full of ten to twenty other little children with only one or two teachers.  Then parents are shocked and horrified when these same children, years later, have become completely peer dependent and cannot identify with their own family.  But peer dependence is the natural outcome of [this type of] education because a child has a real and intense need for relationship.  When that need for relationship cannot be met by an adult (a teacher who is working with many students), then the child will turn to the only other available person, the peer in the classroom.  Consequently, a child comes to value the opinions of his school-age peers more than those of his family… Our children are starving for meaningful relationships and will engage in all kinds of unhealthy activities and behaviors to fulfill that innate need for intimacy.  What a tragedy that we have divided the family for the sake of ‘education.’  Strong family relationships and unity are at the heart of healthy communities – the latter cannot exist in the absence of the former.” – Amy, homeschooling mother of three, upstate New York.


“School socialization, ultimately, is really just training for a school environment.  Family and community-based socialization, on the other hand, is preparation for family and community living (in other words, for real life).” – Gathercole, p. 178


Regarding independence Gathercole writes:

“The idea that early and abundant independence from parents is desirable may be part of an overall societal pressure on kids and parents toward early, forced independence… More and more research is showing, and parents are discovering, that strong attachment bonds between child and parents, not forced independence, creates happy children and healthy socialization. 

The idea that the kids need freedom from their parents at a young age seems based on the premise that parents are a ‘crutch,’ to be cast aside as soon as physically possible.  However, many homeschoolers believe that children need their parents directly available to them for much more of their childhoods than conventional schooling allows.  They want to teach their children what they consider to be healthy social skills, rather than send them to learn whatever skills they might happen to learn from their peers.  And they want themselves and their children to experience the closer family relationships that homeschooling seems to encourage.”


“First [children] must watch their parents model years and years of good decision-making, and they must observe their parents making the careful decisions that they believe are in the child’s (and whole family’s) best interests.  In this way the child can learn firstly, that he is worthy of taking care of and should thus take care of himself, and secondly, that just as his parents make decisions with the whole family’s best interests in mind, so, too, can and should he make decisions that take into account both his best interests and the best interests of others.  The family is the perfect, naturally-designed situation for learning these things.”


“… As kids do reach an age when they can handle and need greater independence, homeschool parents – who have already spent a great deal of time with their kids – are generally very willing to give them a healthily increasing amount of freedom and independence.”

Healthy independence just happens when it naturally should happen.  It does not need to be rushed into or forced.

She also writes this:

“Of course, children do need to be exposed to serious and meaningful things, and this can happen while children feel completely safe, carefree, and not under pressure to rely on their own social savvy before they are prepared to.  Childhood is a time in life when a person can be free and observe, take in, and learn about the world while living under the blanket of safety of parents who are in control and protect them.  Indeed, this may arguably be the very reason children have parents at all.”

And one last quote from another homeschooling mom:

“We all want our children to be able to face life challenges, peer pressure, and all the evils of the world with strength and integrity.  They have a much better shot at this if they have the time and support to develop and grow first.  Children cannot make wise choices until they have the perspective and information about themselves and what’s in front of them.  When they are young, they are mostly influenced by their environment.  It takes time for them to be able to understand an issue to be able to make judgments about it and to act in their own best interest and in the interest of others.

At each age there are things they can handle with wisdom and things they cannot.  Our schools inundate children with things they are not equipped to handle.  I want my children to experience age-appropriate amounts of challenge and difficult choice-making.  I want to help them think it through.  I want to control, to some extent, the amount of exposure they face to the challenges of peer-dominated cultural influences, because I believe that our country is assuming that children should be rushed to grow up, and it is hurting them.  They are toughening up to it but at a personal cost.  And that will cost us all.” – Janice, homeschooling mother of two, Durham, NC


The entire book is well worth reading, by the way, and I hope the little bit I’ve shared here motivates some of you to read it for yourself.  You can find it here.  It would be an excellent resource to hand to someone who has honest questions about the socialization of homeschooled children.

Have a beautiful day with your beautiful children!
Nicole :)


  1. You are not helping with my rather long booklist I have.

  2. Beautifully written, as always. I'm glad Dan is now open to listening!! And thank you for mentioning your intense need for solitude and "being selfish" (I doubt this about you!), versus your belief that this time with M is imperative. I have the same issues regarding Crumpet. I SO want to be alone, and read and sew and be QUIET, and some days I fantasize about sending him off to school, but in my heart, I know he needs to be with me.

  3. Hi Nicole,

    I just came across your site today and saw your struggle about homeschooling. I'm not sure what state you're in, but I'm a credentialed teacher here in California (have taught in private and public schools for the last 10 years). And thought I could provide some insight, as I have a one year old and plan on homeschooling her, well, actually I already am. As it looks like you've been doing with your son already as well. I started out as a homeschooling naysayer and have changed my mind in the last five years. I'll tell you what changed my mind.

    I went to sub at the private school I worked out. First grade. 10 kids. Since the teacher knew me, he asked me to actually give the math lesson so he wouldn't get behind. I'm bad at math, but first grade math I can handle. Here's how it went down: I used the math manipulatives that I had and did an example with the class on the overhead. I did another example. Then asked a question on one and could see one kid got it. 10 examples later about half the kids had it. I changed the way I did the example and came from it at a different angle. Two more kids got it. All this time that first kid just sat and listened already knowing it. Then I realized they needed to finish their workbook page before recess and there were 2 kids left who still didn't get it. I went to them and worked with them for the last ten minutes. They left for recess still not really getting it. And I knew they would go home to do the homework and not be able to! That was the moment I realized, what if it were my kid! The one who got it right away and had to sit through 15-20 min of hearing more examples of what he already knew. Or the one who never got it and would be expected to understand it the next day when they moved on to the next concept (and in math the concepts build on each other!) I was horrified. I had up until that point known some homeschooled kids and thought they were weird. I had had a few kids in my classroom who had been homeschooled and they were weird and way behind academically. But, after that day subbing I decided to look into it more.

    What I realized is that those weird kids, had weird parents. And they would have been weird kids at public school too (and probably bullied). And the ones who were academically behind had parents who didn't give a hoot about any type of organization or holding their kids accountable for anything. So, yes, I'm homeschooling my daughter now, and I will continue to do so until she either graduates from high school or decides to go to public high school.

    It looks like you're putting him in a private school. I'm not sure of your reasoning behind this, but if they're following state standards and testing, you might want to save some money and just put him in public school. Public school kindergarten is pretty benign.

    Also, I'm not sure if you're aware, but most states do not require kindergarten. California is one that doesn't require it.

    I'd also think that it would be much easier for you to take him out of a public school (especially without losing any money) if half way through the year you decide to homeschool completely.

    I'd also like to add that the socialization issue is pretty trumped up at this point. There are so many opportunities outside of the home whether it's clubs or extracurricular classes. Unless someone is homeschooling purely out of fear of exposing their children to the world, socialization won't be a problem.

    And I'd like to say that you will still be homeschooling him, just not during school hours.

    Sorry that was so long! I just feel for you and the decision you both are struggling with. If you have any other questions or thoughts, I'm happy to hear them.

    Have a great evening. Kelly


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