The Link

THANGSTGIVING & The Holidays
It’s Not Just The Pie That’s Crusty

By Diane Flynn Keith

Thanksgiving is coming and you know what that means…yes, yes, a Mayflower-themed curriculum with Pilgrims, Native Americans, Plymouth Rock and all that schoolish stuff – however, I’m referring to something much more indigestible…family gatherings!

For many of you, the Thanksgiving feast with its traditional marshmallow sweet potato casserole is the first of many sticky situations that will last throughout the holiday season.  You’ll be served a smorgasbord of confrontational relatives who subject you to snide comments and questions that may include:

  • Insisting that your kids will not be well-socialized (even though they are in the next room happily playing and interacting with their cousins).
  • Testing your kids to see what they know.  For example, your father-in-law channels Alex Trebek as he asks, "What's the third digit of pi?" or "What's the capital of Serbia?" or “When did colonial Governor William Bradford issue the first Thanksgiving Proclamation?”  
  • Accusations that you’re over-protective and admonitions to enroll your children in school where bullies (possibly armed with assault rifles) can “toughen them up for the real world.”
  • Comparisons of your 8-year-old emerging reader to your brother-in-law’s child who spontaneously read at 2.  Or pointing out with some disdain that your 11-year-old daughter still plays with dolls for goodness sake, while your sister’s more mature and popular middle-school daughter can do a great impersonation of Britney Spears as she sings all the lyrics to Womanizer
  • Asking your children, "Don't you want to go to school?"  Or commenting, "Gee, your grandpa and I really think you should go to school."  Or, as one 7-year-old boy I know was told by a 70-year-old relative, “Homeschooling is for poo-poo heads.”
  • Carrying on about the weird homeschoolers they've met – implying your kids will turn out weird, too.

All of the above situations can be especially challenging when you have to "make nice" with snarky relatives to preserve some civility at holiday gatherings. Other than too much eggnog, who knows what possesses family members to ask intrusive questions and dish out unsubstantiated opinions? Nevertheless, you are expected to politely eat it as evidenced by the following stories.

Pass The Turkeys Please

A homeschool mom (S.C. of Central Florida) recounted her family’s experience…

 

I have been homeschooling my three children for seven years. My in-laws live within ten miles and we see them frequently. My parents live 600 miles away and we see them on holidays.

 

When we announced that we would homeschool our then pre-K daughter, we were met with resistance. My in-laws were concerned about socialization and suggested local preschools. My parents grimaced, but kept their comments to themselves.

 

As first grade approached, my in-laws offered to pay half of the tuition at a private school. We declined. My parents were disappointed that we were homeschooling and their questions came more frequently. “What about learning to get along with her peers?” “What about field trips?”  What about science?”  “Cousin Jenny is learning about the California missions, have you taught that yet?” “How long are you going to homeschool?”

 

Our third, fourth and fifth year of homeschooling were the same – we received tuition offers and critical comments. They questioned us about testing and evaluations. 

 

Holidays are the hardest. My dad is the most vocal and hurtful. He will ask about testing, socialization, and mentions certain topics and says, “They should know that.”  He always asks, “How long will you homeschool?” He never leaves without saying, “I just don’t think they are getting the education that they need!”  Most of the comments he makes are in front of my kids.

Another homeschool mom, who asked to be identified only as “ST” to avoid stirring up any more trouble in her family, wrote:

My aunt and uncle are the worst . . . they've asked all the typical questions at holiday gatherings. I should preface what follows with the disclaimer that I am rather sarcastic and my son shares my sense of humor. I do not condone rudeness, disrespect or sassing -- but there are times when sarcasm is truly the best way to handle their questions.

 

They have done the quizzing thing . . .“What can you tell me about George Washington?” To which my son has replied, “How much time do you have? Do you want his early life or just the years that he was President?” Or they will say, “Your mom tells me that you've already started learning Algebra.  If I told you that 3x + 4 = 7, can you tell me what x equals?” My son’s answer was,  “Yes.”  When further pushed to produce the answer, he explained that the question that was asked was could he do it, not would he do it. (Oh, he makes a mama proud!)

 

They have asked my son if he is afraid that he'll be behind if he goes back to public school. His answer was, “I talked to a junior in high school last week who is learning the same thing in history that I am. I'm not afraid of being behind, I'm afraid they'll never catch up!” 

 

My aunt has made comments to me such as,  “I don't know how you do it.  When my kids were that age I couldn't wait for them to go to school. How do you handle being with him all day, every day?” With the most serious, deadpan look I could muster I simply stated, “I love him.” 

 

My aunt and uncle have asked more times than I can count about gaps in my son’s education. I have my response memorized! “Every education has gaps in it. If at the end of the day, I have taught my son how to learn and to love learning he'll take care of the rest.”

 

Do you have relatives who are real turkeys too? If so, the following suggestions for dealing with people who would rather smash homeschooling than potatoes may prove helpful.

Squash Objections with Kindness

Joyce offered this advice, “When relatives do have concerns and ask questions I try to take them seriously and let them know what we do to address those same concerns. Sometimes they actually make valid points and offer suggestions I can use. No matter how it comes out I try to remember that their concerns are rooted in love and hope for my son’s well-being. So as long as they are respectful, I am respectful back.”

Debbie, who homeschools in southern California, wrote, “My sister-in-law is a life-long public school teacher, so when we visited her for the holidays, we just didn't talk about homeschooling at all. We avoided the subject and kept the peace. It worked for us.”

Carolyn, a homeschool mom in Ohio, turned her skeptic parents into allies. She asked her mom to teach her kids how to paint with watercolors – her mom’s favorite pastime. She cleverly asked her dad, a mechanic, to teach her children how to maintain the family car.  When they saw how eager the children were to learn, they offered to help with other “subjects” like gardening, music, and math. Their family looks forward to holiday gatherings now.

Add Some Gravy

Pour on the charm. Don’t forget that most people would rather talk about themselves and their own children than listen to you talk about yours. Use that to your advantage. If a relative asks about homeschooling, give a quick, pleasant reply and ask them, “How are your kids doing? What are they up to?” Change the subject. Instead of talking about education, ask if they’ve seen any good movies or television programs – or find out if they’ve read a good book lately.   

Ladle on active, reflective, and assertive listening techniques to promote or minimize communication. Just spoon on simple responses such as:

  • Oh, I see…
  • That’s interesting…
  • Good point…
  • You may be right …
  • I hadn’t thought about that…

These phrases will keep polite conversation flowing minimally (even if it is one-sided) while helping to avoid arguments.   

Remember that while you cannot control other people, you can control your reaction to people, what they say, and circumstances. You are responsible for your own feelings and behavior and the results you ultimately get.   

More Stuffing? 


Fran Wisniewski, a homeschool mom of three and list moderator for the Natural Learner Yahoo Group, said, “The best advice I can give to other homeschooling families who must deal with difficult relatives during the holidays is to read, read, read!” Stuff your brain with information to reinforce your position and gain confidence. Here are some resources that will help: 

Suggested Books: 

  • Homeschooling – And Loving It! by Rebecca Kochenderfer
  • Deschooling Gently by Tammy Takahashi
  • Homeschooling: A Family’s Journey by Gregory and Martine Millman 
  • Learning All the Time by John Holt 
  • Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto

Have Some Dessert

Homeschool mom, Ariana, passed along some ideas for celebrating holidays that are sure to sweeten the pie. Instead of worrying about confrontations over homeschooling, simply focus on making everyone feel special and a part of the celebration.  Here’s how…

Holiday Helpers

At Thanksgiving or other holiday celebrations, get everyone involved (even the kids) by writing a specific task on a place card or index card and placing it on their plate. Tell each person to find their plate and do their assigned task. Examples could be, carve the turkey, clear the dishes, bring out dessert, etc.

Leaves of Gratitude

Cut leaves out of autumn-colored construction paper and make one for each guest. Ask each person to write down or draw a picture of what they are grateful for on a paper leaf, and place it in a basket on the dinner table. Take turns reading them during dessert.  Then, as an after-dinner activity, place them in a scrapbook. Do this each year. Everyone will enjoy looking back through the scrapbook and reading their comments.

Tablecloth of Thanks & Wishes

Place a light-colored cotton tablecloth on the table and give everyone a "Sharpie" permanent marker (they come in a variety of colors). Have them write down something that they are thankful for or a special wish for the New Year on the tablecloth. Children can draw a picture. Date each message. Use this tablecloth annually. Everyone will enjoy reading the messages year after year.  

Don’t Forget the Leftovers

There are many positive and helpful articles about homeschooling available on the Internet for free. Read them yourself to boost your confidence and relieve anxiety. Select a few and print them out for family members. Put them in a doggie bag with the leftovers.  It will give them something to chew on the next day.You’ll find terrific articles archived at these suggested websites:

Decline the Invitation And Make Your Own Holiday Magic

There will always be families for whom holiday gatherings are simply not an option. Read these comments on the topic posted to a homeschool support group discussion list:

“When my kiddos were younger, we had a time when we just didn’t go to family

events that were going to prove to have added stress due to these kinds of

confrontations. Did it hurt feelings? Yep. But, having my kiddos have good

memories was more important than subjecting them to the kind of destructive

behavior that can occur at these events.”

 

“We have a long standing rule that goes like this. If a family member is cruel, destructive, bossy, exceptionally rude, vulgar, aggressive or is just wanting to pick a fight -- we don't subject the kids or ourselves to that family member. We do not go to homes where we know the environment is hostile. I don't want those to be our family Thanksgiving memories.”

 

I suspect that it's not just homeschooling that is a bone of contention in these families. Anything that is perceived as threatening, different, or "not the way we do things," would probably catch flack. Homeschooling is just an easy target.

There are so many dynamics that produce supportive results in families -- including individual confidence, attitude, self-esteem, comfort with the unconventional, fearlessness, gratefulness, and understanding, that each and every one of us (including our family members) have the right to determine their own unique purpose and live a life that supports it.

A family member who possesses such qualities and understands those concepts will always be supportive of others.

A family member who does not, may be in such pain (often unrealized) about their own life and circumstances that they simply are unable to support anyone else who may be on the path to living an extraordinary life. And homeschooling can certainly result in an extraordinary life for you and your children.

We have, to some extent, been socially conditioned to believe that we cannot have what we want and achieve our dreams. Oh, we pay lip service to telling people that they can live their dreams -- but watch what happens when they try. We criticize, speculate, judge, condemn, and come up with a thousand reasons for why they can't or shouldn't. We beat them down with our objections and "logic" and when that doesn't work -- we resort to insults, cynicism, sarcasm and disparaging, hurtful remarks. And what's really crazy is some of us do that to the people we claim to love the most – our family!

Anytime you take the path less traveled, you'll meet some resistance, as many homeschoolers will attest. The best thing to do is ignore it (and the people who dish it out), and follow your heart. That takes great courage of conviction and absolute dedication to the belief that what you're doing is in your best interests -- especially when it is plain as day that following your path doesn't harm anyone else, and actually helps others. I could make the case that homeschooling does exactly that.

Of course, telling you to persevere in the face of detractors is easy. Doing it, and risking being shunned and criticized -- and accepting the possibility of having the love and approval of a family member withheld from you or your children as a penalty for your non-conformity -- is much harder to do.

I think some people are able, through quiet determination, dignity and resolve, to get through rough patches with relatives -- with great results. Their relatives come to see that homeschooling is not the pariah they imagined, and may even become advocates.

Others get sucked into the drama created by the nay-sayers to no one's benefit -- especially not the children's.

Rather than endure another “festive” gathering that dishes up a plate filled with spite, doubt, bitterness, fear and disapproval, take the “angst” out of “Thangstgiving” and refuse to participate. It’s okay to decline invitations to dysfunctional family gatherings to create healthy, loving holiday memories among like-minded, supportive friends that your family will cherish forever.

Here’s to a happy Thanksgiving and a happy holiday season!

Copyright 2008, Diane Flynn Keith, All Rights Reserved.

Diane Keith Flynn is the director of Homefires-The Journal of Homeschooling Online and also hosts a great online resource called "Clickschooling". She and her husband have homeschooled their 2 sons for 14 years in the San Fransisco Bay Area. Diane's depth of knowledge and experience, intelligent, sparkling wit and warm sense of humor make her a favorite of conference audiences and talk radio hosts all over California. Diane is a widely-read writer, being a regular columnist in The Link Homeschool Magazine and the author of the popular book "Carschooling" originally published by Prima Publishing, now published by Random House. Visit her website
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ww.Carschooling.com.

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