“But what about socialization?”
This question has become a byline for homeschoolers as we run our children to and fro, learning how to balance co-op, sports, music lessons, church activities, volunteer opportunities, and so much more. The typical homeschooler can move easily across generational lines, engaging with younger kids, interacting well with peers, and communicating confidently with adults.
As the homeschool community grows, many of the activities that once had to be pursued in “mixed” company can now often be found contained within the local homeschool community. Homeschool sports teams abound, as do choirs and bands. Alternatives to the traditional Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops such as Trail-Blazers and American Heritage Girls are often started and largely populated by homeschooling families. We enjoy field trips together and join forces for co-op activities or community and church events. Yes, socialization opportunities definitely abound.
While I do fully recognize the nourishment that comes from being with others who are like-minded, I cannot help but wonder if the increase in homeschool community interactions is causing a different socialization problem – one that could impact ourselves and our children as powerfully as a lack of socialization ever could.
A New Socialization Question
As our children grow and mature, we are able to take pride in our homeschool choice and community. We feel we are giving our children the best possible education for their personalities and learning styles because we know them better than anyone else. On top of that, we have full control over who we and our children spend time with, how much time our children spend away from the family, and what experiences they are exposed to during activities.
This pride is not inherently wrong. The problem comes when it is left unchecked and leads us into a closed mindset that prevents us from genuinely and humbly interacting with the world around us, leading our children to “holier than thou” mindsets because of their learned pride in their homeschool status and community. That pride is sinful.
So, how do we overcome this?
We start by asking ourselves an important question. What is the purpose of socialization?
If we look to Scripture, we actually see two purposes for socialization among Christians. The first is the building up of community for the purpose of strengthening one another.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:13
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25
Obviously, the homeschool community (especially if it is largely composed of believers) helps fulfill this purpose, in conjunction with active participation in a local church. But, as we invest in the community, we often do not leave time or energy for the second purpose of socialization: the spread of the gospel and the growth of Christ’s kingdom. And that, my friends, is where we struggle the most.
Oh, we may volunteer at the local homeless shelter or keep our car stocked with bags of goodies for the random needy people we encounter. But, how are we at building relationships? Humbly and passionately interacting with people who are not quite like us?
Once again, we are brought back full circle to the attitude of Christ, the ultimate example of what our socialization should be.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Phil 2:3-8
In order to look “to the interests of others,” we have to know them. In order to serve, we must relate. In order to be like Christ, we cannot distance ourselves from a lost, needy world. Obedience requires that part of our socialization include active, relational interaction with those who are not like us – and that we teach our children how to do the same.
Grace to Respond
I am challenged every time I look at my schedule, evaluate my interactions, and consider the relationships my children have built and continue to build. I cringe when I see my pride reflected in the kids’ behavior and comments, and I rejoice each time I see them invest in a soul that needs to feel the love of Christ. Through it all, I know that true socialization – socialization that fulfills community and gospel-sharing purposes – has to be intentional.
Fortunately, there is also grace. This is not about guiltily responding to the “pure and undefiled religion” plea by jumping on the bandwagon of someone else’s passion. This is about prayerfully opening our eyes to the possibilities for relationship that exist outside the framework of our nice, neat homeschool community. And sometimes that simply means getting to know the family across the street!
And, speaking of grace, I’ll share a little secret with you. Genuine, purposeful, intentional socialization isn’t just obedient – it’s fun! When we heed God’s direction to step out of our comfort zone, out of our pride, into the relationships He is ordaining for us, we often find ourselves right in the middle of socialization that feeds our passions. We see our children grow and bloom before our very eyes. And we experience the joy of watching the kingdom grow, both through spiritual growth and through numerical additions.
There will come a time when my children are no longer an immediate part of the homeschool world. They will leave our home and launch out into a season of single adulthood or young married life or the early parenting years when the homeschool community is not immediately relevant. As time goes on, they may or may not return to the homeschool community when their own children reach the schooling age. So, when it comes down to it, my job is not to teach my children how to socialize well within our homeschool community. My job is to teach them how to develop their socialization passions well, so they will know how to build relationships no matter where God leads them.