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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.
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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