Finding Your Homeschool Tribe

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Written by Kara S. Anderson

I recently told Cait about one of my early homeschool mom friend fails.

It was pretty much a disaster that ended in the woman yelling into my voicemail, “I don’t know what I did to offend you!!!”

It’s a little funny now, because she had continually criticized everything in my life including my dog’s manners, but the truth is, I don’t get easily offended.

Instead, I wake up one day suddenly full of pluck: “Wait a minute …” I finally say to myself. “I don’t deserve this b.s.”

At the time it was really hard, though. As I listened to that voicemail I felt my stomach drop and my hands shake.

I knew that it wasn’t a good friendship, and didn’t want to pursue it, but that’s the thing about friendships in adulthood – we are polite and want to be kind, right? So a lot of times when we realize that things aren’t a good fit, we feel like we’re already in too deep.

Our kids may even be “friends”* with her kids. Ack.

One of the questions Cait and I get most frequently is how to find your tribe when you are homeschooling.

It’s a tricky thing, because what we want is a supportive community where our kids can make friends and where, ideally, we can too.

But that isn’t always easy. In fact, our family has actually walked away from both groups and “friendships” in the past that weren’t right for us.

In my earliest days of homeschooling, I felt so much pressure for us to have a group and for my kids to have friends, that I became an uncomfortable social director trying to find new people and make connections.

I ended up getting myself in some really awkward situations – because you really can’t force friendship. You can force socialization, but I hold firmly that the two are very different things.

And so I would try to conform, and I would feel pressure when my kids weren’t conforming to other parents’ ideals.

It was miserable for all of us, and I’m not sure when I got the courage to stop, but I am grateful I did before I accidentally taught my kids that being a “good friend” means pretending that everything is OK all the time, and that the best way to get along with people is to just go along with whatever they say.

So my No. 1 tip when people ask me about finding their tribe is to not be afraid to walk away.

Really.

Trust your gut, and know that some groups and friendships are simply not for you. You are doing anything wrong, and you aren’t being judgmental – you are just in the wrong place.

Here are a couple of other things I’ve learned (the hard way) about finding a tribe:

2. No tribe is better than the wrong tribe.

The wrong tribe makes you feel lonely and like you are the weirdo. Objectively, you can probably note that everyone else dressing up as creepy clowns on the weekends or only eating green beans and mineral water is off. But when you are the only one NOT doing those things, it’s almost impossible to not feel weird about it.

3. Your tribe might be tiny at first.

My tribe began as a tribelet, when I found a friend and luckily, my kids hit it off with her kids. Eventually, our little tribelet grew, but having that one family was wonderful for us, and our tribelet expanded in its own time.

4. Don’t worry about ages.

Don’t worry about ages or genders too much. Not every mama in our tribe is the same age, and the kids are ages 5 to 13. My kids are newly 10 and 12. It still works.

I’m also always surprised at how well the kids interact, and that boy versus girl isn’t really a thing. I think because so many of them aren’t familiar with classroom dynamics or old-school groupings, the bigs help the littles and the littles admire the bigs and siblings are actually pretty nice to each other’s friends. Go homeschool!

5. Be genuine.

It can be really hard when you want friends to be completely yourself. We all want to be liked. But being you will help you find YOUR tribe.

If you feel like you constantly have to correct your kids because they aren’t acting like the other kids, then you might be in the wrong place.

Your tribe should not feel like a parenting obstacle course. If it does, see tip No. 1.

6. It’s OK to have your own friends.

So in a perfect world, you are going to find an amazing group of mamas and all of your kids are going to get along, and you are going to be able to sip coffee made over a fire, while your children knit daisies into each other’s hair, right?

I need to let you know that that may not happen, and your kid might find a great friend, and you and the mom might be friendly, but just not hit it off like long lost soulmates. That’s OK.

It’s also OK to still be friends with your girls from college, or the ladies you used to work with, or your neighbor who gladly sends her kids off to school every morning.

Those women might not totally get homeschooling, but as long as they get you and support you, they are good friends.

7. You might have to find a long-distance tribe.

I know this isn’t ideal, but it can help when you literally feel like you don’t know anyone else who is homeschooling, or homeschooling the way you do.

There is nothing wrong with finding friends and groups online.

BUT, remember – if you join a group and it doesn’t feel right, you need to jump ship. Yes, they may be Waldorf-inspired, Charlotte-Mason-Style Homeschoolers who Love Their Instant Pots, and that might describe you EXACTLY, but if they are jerks, head for the hills.

8. You deserve respect and kindness and your kids do too.

Because here’s the thing – if people are rude, or mean or passive-aggressive, or if you join only to learn that there are weird factions happening, or that half the group bad-mouths the other half, you don’t need that business.

You also don’t need people being rude to your kids. If you are in a homeschool group where kids aren’t valued and respected, what the hell is everyone doing there?

9. Keep trying

But I do encourage you to keep trying. I had a friend who made up cute business cards when she moved to our area. They said: “We’re homeschoolers, but we socialize!” It had her name and email address on it.

If you meet at a mom at library storytime, or at the park, pass her a card. (Just keep in mind No. 10.)

And don’t come on too strong. If it’s meant to be, it will happen without you sending balloon bouquets or offering to paint her house.

10. Online dating rules apply.

If you meet someone who seems great, and you want to hang out more, meet in a public place with other people around, and have a hard-out in mind. You don’t have to use it, but have a good reason that you might need to split in your back pocket – a dentist appointment, or needing to pick up your husband at work.

And then, be entirely, brutally, absolutely yourself. And let your kids be themselves too.

If this person doesn’t like you, then she is not your people.

I love what Glennon Doyle Melton says about this in Carry On Warrior.

And I will tell you it was her exact strategy I used when I started getting to know Cait. What if I am completely myself – broken and messy – and I don’t try to hide it?

I will tell you that so far, it’s working out just fine.

* “friends” is different than actual friends, of course.

NOW, IT’S YOUR TURN. TELL US: Do You have a homeschool friendship horror story? What have you learned about finding your tribe?

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12 thoughts on “Finding Your Homeschool Tribe

  1. Kitchen fairy says:

    I once was told by another mom at storytime that she had too many friends already. I was very young, struggling with two kids under two, my husband working long hours with a long commute, a nasty custody battle, and living in a new place isolated from family and friends. Ten years later, we have a small but friendly tribe that I wouldn’t want to leave.

  2. Carrie says:

    Love this! I longed for a tribe for a few years. I had great individual girlfriends and a great co-op where I was friendly with everyone but those of us who are soul sisters have found each other from the bigger group, it takes time and living life together. That’s my biggest recommendation to other Mamas is as much as you want that awesome tribe it can take time. I feel SO blessed to be part of this group. I think for us the hardest thing is we don’t want to be exclusive yet we also have a good thing going and kind of are at a size max. When you have 4-6 Mamas with 17-23 kids there isn’t much more room literally left in a house! 😆 So for me I know what it’s like to be searching and I try to be encouraging to other Moms to keep pushing into relationship and that they will find their “tribe” it can just take a bit of time. ❤

  3. Charissa says:

    Thanks for this, Kara. <3 I really needed to read your encouraging message. Our family has searched for years to find people that we really click with and so far it's only happened to a limited degree. We joined the only homeschool group in our area at the beginning of this school year, but it's not really a perfect fit for us. It's hard knowing what to do as my husband and I want our kids to have fellow homeschooled friends to hang out with and we would love to find other homeschooling families to relate with. I'm thankful for the dear friendship we have with a family we've known for ten years now – fellow homeschoolers – but they live four states away from us, so we almost never see each other. In the meantime, we're happy for the friendships we have and we'll keep on hoping that a wider, deeper range of friends will come into our lives. And I thank you again for your encouragement. I love how you spoke honestly about how hard it can be to find friends that you truly fit with. So often these homeschool blog posts about finding your tribe make it seem like we should all be able to relate with any homeschooling group we run across. So I appreciate your understanding and perspective that it isn't always that easy!

  4. June says:

    This was such a helpful article. We recently relocated to Raleigh, NC, where there are tons of families who participate in Classical Conversations, which I’m not interested in. I have developed such an eclectic methodology, that sometimes I despair of finding others like me or who identify with what we’re doing. Also, while I am a Christian, the public school moral environment is only one of multiple reasons we are homeschooling, so sometimes I feel a little out of place among other Christian homeschooling families. I’m going to persevere and keep setting up playdates and checking out groups! Eventually, I’ll find our tribe.

  5. Annie says:

    I love this! So much truth here! It’s so important for moms (especially homeschool moms) to know that we can click and become good friends with people who are actually very different from us. I have an amazing group of friends and we all couldn’t be more different from each other. Some homeschool, some send their kids to traditional schools, some still have babies and have not reached the “schooling” stage yet, some don’t even have kids. I think we set ourselves up for disappointment when we want friends who are exactly like us! I am thankful for friends who share the same values and ideals as me but have very different methodologies. It keeps me humble and keeps me growing. I actually think it’s unhealthy to only hang with people who are like us. A good friend will “get you” whether or not you do things the way they do and they will love and accept you for your differences. If I’m honest, sometimes it can feel a bit lonely being one of the few people in my friend circles who homeschools, but I am fortunate to have friends who (while they don’t homeschool) are super supportive of my decision to homeschool. They actually love it about me and are even inspired that I geek out over books and curriculum and all things homeschool. And they inspire me with things they do that are different from me. Keep your hearts open ladies, you may be surprised by where you find your tribe, it may not be at a homeschool convention or the co-op and that is totally okay!

  6. Michelle says:

    Thank you for your article and your podcast. We really struggle to find our tribe. I wish you show was more often because I think in my head I feel like I’m able to be part of your tribe. Listen in on Mom talk an keeping it real. Thank you so much. Will keep “networking”.

    It’s funny in a lot of places the homeschooler are all ultra Christian and we don’t fit in, and then other places they are all lefty liberal non religious and we don’t mesh with that either. I try to be true to myself and I appreciate that you are reminding me that the wrong tribe is worse than no tribe. I’m learning to be ok with this for now. The main worry is friends for my young child. I feel like it’s dating or something Geez.

  7. amanda cox says:

    Just what i needed. Although i have a hard time believing that there are nice women out there…especially as my social awkwardness/ being intoverted comes across as rudeness. I am currently in a weird situation where i feel ostracized and omited (not as rich as others) but its my childrens only friends. Articles has given me something to think about.

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