We do struggle with the socialisation thing. It’s tempting to pretend that we don’t, but that doesn’t help anyone in the long run, least of all us. This morning, Emily had a friend round for a few hours before we went out to pick up friend’s Mum and younger sister for our regular library afternoon. She had a great morning, but it doesn’t happen often enough. Her other best friend goes to school and is very busy at weekends, so we rarely see her outside school holidays. Emily has a smattering of other acquaintances, but lost two “home ed friends” back in the spring over a very nasty and sustained bullying campaign, so the numbers are dwindling.
Up until about a year ago, Emily was pretty resistant to meeting new friends and we assumed that she, like me, was just a person who didn’t need a whole bunch of socialising in order to be happy. We may have been right – she was certainly a pretty happy bunny back then with her small circle and would actually be in tears the night before having to meet someone else, complaining that she neither needed nor wanted any more friends – but it looks like things are now changing. Emily does want new friends, but is finding it difficult to find other children who “gel” with her and she with them. She’s rather reticent and quiet with strangers of any age; although she understands the principle that this can sometimes wrongly make her seem stand-offish and unfriendly to new people, she struggles to find a solution to that in practice.
Part (most) of the problem stems from the fact that I’m not very sociable. I can count the non-family people I enjoy seeing on one hand, without a thumb. I simply enjoy my family’s company, my own company and that of a tiny handful of friends and I have no desire whatsoever to expand that circle. Jon is slightly more gregarious than me – but then, that’s not hard. I try, but I struggle to work up enthusiasm for such and such a group or such and such a group event. I expect at least some of that has worn off on Emily and I have no doubt that I shall beat myself up over it for many years to come.
At the moment, I’m finding it difficult to get out and meet new parents in order to facilitate the meet new children bit. Quite apart from the fact that we’re too busy to give up an entire day a week to attend a local group or a visit every week, I’m also struggling with my inbuilt just-don’t-want-to grouch. Hey, I’m not a perfect mother. I’m also finding it tough to reconcile the, if anything, *over*confident, fairly stroppy and extremely strong-willed eleven year old I have at home with the way too malleable, uber quiet and slightly prickly eleven year old I have in public.
I often hear or read home edders dismissing “the socialisation thing” as being absolutely not a problem. Where it clearly isn’t a problem for many home ed families – due to widespread home ed groups, innumerable opportunities to mix in the real world and of course the opportunity for home ed kids to mix with schooled kids “out of hours” – it’s unrealistic to think that no home ed family has a problem with helping their child make friends. When we started our home education journey, I knew that it all seemed way too easy, way too simple, way too natural, way too right for us – surely, I remember thinking, there must be a catch somewhere. If there was one thing I know now that I wish I’d known earlier, it would be that socialising as a home educator can be *very* hard if you don’t have the right temperament or if your children aren’t natural social butterflies.
We have two options right now.
1. Leave things be. Take any further social opportunities which appeal to us as and when they arise, but don’t force the issue. Be confident that Emily will grow into friendships in time, when she’s older, perhaps away from home, and can choose friends on the real basis of genuine, shared, mature interests rather than just because they also happen to be home educated. Be confident that she’ll find her own path and that whether she wants a gadzillion friends or just one or two close friends, she’ll find them when she’s ready to find them.
2. Adopt the approach that if she doesn’t learn to “socialise” now, she’ll find it so much harder when she’s older. Attend everything going, through gritted teeth if necessary. Role play Emily to death on what to say, what not to say, how to act and how to feign interest in Miley Cyrus. Role play Mum to death on looking pleased about it. If necessary, get Dad to give up even more working hours in order to go and look pleased about it instead of Mum, since Dad’s much better at looking pleased about it.
School is not a valid option 3. I went to school. I barely mixed there, and had only a handful of close friends, who I promptly lost touch with as soon as I no longer saw them on a daily basis. I pretty much loathed every minute of it and it certainly didn’t do my social skills any good whatsoever. I can’t see it being much different on a social front for Emily.
Whether we go with option 1 or 2 will have to be Emily’s decision. We shall see.