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When Grandparents Don’t Like Homeschooling

Ask Jeanne: When Grandparents Don't Like HomeschoolingMy Ask Jeanne response to “Don’t Homeschool My Grandkids” has been shared many times, generated much personal email, and garnered many comments, including questions about what to do when grandparents don’t like homeschooling and criticize the decision.

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“Anna” recently left this comment:

Hi all, so I have made the decision to homeschool my son again for his 4th grade year. He also has a two-year-old baby sister whom I also intend to homeschool. I homeschooled my son up until 3rd grade, when I made the choice to allow him to go to public school because of personal health issues. Also contributing was the fact that my mother and younger sister would not stop arguing with me about how he needs this that or the other that he can get “more” of in public school, which I knew was wrong, but here I am having this argument again, and I don’t know how to deal with them. They have a tendency to be very opinionated — mostly behind my back but in front of my children. I don’t want to tell them they can’t take the kids anymore, but I’m tired of this! Do you have any suggestions that might help dealing with family that disagrees with you??? PLEASE HELP!

Anna, you have a similar situation as the grandmother who originally wrote in to me to learn how to persuade her son and daughter-in-law not to homeschool her grandchildren. The situation is one where the boundaries are confused. The grandmother who originally wrote to me, your mother, and your sister all have problems understanding the boundaries around who gets to make decisions for children.

It’s the parents. The parents get to make the educational decisions for children, including homeschooling.

That means — you get to decide.

That said, I always suggest that the first step is to consider whether the anti-homeschooling person is right in your specific case.

Are you a substance abuser who is currently drinking or using drugs? Do you have a physical or mental illness that is not responding to treatment, leaving you completely unable to supervise or educate your children, and you don’t have anyone to help or support you in making sure your children are well-cared for? If those or similar situations apply to you, then you will want to consider the opinions of your mother and sister.

That’s not the case? Then they’re your kids, and you get to decide.

The second thing I suggest when someone is faced with family members who doubt homeschooling is to provide information about homeschooling to correct any misconceptions they have.

Start by reflecting their concerns back to them to see if you can figure out their precise worries.

Say something like this: “You’re worried they won’t get (social time, good math skills, that special teacher, help for their reading delays, a high school diploma — whatever they’re mentioning).”

When they express specific concerns, you can — because they are family members who are important to you (not everyone who disapproves of your homeschooling gets this step!) — give them examples of how homeschoolers do address that potential problem. You can share articles or blog posts or books or examples you’ve read about.

You can also share general information about how homeschooling works, if they seem to have any big holes in their understanding. Some people really don’t know that homeschoolers can attend college or vocational school, that they may be successful starting their own businesses, that they can learn to speak a foreign language or do advanced math.

Sometimes general arguing never manages to get this specific — where you acknowledge their concern about the children they love, and you address the actual concern with information. That’s because it’s so easy to get into defensive mode and just start fighting back when someone starts badgering you. However, the power of acknowledging concerns about homeschooling can occasionally be transforming. Many people stop haranguing once they feel sure they have been heard. Given specific information that addresses their concerns, caring family members feel able to back off, because they now have new evidence to balance their worries, and they feel they’ve gotten through to you — because you’ve acknowledged their fears, even if you haven’t changed your mind.

But acknowledging concerns and providing information isn’t always transformative. Sometimes even after concerns are heard and information has been provided, people want to be in charge of your decisions and your children. They want to exert their authority where it doesn’t belong.

If you try the acknowledging and informing process and the meddling doesn’t stop, then you have to to deal with your own boundary issues.

Remember the grandmother in the original Ask Jeanne column? Her son was refusing to talk with her about their decision to homeschool, and her daughter-in-law was sticking to her “we’re homeschooling” line even when the grandmother pressured. I do believe the grandmother was feeling frustrated that they wouldn’t argue with her, wouldn’t negotiate, wouldn’t defer to her wishes.

You need some of what they’ve got.

It’s hard. We’d rather the important people in our lives agree with our major decisions. But when they don’t approve, we have to have big ol’ adult boundaries, being responsible for our decisions.

We address their concerns, and then we move on to the fourth step — to the “Pass the bean dip” stage.

The Pass the Bean Dip Strategy is well documented, and reading the many ways people have used it may strengthen your resolve. Basically, the idea is, you make a definitive statement about your decision, and then you change the subject and refuse to argue. As in, “I’ve heard how you feel about that. We’ll be homeschooling for third grade. Pass the bean dip, please.” Or, if no bean dip is present, change the subject to anything else.

If they keep badgering, you keep repeating, like a broken record. “I’ve heard how you feel about that. We’ll be homeschooling. How is your job going these days?” “You’ve mentioned that. We’ll be homeschooling. Hey, what are your plans for the holidays this year?”

Do not be drawn into arguing. Why would you argue? It’s your decision. It’s not up for debate.

Now, the idea that your mom or sister would campaign against homeschooling to your kids while you’re not there is sort of the ultimate lack of respect for your boundaries. If they do that, they show they’re willing to manipulate your children to control your decisions. There are at least three ways this can go.

First, a few kids might not be too bothered by this and are actually able to learn to use the “pass the bean dip” strategy themselves, especially if they’ve seen you use it matter of factly and without drama. “Yeah Granny. We’re homeschooling. Are we going to make cookies soon?” You probably already know if your kids can brush things off this easily.

If your kids do get upset being caught in the middle (and I don’t blame them — it’s really not very nice for their grandmother and their aunt to put them there), then you will have to draw the line.

“Mom, the kids are upset when you talk negatively to them about homeschooling. We are homeschooling, and you need to respect that and not work against me.” If the badgering starts, you go into the bean dip strategy.

If talking negatively about homeschooling continues “behind your back,” then you have to decide — can you and the kids take it with a grain of salt? It can be a good thing for kids to learn, and it might work. “Oh, you know Grams. She’d just like to see you in school because that’s what she’s used to.” Some kids really can respond sincerely with “I know, Mom. It’s okay” — and it’s really not a big deal. They may even “extinguish” your mom’s behavior if they don’t react in a big way. However, this is not at all the kids’ responsibility to take care of or put up with.

If it’s truly meddlesome and upsetting or confusing to the kids, then you really might have to be willing to limit their exposure to the people who are undermining your parenting. That’s what they’d be doing — they just don’t see it that way. But if you remind yourself that that’s what they’re doing, then it makes sense for the kids not to spend so much time with your mom or sister.

Free child care is not really free when it comes at the price of having your decisions badmouthed to the kids. Further, you have to realize that the kids will be learning from them that your decisions are up for debate. This will make you resentful in the present and set up a precedent for your kids to disrespect your decisions in the future.

It is your mom’s and sister’s job to respect your parenting decisions, and it’s not good for your kids to find themselves in the middle. It is your job to strongly state your decisions and back them up.

As your homeschooled kids get older, your relatives may begin to see the benefits of homeschooling. As your kids participate in activities with Scouts or 4H or sports or their homeschool group, your mom and sister may be able to attend events and see that there are plenty of opportunities for picture taking and rites of passage. If they are able to respond more positively to homeschooling, you might be able to share TheHomeSchoolMom’s Grandparent Guide to Homeschooling to give them ideas on what would be helpful to you.

Before you can hope to get to that point, though, you’ll have to stand up for yourself. It’s an old book, but The Assertive Woman is still a great resource for learning those skills. It’s well worth reading. After all, do you want part of your kids’ homeschooling to be learning from the “arguing and caving in” version of you, or the assertive version?

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Jeanne Faulconer

A popular speaker at homeschooling conferences, business groups, and parents’ groups, Jeanne Potts Faulconer has homeschooled her three sons in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Virginia. She is a former college faculty member, former editor and book reviewer for Home Education Magazine, a long-time editor for VaHomeschoolers Voice, and a recent news correspondent for WCVE, an NPR-member station. Jeanne teaches writing and literature for her youngest son’s homeschool co-op, and she is a student of how learning works – at home, in the music room, in small groups, in the college classroom, on the soccer field, and in the car to and from practice. Holding her Master of Arts degree in Communication, Jeanne conducts portfolio evaluations for Virginia homeschoolers for evidence of progress. To read more of Jeanne’s writing, inquire about a homeschool evaluation, or ask her to speak to your group, see her blog, Engaged Homeschooling.

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