On a couple of homeschool email lists I belong to there's been a lot of talk lately about friends. A few questions keep coming up.
1~How do you deal with your children's playmates who are from families that don't share your same educational/child-rearing philosophies?
2~How much time should we allow for socializing?
3~What about our children's playmates that WE don't really like, or children whose parents we don't approve of?
4~How do you find friends for yourself (and your children) who share similar world views, philosophies, ages of children, and interests?
So I'm going to tackle these questions here. Because you're all dying to know my opinion, and I don't feel like doing laundry or dishes or anything resembling housework. And I've been thinking about the issue of FRIENDS a lot this fall. A family we never really got to know but always thought we'd get along with, and who we know shared a lot of our values moved away last week, and we miss them, or the lost opportunity, at any rate. And the boys and I have made some new friends, a large and lovely family who have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome in their home even though it is clear that a lot about our religions and politics don't overlap very much.
1~Friends with different family philosophies. Are you kidding me? Maybe if you live in a city or community where your philosophy is the dominant one you might have this problem. Maybe. Mostly this kind of question seems to come from parents who worry about the effects of the TV world and children raised in the mainstream culture on their sheltered children and protected families. I understand the concern, but it has never been too much of a problem for us. Not as big a problem as not having any kids to play with because all your friends are in school and busy with classmate's birthday parties and school events, for instance. Kids are pretty adaptable. And even kids who have unlimited access to TV seem to like playing at a house where TV isn't an option. All kids seem to like building forts, swinging, running around being silly, and making up pretend games. And kids who aren't raised to worship pop stars and aren't given every TV show spinoff toy tend to think its pretty silly to even think about these things, let alone waste play time talking about it!
2~Time to play with others is different for every family. ABCD seems happiest to have a playdate once or twice a week, a sleepover with his best friend once a month or so, and the organized activities we do with other kids. Mymy is happiest when someone comes to play or we go somewhere else to play every single day. He's very social and loves big groups. "Who coming today?" is the question every single morning.
3~I don't let my kids play with kids I don't like. Period. The other problem, about parents, has only come up a couple of times, and is more difficult. But it seems rare to me to find children I really like and want my kids around whose parents I don't like. It seems, perhaps not too curiously, that when I find parents I don't like, their kids are usually obnoxious brats that I don't want my kids around anyway. More often there are kids who are ill-behaved whose parents I really like as friends for me, even if it seems their parenting skills aren't admirable. And that's the harder thing so far. Its hard for me to be friends with someone who doesn't seem to be devoting enough attention to their children. I usually end up feeling disdainful and start separating myself and my kids from that family. I realize this question will come up again as the kids grow older and have more say in who they play with and want to be with. But so far its my choice and there haven't been any real problems. My kids are well socialized and equally comfortable interacting with children, adults, and small animals.
4~Friends for Mom. This is the most interesting part of the question of friends to me. When we moved to this town I felt like we'd never fit in, and also that I never wanted us to. We made some friends right away, but I spent a long time waiting, hoping, to find other families just like us. Waldorf homeschool families, religiously and politically liberal, active in the community, organic farm supporting, etc.. Those families have not been found. I don't think there are any here, or if there are they're so far underground I haven't been able to find them in 7 years.
BUT... there are lots of homeschool families. And lots of the very conservative families also eat organically and eschew materialism, value outdoor, natural playtime for their children, breastfeed, wear their babies, have well mannered children and are not Disney-fied and plasticised. And when raising your children is the most important thing and so many of the child-rearing methods are the same sometimes political and religious differences aren't such a barrier as they could be without children.
There are people at the Unitarian Church, the small Friends meeting, a handful of other liberal religious groups who share a similar commitment to religious tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and serious, quiet religious observance. Well, not that Unitarians are always quiet, but they do respect and value every one's right to find their own way, and that is something.
There are people in the small peace groups, environmental, hiking, community and political groups that share our global concerns as well as commitment to local action and awareness.
We have a group of friends I could never invite to supper all at once, though there certainly is overlap. But we have friends to make an advent garden with, friends to invite for Day of the Dead, friends to have playdates with, friends to share homeschool art projects with, friends to work on political campaigns with, and friends to go snow-shoeing and camping with.
We spent a long time wishing we lived some place where we could find other families with more similarities, so our kids could grow up in this ideal, close knit family of friends who shared childcare and holidays and values. It hasn't happened that way. I haven't FOUND a community of like-minded people here, we've created one, sort of. Our community of friends is more like a huge complicated sort of Venn diagram, with all of these overlapping sections than the big circle of loving arms kind of community I'd once envisioned. Its okay, better than that really, we have surprised ourselves with a very rich and lovely life in a place we never intended to stay, let alone enjoy!
I never would have made all of these various, diverse friends if I hadn't purposely gone looking for them. Lots of people are too shy, too overwhelmed, too unsure of how to reach out to even try. I got over myself and started talking to people, at the grocery store, at the Y, the park. We started volunteering, with kids in tow, for all kinds of events, so people in town started seeing us doing the things we care about, and finally had something to talk to us about. I started asking for help, and to help.
I know lot of people think we're wrong about politics, can't possibly be reading the same bible they are, weird to homeschool, off-base to practice attachment parenting, freaks to not allow "educational" talking toys, awful for bringing our kids to political rallies and peace marches and community meetings, but mostly people think we're thoughtful and sincere and loving, trying our best, working really hard, and that above all we mean well. And people seem to appreciate that we stand up and speak out and do what we think is right, even when they don't agree that we ARE right. It helps that our kids are relatively well mannered, bright, and interesting to be around. These are the things that I look for in potential friends, after all.