Responding to Homeschool Critics

a woman in a checked shirt holds a coffee and a mobile phone

Choosing to homeschool can feel like choosing to pack up your family and follow the Oregon Trail. You’re pioneering in unfamiliar territory. You know you’re going to run into some challenges and hardships. And people might just think you’re crazy for even trying.

Why are homeschoolers the brunt of such harsh judgment? And how can you respond?

Responsibility is Scary

When we become parents, suddenly we are responsible for the safety, well being, and upbringing of a real, live human being. It can be downright terrifying.

In an effort to fight our fears, we search around for anything we can control. We want a surefire method and we want guarantees that it works.

Did you realize that this is the fire that fuels so many of the mommy wars? If it’s okay to bottle feed or breastfeed, if it’s okay to use cloth diapers or disposables, if it’s okay to sleep babies on their tummies or their backs, then how can my way be a guarantee of success?

If our chosen method is going to be dependable in relieving our parenting anxieties, then we have to know that it’s the only way. We also need to be confident that other ways don’t work.

Different is Scary

When someone chooses an approach that’s a bit off the beaten path, they need to be prepared to incur some scrutiny and even criticism. Expecting it and understanding it are essential parts of being prepared to respond.

We have eight children. We delivered the first three in a traditional hospital setting with traditional interventions. Beginning with the fourth child, we switched to homebirth. Our midwife’s assistant warned us about public perspective. “If you have a baby in the hospital and something goes wrong, the community will rally around you. But if you have a baby at home and something goes wrong, the community will turn on you.”

Why is this?

When we hear of someone else encountering hard or sad live events, it frightens us. We immediately grasp for something on which we can pin the blame for this unfortunate circumstance. And if there is anything glaringly different about the circumstances or the people in them, that difference will be the target of suspicion, even if that difference wasn’t actually the cause of the problem.

It’s just human nature. We all desperately want to fight our fears by saying to ourselves, “Well, at least that will never happen to us because we don’t ___.”

Facts May Not Quench Fears

Yes, you are going to have hard days as a homeschooling family. You might even have hard seasons or hard years. And sadly, people may take the opportunity to tell you that you’re experiencing those hardships because of your (implied: weird) choice to homeschool.

When that happens, you need to know that their comments are simply a reflection of their own fears and insecurities. That doesn’t make it any less painful or discouraging. But it can direct how you respond.

On the surface, it may seem that they are not fully aware of the facts about homeschooling. It may seem that the answer is to give more information. But if you try to present a logical argument to someone who is actually wrestling with fears, you might find yourself in an unexpected argument.

This is especially true when you are talking with people who are directly connected to your choice to homeschool, such as your parents or in-laws. They fear that your choices will affect or reflect on them.

So How Do We Respond?

The best way to respond to this kind of criticism and judgment is with a two-pronged approach: compassion and discretion.

Responding to Homeschool CriticsFirst, remind yourself that you’ve surely found yourself in a similar situation at some point. Hearing about other people’s different parenting choices and approaches can stir up insecurity in anyone. Seek to put their fears to rest for their own sake.

Perhaps you could acknowledge that you know this isn’t for everyone. Perhaps you can admit that you don’t know all that lies ahead and that you’re just taking it one year (or even one day) at a time. Seek to reduce the threat level.

Secondly, remind yourself that you don’t owe equal openness and vulnerability to every one of your acquaintance. Being authentic is a big buzzword in our society right now. While I certainly don’t advise being fake or deceptive, it’s perfectly acceptable (even necessary) to use discretion about what you share and with whom.

Think of your friends and acquaintances like the concentric circles in a target. The one in the middle is pretty small. That’s the place where you can share all of your deepest struggles. The further you move from the center, the less sharing is required or helpful.

Social Media Included

Society scolds us for sharing only the good things on social media. That’s fine. Let them scold. You have a limited emotional bandwidth for fielding other people’s opinions. If your Facebook friends aren’t limited to your inner circle, then it’s okay not to share things there that are inner-circle material.

No, we don’t want to live in an echo chamber. And yes, we want to be shaped by other opinions. But the fact that someone has a different opinion than mine isn’t enough to qualify them to speak into my life.

They also need to be a person who treats me with respect and who can hold my feelings in as high regard as their own. That’s not a responsibility I want to hand over to everyone with whom I’m connected on social media.

In Summary

Plenty of people will have questions about homeschooling or why you chose to do it. Plenty of people will explain why they could never make that choice. But when you find yourself the recipient of surprisingly judgmental comments, suspect that fear is behind it. Remind yourself that those comments are a reflection of the insecurity of the speaker, not a reflection of the wisdom of your own choices. And then make a mental note that this is not a person who has the wisdom or maturity to help you bear the burdens of homeschooling.

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About the Author

Lynna Sutherland • Homeschooling without Training WheelsLynna is a former homeschooler, then classroom teacher, now homeschool mom of eight crazy (and lovable) hooligans from middle school down to bouncing baby.

She calls her blog Homeschooling without Training Wheels because she loves to encourage families to embrace the freedom and flexibility that come with homeschooling and let go of the things that are holding them back! You can read more in her free eBook 5 Myths that are Killing Your Multi-Age Homeschool