If you would have told me 20 years ago that I would be a homeschooling mama of three, I most certainly would have laughed at you. Not a stifled laugh. A loud burst of laughter and it would have lasted for at least 12 minutes until I caught my breath and politely told you that no way would this ever be true.
Fast forward a few years, and I was a young-ish mama with three kids in 22 months (a toddler followed by a set of twins). My days are filled with diapers, Dora, and desperately waiting for naptime or daddy to arrive home.
Don’t get me wrong—I LOVED it. Mostly. My biggest thrill was watching the three of them interact with each other. Their BIG personalities were evident from day one.
Our oldest, the alpha dog—his huge brown eyes glinted with a dash of curiosity or mischief (depending on the day).
Our girl twin babbling and talking up a storm, snuggling everyone and bossing her twin brother around from about age 20 months.
Our boy twin, often quiet, reserved, always observing, laughing at his big brother, and the best sleeper ever.
They had each other and there was always someone to play with—no matter what time of day. The adventures, the dressing up, the fort building, games—everything was set up perfectly perfect for our unexpected path into homeschooling.
Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring - quite often the hard way.” ~ Pamela Dugdale
When we made the decision to homeschool, I was elated. I had spent months researching methods, tracking down blogs, talking to other homeschoolers and reading whatever I could get my hands on. One of the main themes that kept coming up over and over was family togetherness and sibling bonding. Because homeschooling siblings spend so much more time together than siblings in traditional school environments, these resources told me, families can create peaceful and loving days filled with brothers and sisters who only have kind words and actions towards each other. No fighting. No name calling. No competition to see who can win another round of Scrambled States of America. No taking the last muffin and not sharing. No tears. Are you laughing yet?
Oh, how naïve I was.
What some of these books, blogs, and best-of-intentioned speakers had failed to mention was that families are different. Kids are different. Personalities are different. Homeschooling for me doesn’t look like homeschooling for you. Also, my kids aren’t perfect. Newsflash, neither is their mama. Of course, it took me a few years to realize that, while the homeschooling lifestyle was indeed great for us, we’d need to change up our expectations in order for it to feel good for our family. I would need to let go of unrealistic expectations and honor my kids’ needs as they grew older and our days changed.
Why My Kids Need Breaks from Each Other
If your homeschooling clan is content to be with each other 24 hours a day with no breaks from each other, then feel free to skip to another blog post. I have nothing but love and high-fives for you because I think it’s amazing when families can do what works for them.
If you’re feeling like maybe your homeschooling kids might need some built-in breaks from each other (and you), then read on while I share what’s working for us right now with three adolescents.
The biggest lightbulb moment for me was when my oldest told me that he just didn’t want to be around his younger siblings (twins) all the time. He wanted his own work, his own friends, his own space. At first, I was so upset (highly sensitive Enneagram 2—that’s me!). I thought I must have done something wrong. I hadn’t created strong sibling ties. I was failing at all things homeschooling. Worst, I was failing my oldest child.
Once I got over myself and sat down with my son, he explained his need for independence and that he wasn’t insulting our entire lifestyle of homeschooling. Imagine my relief! He is my most social child and always loves to be doing something, talking to people, and moving. He’s not a traditional learner. He doesn’t enjoy workbooks or just checking off his to-do lists for school work. He also wanted time away from his slightly younger siblings to develop relationships with other homeschooling teens.
To be honest, I am glad he came to me with these concerns, because homeschooling teens isn’t always easy. We are fortunate to have a huge pool of homeschooling teens and I wanted him to start forming friendships. He needed it in order to thrive.
Currently, he’s volunteering at the library once a week, taking a writing class, involved in a youth group at church, we host a teen book club, and he participates in a monthly Emergency Medical Technician’s club. He’s started having regular “hang-out” time with his other homeschooling friends. They attend local homeschooling dances, monthly game nights, or watch movies at friends' houses.
I notice how present and happy he is when he comes home from being out and how it recharges him. He tends to fight less with his siblings, be more helpful around the house and willing to tackle his school work. It’s all about balance and honoring their individual needs, right?
Our 11-year old twins are not quite as extroverted as their big brother, but they still need time away from each other and time to develop relationships with their own circle of friends. Each twin has connected with several kids in our local homeschooling co-op through monthly geography club, park days, holiday parties, field trips and more. Their biggest outlet is currently a homeschool travel basketball team. Each twin is on their own team, has their own practices and games. Their schedules take up a large portion of our time, but we’ve chosen to be intentionally busy in this season of homeschooling three adolescents.
Do these breaks guarantee that my kids never fight and that our homeschooling days are smooth and fuss free? Of course not. Do I sometimes feel like an Uber driver who is forced to listen to bad pop music while I drive my kids to and from various places? Yes! That said, I am a student of my children. I want to honor their needs and personalities. If one kid needs extra alone time or time out of the house, then we can work together to meet this need. We also want our kids to understand that they are part of family which brings me to...
How We Build Bonds
Building sibling bonds at this stage has been a challenge for me. I tend to have unrealistic expectations (shocking, right?) and I envision the Von Trapps , matching outfits and all. But then, I am startled out of my daydream by a more Simpson-esque reality of squabbles, couch wrestling (this is a thing), all the snacks, music, and competitive rounds of Uno.
So how do we build bonds with three very different children?
- They love to play games and I try to keep them easily accessible. They will put on music and play together. Not to say things don’t get competitive, but usually I can count on some quality sibling time.
- Documentaries during our homeschool time are also great at cultivating bonds. Hunkering down on the couches with snacks and blankets and learn together. This is especially helpful in the hot and humid days of summer in the southeast.
- We do enjoy afternoon movies—either at the theater or at home.
- We recently installed a basketball hoop in the driveway and this has been fantastic for physical activity and sibling bonding time.
- When all else fails, I still pull out the Lego bins, dump them on a huge sheet, put on some music, and let them just build.
We have family meetings to discuss how we can work better together as a family and as individuals. We take lots of breaks. We take cooling-off periods in our respective rooms if needed. We keep talking. We try to put relationships over any academic subjects. We don't always get it right, but my goal is to move forward one step at a time.
Do What Works for Your Family
I keep coming back to this: Do what works for your family.
Not only that, do what works for your family right now.
Not what worked 5 years ago.
Maybe not even what worked last summer.
Don't project out 2, 7, or 15 years and start planning, worrying, and wondering what the exact future will be for your homeschooling kids and their sibling bonds. Perhaps we put too much pressure on ourselves as homeschoolers to have the picture-perfect homeschooling family. Perhaps we don't extend ourselves OR our families any grace. Perhaps our kids are in a season of just getting on each other's nerves and the hormones are pulsing and you have to help them ride the waves of "The Puberties" (as we call it in our home). Perhaps your children are still little and together time is almost all the time because, well, they rely on you for almost everything.
Wherever you are on your homeschooling journey, your kids are still kids. Homeschooling doesn't automatically make for stronger bonds. Relationships have to be cultivated. They must be given room to grow and flourish and they must be allowed for some breathing space when needed.
I am just thankful that we have chosen a path that allows for flexibility, growth, space, and couch wrestling.