This blog post began percolating in my head a few weeks ago, when I came across the tribal concept Quinn Cummings mentioned in her book The Year of Learning Dangerously. When she and her preteen daughter began the adventure known as homeschooling, Quinn spent considerable time looking for a group that she and her daughter could identify with and feel supported by.
Any time you make a lifestyle choice (like homeschooling for example) that lies just outside the accepted cultural norm, you're going to receive pushback. Your family and friends will question you, along with well-meaning strangers and maybe an asshole or two that wants to know why your children are hanging out in the cereal aisle at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. Having a group you identify with is super-helpful when you start to have your semi-annual panic attacks that you are ruining your children for life or when you are changing science curriculums and you just don't know what to choose. It's more than that though - having a group of like-minded families to fall back on is the best way to keep your head in the game and your heart focused on the big picture - that you like your kids so much that you are willing to spend all day with them - even if that means teaching that poop goes IN the potty, what the three sounds of 'A' are and how to simplify fractions... ALL AT THE SAME TIME.
I've been with my 'tribe' for almost six years now. I can remember my very first 'official' homeschool Park Day. It was in the beginning of August, 2007. Rylan was a wee 14 mo. old and Jordan was a newly-minted seven. We made our way over to a group of women, sitting on blankets under the large shade trees of our city park. They welcomed me with open arms. :). They admired Rylan's attempts to toddle in the sand, shared some ideas about anything and everything homeschooling, and even shared some strawberries. I had found my people. These women have been a tremendous support throughout all of these years. We have welcomed many newborn family members as they came along - I can't remember a time when there wasn't a babe-in-arms. We have a shared history that I treasure very much. I don't see them as often as I used to - as the kids grow they get more involved in other interests, and so our paths cross with less regularity.
This past Wednesday, the stars aligned and the sun shone bright. Thanks to the power of social media, we all convened at the park - some making their one and only annual Park Day appearance. (That means you Shawn and Amanda ;). It was glorious. I was feeling low (see previous post). My friends politely listened to my rant and then I felt much better. Owen single-handedly decimated Deanna's popcorn supply. Two mothers nursed their babies. Kids came for sips of water and then disappeared again. I got a sunburn. And I felt totally rejuvenated. This is my tribe. These women know my history, and I, theirs.
In regards to having a 'tribe' within the homeschooling community - I can't think of anything else that will have greater influence on your success rate with sticking it out than that. You need families that 'understand' what you are going through. The annual cycle of emotional ups and downs. The myriad of choices you must make, all the while trying to honor the individual child. The delicate balance of mother vs. teacher. The need for knitting, good books, bloggy comfort, coffee and wine - in no particular order. I don't know where we would be right now in our homeschooling journey if I hadn't encountered this wonderful group of women and their great kids. This tribe is my anchor. I wonder if we should come up with some kind of tribal tattoo...