Monday, August 20, 2007

Homeschool Support Group Meetings and Homeschooling Parents

Last month I blogged that I feel it is important that new homeschoolers make connections in your local homeschooling community. You can read that post here.

Eight years ago I began attending evening adult support group meetings for homeschoolers I noticed some patterns which have continued to be true over time. I don’t know if this is true everywhere but this is what it is like in the area that I live in.

I noticed that often the night adult meetings draw certain categories of people. I also noticed that the membership directory had many more people than ever came to adult support meetings or even other homeschool activities. For example in one group we had about twelve of the same core people who attended the adult meetings, but over eighty people were on the membership roster. In my own small homeschool support group, I also have a core of a small number of members yet some people keep asking to receive the monthly emails in which I provide the details of the next month’s meeting. Some have never come to one of my meetings yet they keep asking to be on the list to receive communications.

So who goes to these adult homeschool support group meetings and who does not go?

1. Usually there is of course, the leader of the group who attends the meetings. This person is one who feels that local face-to-face support and friendship with other homeschoolers is necessary for good mental health of the homeschool mom.

2. Then there are usually a core of experienced homeschooling mothers who attend for various reasons. Some really like face to face discussion with the other moms. Some use the meeting as a good excuse to get out of the house without their children. Some use the meeting as a way to boost their motivation or to help get them out of a slump. Some just want to be around others who know what they are going through and can relate to their experiences. Some have friends who are in the support group and the meeting is an easy reason to see their friends.

3. If the group allows it (all do in my area), some that attend these meetings are those seriously considering homeschooling but whose children are either still in school or they are too young for elementary school enrollment. It is good research for the homeschooling-curious to attend a support group meeting and to ask questions face to face of other homeschooling parents.

However one word of advice that I give is that if you don’t like the group, if you didn’t gel with the other parents or if the topic was off-putting to you, such as discussing a homeschooling style that doesn’t appeal to you, please find another local group and attend that meeting. Sometimes the ‘flavor’ of the meeting will vary greatly from month to month depending on the topic or the people in attendance, yet other times what you see at one meeting will be consistent with how it usually is.

Please don’t judge the entire homeschooling community based on your experience at one meeting if your experience was negative.

4. The others that attend are usually the newbie’s. Sometimes we will see a person once or twice. Sometimes a person will attend for half a year or a whole year or two then will disappear from attending the night meetings. Some will become the ‘core’ members who regularly attend the meetings, while others may stop attending the adult support group meetings altogether.

5. My friend told me she has another category, those parents who feel the need to have an excuse to go out alone in the evening. She feels that the mother may not feel comfortable going out once a month for coffee with a friend for fellowship with another homeschooling mother, but they will make and take the time to get out if it is in the name of ‘providing information to homeschool their children’ (even if what is gleaned from the meeting is more fellowship and encouragement than educational content).

6. Absent from the meetings are those who don’t feel they need face to face support or who are not comfortable attending support group meetings. They may never have attended one but they still feel it is not ‘for them’ nor is it necessary in order to be a happy homeschooling parent. Those people may join the support group and appear on the member roster but no one (including the leader) has ever met them in person! Or you may meet them while at a homeschooling class or event and you recognize their name from the member directory but you’ve never seen them at a support group meeting. One mother told me she has always felt like an outsider in social groups and that she is more comfortable keeping a few close homeschool mom friends instead of interacting with more other homeschooling parents at support group meetings.

Patterns with Meeting Attendees
Through discussions with other homeschool support group leaders, I have verified that my observations are typical and are happening across my state. I don’t know if this is what is happening across the country.

The most common thing that seems to happen is that some people, who attended support group meetings regularly, later stop attending adult support group meetings. Why, you may wonder? There are a few different reasons.

The simplest reason is that once a homeschooling parent “gets their feet wet” and gets some experience under their belt they no longer may feel the need to attend support group meetings. Once their confidence has built up and they are happily homeschooling they don’t feel they are getting anything out of attending such a meeting.

Another contributing reason may be that the family is busy already and making time to attend that meeting is just not worth it to them.

The content of the meetings may no longer be applicable to the person’s interests. If a meeting has a set topic for discussion perhaps the topic is not of interest to that member.

Some families have situations that change over time. Some husbands may begin traveling for business more frequently and the mother may not want to hire a babysitter, or may not be able to afford using a babysitter so the mother can get out alone.

Sometimes the family has reprioritized their time and wants evenings (every night of the month) to be family time.

Sometimes the children’s extra-curricular activities can clash with the meeting time, especially sports that overflow into dinner time which then require eating a late dinner afterwards. At times the family is so busy during the day rushing from one class to another event that it just is too hard to then rush out to an evening meeting for mom. Sometimes mom feels to relax in the evening is more uplifting than going out to another appointment.

A reason that I've seen which is unfortunate is when two women have a disagreement and seek to avoid seeing each other which sometimes means that one or both chooses to not go to a support group meeting if they think the other may be there.

Sometimes illness of a child or the homeschooling mother takes a family’s time and it may interfere with ‘extra’ things like attending support group meetings. A common issue here in my area is children and mothers becoming ill with Lyme Disease. I can’t tell you how many homeschooling families I know have at least one family member with Lyme Disease. Some are battling debilitating chronic Lyme Disease.

Homeschooling mothers who are members of the Sandwich Generation also may find their time and energy spent caring for elderly parents who are sick or dying. Just maintaining homeschooling can be a challenge and there is often no room for ‘fluff’ like attending a homeschool support group meeting.

Some homeschooling parents attend adult meetings to make new connections and friends with other homeschooling parents. Once those ties are formed and friendships are made, some of those people stop attending the adult meetings. In their place, these mothers begin and later, are busy maintaining longer term, closer friendships with other homeschooling mothers. They find someone they like and “click” with and they form personal friendships. They communicate via e-mail conversations and/or phone conversations.

Some homeschooling parents also see each other for playdates or other homeschooling events. Once they become active in the local homeschooling community, they get enough support from seeing and chatting with other homeschooling mothers and don’t feel the need to attend night support group meetings. They may form co-op’s with each other. They may agree to attend homeschool park days with their children then while the children play they talk with each other and get their ‘support’ in that way.

Some mothers may enjoy their friendship by going out for a light dinner or coffee for a couple of hours in the evening with one or two close homeschooling mother friends, in place of attending that local homeschool support group meeting.

Some parents attend the adult meetings to find new friends for their children. They may not be looking for support for themselves or for friendships for themselves but they want connections for activities for their children. Once those connections are formed, they may back off from attending the adult support group meetings.

Some meeting attendees may not like the ‘flavor’ of the homeschooling group so they stop attending the meetings. Maybe one core member keeps saying something that brushes them the wrong way (I have heard this complaint numerous times). Maybe after attending more than one meeting you are left with a feeling that how you are homeschooling is “not good enough”. That is not the purpose of attending a homeschool support group meeting—to leave feeling worse than when the meeting began! Some may feel that some in the group are talking too much for or against homeschooling with certain methods and that leaves you with negative feelings. Sometimes people don’t like that a meeting is absent of religious content, while others may not like another meeting because it does have certain religious content.

Some join homeschool support groups to get access to information such as what field trips or homeschool classes are going on in the area. Some want to hear about where they can get educator discounts or just to learn about good activities in the local area (museum events open to the public etc.). Some of those people have no desire to attend an adult support group meeting, so they never go to one. Those must be the people who join a group and who never show their face at group events.

There are many reasons why people attend homeschool support group meetings for adults, and why group members may never attend the meetings. Typically a support group meeting will have an experience homeschooling parent as the leader, a number of core meeting attendees who are experienced who like to attend support group meetings for their own fulfillment and to help others. There will also be some of the newer homeschoolers and maybe one or two people who are researching homeschooling who are seriously considering homeschooling. So long as a group is thriving and the members are getting something positive out of attending the meetings, I’d call the group worthwhile and a success.

Technorati Tags: , , .


Headmistress, zookeeper said...

Or there are a few people like me. I attend our group meeting. I don't get much out of it that is useful to me in my homeschooling and I don't need the escape or the extra date on my calendar, but I've been homeschooling ten years longer than the most experienced other mom in the group, and I know (because I've been told) that the other moms are encouraged when I go. So I go to be a support rather than to get it.

Sebastian said...

This is such a toughtful post. I think sometimes there can be a pressure for all members of a support group to have a minimum level of activity. Perhaps this is counterproductive. There is something to be said for allowing people to support a group by just being members. If certain activities seem to be high maintenance, then ensure that everyone participating helps to support that activity (ex. everyone in testing has a volunteer job to do, proctoring or watching younger kids or supervising snacks).
I think it's worth remembering that support groups are not businesses in competition with other support groups. There should not be a compulsion to grow their market share.