With homeschooling and in our family's general life experiences we have sought quality experiences. That quest sometimes takes us outside our default circles and makes us strangers among others; we're the outsiders, at least at first. I consider our homeschool community our main community but it does not provide all we need such as sports or Scouts.
We chose a Boy Scout Troop one town over as we felt it was a better fit for what we felt was a good Scout program, but that means that my kids are the only kids from our town in that Troop so we have no default clique. Shall I rephrase it to say that my kids don't have a default social network established due to some other circumstance, chiefly, the school the other kids attend?
The hardest part is not that initial hurdle it is later when we are established and even if we are accepted by the group we have it a bit harder still such as not having a quick drive to the meetings and not having carpool opportunities. I can't do a quick drop off; I wind up having to hang around at the meeting (or sitting in the car in the parking lot). I have experienced this with Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Little League for both sons and lacrosse with my younger son.
Last year when my husband was working 16 hours a day it was stressful as I felt I was kind of like a single parent. When my husband was available to help out due to unemployment it felt like a dream; to have him available at 5pm for driving kids around was fantastic. My husband also pitched in and planned, prepared and cleaned up dinner. That was great as after working with the kids all day homeschooling and with having prepared and cleaned up the day's two earlier meals and snacks, I had enough and was just tired out.
Now that my husband is living across the country working at his new job, while we prepare to sell the house and move to join him I am really, really feeling the stress of being a temporary single parent. I just simply cannot be in two places at one time.
Although the lacrosse coach encouraged carpooling the fact is that I don't know the mothers in my town whose kids play on the team. It's clique-y. I could say more but I will leave it at that.
When seeking out better than average opportunities for our kids there are pros and cons.
One benefit is our children see that they have many options. They know they can try new things and explore. If something isn't working, they can change to try that activity somewhere else. This is not what I'm finding in multiple other kids we know, who feel locked into their group. Some quit due to hating the group yet pining for the actual activity.
I recall one boy who really missed Boy Scouts but was just too scared to try another Troop but whose main issues with the Troop in this town was a mismatch socially with the kids he's been going to public school with all his life. I'm thinking also of those elementary grade students who feel they need to stick with the same old thing they know instead of trying a new sport to see if they like it better. They are just scared to death to even try a sport they are not already acquainted with, even though skills clinics and team practice would teach them what they need to know.
I know two boys who seem concerned that their parents will not be happy with making a change in their lives; they feel that their parents have invested in an activity and that their parents would be disappointed if they made a switch. I'm not talking about quitting a sport to be a couch potato, I'm talking about changing from one sport to another to give it a try.
Another benefit to stepping outside the default group is that our kids have learned to socialize well. They can go into a group of strangers and be nice to other kids and figure out how to fit in. They make friends and put themselves out there, being a bit assertive and outgoing in their interactions. They are not afraid or scared to go into a group of stranger kids and teens, they just plunge in. Our kids see my husband and I doing this also in the groups we interact with (i.e. I talk with the parents of the Boy Scouts, I volunteer with the Boy Scout Troop). By modeling good social skills, parents can help kids learn socialization skills as well.
I once told a parent about how it's harder to be a stranger in a group and to try to find where they fit in and the father responded that maybe actually it's better. He told me that sometimes being around the same kids all of one's life kind of locks them in. They see the same kids at school and at band and at Scouts. They have known each other so long that they have not only developed one or maybe two good friendships that last over the years, but actually they are impartial to most of the others, and what's worse they may have kids they dislike or hate that they are forced to be around yet again.
The closest thing my kids have had to that locked in feeling of having to be around certain kids time and time again are the homeschooled kids we've known since my oldest was in Kindergarten or First Grade. However due to the very independent lives that homeschoolers lead in my area of Connecticut we actually wish we saw certain people more than we are able to. We are all so busy we can not only easily avoid seeing certain people but we miss out on seeing more of the ones we want to be around more often. The new homeschool co-ops that we have become involved with in the last 18 months have made things more close knit and with the wonderful benefits there has also been some strain and stress between the kids and sometimes between the parents.
I seem to be constantly seeking balance and looking for a harmonious schedule that is just stimulating and enriching enough yet is not so nutty that we are stressed out and made to feel insane. That's a challenge for me. Whatever we choose to do can sometimes be felt by the kids, ranging from feeling bored or feeling too harried.
The part of homeschooling that involves running around to appointments and having more of a challenge getting here and there due to lack of easy carpools is one hard thing about homeschooling. It's a pain in the neck but for all the great benefits of homeschooling and the benefits of also choosing quality extra-curricular activities outweigh the nuisance. When we can't handle it and there is too much of not being able to be in two places at one time it's an indication to cut back on what we do participate in for that season or that year. In the big picture of things, it's manageable.