Thursday, 29 January 2015

We Know (experiences in handling perceived negativity)

I try to avoid mentioning that we home educate when in conversation with someone new.  I will try to give an answer that satisfies but dodges bringing it up.   It is only if someone directly asks a question like “why aren’t they in school?”, “what school do they attend?” or “when do they go back to school after the holidays?” that I will bite the bullet and answer with “we homeschool.”
I avoid it because it usually leads to a jerked back “oh!” then “can I ask why?”  As fellow home educators out there will know, it is not a straight-forward explanation.  There are many reasons, many small or seemingly insignificant to someone else, some of which are personal to individual children, that led us to choose this path.  Most often, people are genuinely curious but I try to keep my answer brief, as occasionally, despite this, I can often see the questioner becomes bored, confused or defensive.  If a person is genuinely interested they sometimes still seem to be looking for indication we are not/our situation is not perfect, that we are attacking their way of life, and so get in on the defensive.  As we live near well-regarded state schools, some seem to assume we are limiting our children's opportunities, especially if their own children have gone through local schools to get an honours degree at uni and now hold down a respectable job; because they are so naturally proud of their own offspring, they cannot seem to recognise that any other path is valid or assume that my husband and I seem to think we can offer the children an education that could lead to better things than their own treasured children have achieved.

People who meet us regularly, however, soon leave this initial feeling behind if they ever experienced a knee-jerk reaction, as they realise that we are not as odd as they thought we might be and that actually our kids are bright, social and are having their needs met.  Occasionally though, a person might continue being negative.  Initially I can be upset but play it down at the time and find the person’s attitude plays on my mind. At first, I will wish I had given a witty sarcastic retort.  After time in thought however, I will realise that the comment came from an insecurity of the other person’s.   
When a grandmother at a tots’ group asked the age gap between each of my children (2-3years), and I responded with the same question, she replied her grandchildren were less than one year apart but because her daughter had waited until her late thirties before starting a family, she knew what she was doing.  The tone of the comment felt like a slap.  When I started having children, I looked younger than my age and often received negative comments and attitudes from strangers so I was sensitive on this point.  I nodded, smiled and moved on. But the comment played on my mind.  Eventually, it occurred to me the grandmother could have simply worried that people might think negatively of her daughter  for a short age gap and was defending a wrongly presumed upcoming attack.  
A neighbour we had not seen for a while passed us in the street with her friend.  We passed a bit of news.  My children had been given a chocolate bar each at church which they did not want to eat, but had accepted graciously as gift kindly pressed to them by a church friend.  I reminded the children of the chocolate and asked did they want to offer them to our neighbour and her friend.  They did so happily before speeding off down the street towards home in a spontaneous race.  Our neighbour declared “see, no matter what some might say, they are getting a proper education!”  The choice of words caught me and I continued walking home thinking “what some might say? What do some say? Who says?” I got so caught up with the thought our neighbours had been discussing us negatively... perhaps they thought that because our kids were out playing in the garden so often, or because we go out and about during weekdays, that they were being neglected educationally... our neighbours thought my husband and I were letting our kids down... and more.  By the time I got home, I realised that those who “might say” do not know. Our lovely neighbour, who takes time to stop and chat with us whenever we pass, does know...

...The children’s Sunday school teacher, a retired professional nursery teacher, has no concerns for them and she knows... the ex-teachers and a retired deputy head-teacher who interact with my children regularly at their various other commitments have nothing but praise for them, and they know... their youth group leaders who have been such for 30 years and have voiced no worries, they know... our local council home-ed team who report on the children’s progress positively, they know... our Midwife, who brought a student doctor to our house because she knew he would be welcome, and the several Health Visitors we have had over the years, they know...  our fellow church-goers who let me know if they are missing one of my children on a Sunday, and a committed Christian mother there who declared them “such bouncy happy children!”, and the kindly Christian grandmother who introduces me to others with “They’re all hers, you know? She looks so young to have had all of them, doesn’t she? She does such a great job!” all know...

In other words, the people whose professional opinion matter...  the people whose compassion, kindness and good character recognises that in others... these are the people who help me get a perceived negative comment from a relative stranger into perspective. 

In the end, the truth of it is that my children are happy, healthy and are given the resources to see the opportunities to be all that they can be... and that is all that matters.  

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