It's Not Just The Pie That's Crusty
It's Not Just The Pie That's Crusty
By Diane Flynn Keith
Thanksgiving is coming and you know what that means...yes, yes, a
Mayflower-themed curriculum with Pilgrims, Native Americans,
and all that schoolish stuff — however, I'm referring to something much less
For many of you, the Thanksgiving feast with its traditional marshmallow sweet potato
casserole is the first of many sticky situations that will last throughout the holiday
season. You'll be served a smorgasbord of confrontational relatives who subject you
to snide comments and questions that may include:
- Insisting that your kids will not be well-socialized (even
though they are in the next room happily playing and interacting with their
- Testing your kids to see what they know. For example, your
father-in-law channels Alex Trebek as he asks, "What's the third digit
of pi?" or "What's the capital of Serbia?" or "When did
colonial Governor William Bradford issue the first Thanksgiving Proclamation?"
- Accusations that you're over-protective and admonitions to
enroll your children in school where bullies (possibly armed with assault
rifles) can "toughen them up for the real world."
- Comparisons of your 8-year-old emerging reader to your
brother-in-law's child who spontaneously read at 2. Or pointing out with some
disdain that your 11-year-old daughter still plays with dolls for goodness sake,
while your sister's more mature and popular middle-school daughter can do a great
impersonation of Britney Spears as she gyrates and sings all the lyrics to
- Asking your children, "Don't you want to go to school?"
Or commenting, "Gee, your grandpa and I really think you should go to school."
Or, as one 7-year-old boy I know was told by a 70-year-old relative, "Homeschooling
is for poo-poo heads."
- Carrying on about the weird homeschoolers they've met — implying
your kids will turn out weird too.
All of the above situations can be especially challenging when you have to "make
nice" with snarky relatives to preserve some civility at holiday gatherings. Other
than too much eggnog, who knows what possesses family members to ask intrusive questions
and dish out unsubstantiated opinions? Nevertheless, you are expected to politely eat
it as evidenced by the following stories.
Pass The Turkeys Please
A homeschool mom (S.C. of Central Florida) recounted her family's experience...
I have been homeschooling my three children for seven years. My in-laws live within ten miles
and we see them frequently. My parents live 600 miles away and we see them on holidays.
When we announced that we would homeschool our then pre-K daughter, we were met with resistance.
My in-laws were concerned about socialization and suggested local preschools. My parents
grimaced, but kept their comments to themselves.
As first grade approached, my in-laws offered to pay half of the tuition at a private school.
We declined. My parents were disappointed that we were homeschooling and their questions came
more frequently. "What about learning to get along with her peers?" "What about
field trips?" What about science?" "Cousin Jenny is learning about the California
missions, have you taught that yet?" "How long are you going to homeschool?"
Our third, fourth and fifth year of homeschooling were the same — we received tuition offers
and critical comments. They questioned us about testing and evaluations.
Holidays are the hardest. My dad is the most vocal and hurtful. He will ask about testing,
socialization, and mentions certain topics and says, "They should know that." He
always asks, "How long will you homeschool?" He never leaves without saying, "I
just don't think they are getting the education that they need!" Most of the comments he
makes are in front of my kids.
Another homeschool mom, who asked to be identified only as "ST" to avoid stirring up
any more trouble in her family, wrote:
My aunt and uncle are the worst... they've asked all the typical questions at holiday gatherings.
I should preface what follows with the disclaimer that I am rather sarcastic and my son shares
my sense of humor. I do not condone rudeness, disrespect
or sassing — but there are times when sarcasm is truly the best way to handle their questions.
"I don't know how you do it. When my kids were that age I couldn't wait
for them to go to school. How do you handle being with him all day, every day?"
They have done the quizzing thing... "What can you tell me about George Washington?"
To which my son has replied, "How much time do you have? Do you want his early life or
just the years that he was President?" Or they will say, "Your mom tells me that
you've already started learning Algebra. If I told you that 3x + 4 = 7, can you tell me what
x equals?" My son's answer was, "Yes." When further pushed to produce the
answer, he explained that the question that was asked was could
he do it, not would he do it. (Oh, he makes a mama
They have asked my son if he is afraid that he'll be behind if he goes back to public school.
His answer was, "I talked to a junior in high school last week who is learning the same
thing in history that I am. I'm not afraid of being behind, I'm afraid they'll never catch
My aunt has made comments to me such as, "I don't know how
you do it. When my kids were that age I couldn't wait for them to go to school. How do you handle
being with him all day, every day?" With the most serious, deadpan look I could muster I
simply stated, "I love him."
My aunt and uncle have asked more times than I can count about gaps in my son's education. I
have my response memorized! "Every education has gaps in it. If at the end of the day,
I have taught my son how to learn and to
love learning he'll take care of the rest."
Do you have relatives who are real turkeys too? If so, the following suggestions for dealing with
people who would rather smash homeschooling than potatoes may prove helpful.
Squash Objections with Kindness
Joyce offered this advice, "When relatives do have concerns and ask questions I try to take
them seriously and let them know what we do to address those same concerns. Sometimes they
actually make valid points and offer suggestions I can use. No matter how it comes out I try
to remember that their concerns are rooted in love and hope for my son's well being. So as long
as they are respectful, I am respectful back."
Debbie, who homeschools in southern California, wrote, "My sister-in-law is a life-long public
school teacher, so when we visited her for the holidays, we just didn't talk about homeschooling at
all. We avoided the subject and kept the peace. It worked for us."
Carolyn, a homeschool mom in Ohio, turned her skeptic parents into allies. She asked her mom to teach
her kids how to paint with watercolors — her mom's favorite pastime. She cleverly asked her
dad, a mechanic, to teach her children how to maintain the family car. When they saw how eager the
children were to learn, they offered to help with other "subjects" like gardening, music,
and math. Their family looks forward to holiday gatherings now.
Add Some Gravy
Pour on the charm. Don't forget that most people would rather talk about themselves and their own
children than listen to you talk about yours. Use that to your advantage. If a relative asks
about homeschooling, give a quick, pleasant reply and ask them, "How are your kids doing?
What are they up to?" Change the subject. Instead of talking about education, ask if
they've seen any good movies or television programs — or find out if they've read a good
Ladle on active, reflective, and assertive listening techniques to promote or minimize communication.
Just spoon on simple responses such as:
- Oh, I see...
- That's interesting...
- Good point...
- You may be right ...
- I hadn't thought about that...
These phrases will keep polite conversation flowing minimally (even if it is one-sided) while
helping to avoid arguments.
Remember that while you cannot control other people, you can
control your reaction to people, what they say, and circumstances. You are responsible for your
own feelings and behavior and the results you ultimately get — including your own happiness.
Fran Wisniewski, a homeschool mom of three and list moderator for the Natural Learner Yahoo
Group, said, "The best advice I can give to other homeschooling families who must deal
with difficult relatives during the holidays is to read, read, read!" Stuff your brain
with information to reinforce your position and gain confidence. Here are some resources
that will help:
Save Room for Dessert
Homeschool mom Ariana passed along some ideas for celebrating holidays that are sure to sweeten
the pie. Instead of worrying about confrontations over homeschooling, simply focus on making
everyone feel special and a part of the celebration. Here's how...
At Thanksgiving or other holiday celebrations, get everyone involved (even the kids) by writing
a specific task on a place card or index card and placing it on their plate. Tell each person
to find their plate and do their assigned task. Examples could be, carve the turkey, clear the
dishes, bring out dessert, etc.
Leaves of Gratitude
Cut leaves out of autumn-colored construction paper and make one for each guest. Ask each person
to write down or draw a picture of what they are grateful for on a paper leaf, and place it in a
basket on the dinner table. Take turns reading them during dessert. Then, as an after-dinner
activity, place them in a scrapbook. Do this each year. Everyone will enjoy looking back through
the scrapbook and reading their comments.
Tablecloth of Thanks & Wishes
Place a light-colored cotton tablecloth on the table and give everyone a "Sharpie"
permanent marker (they come in a variety of colors). Have them write down something that they
are thankful for or a special wish for the New Year on the tablecloth. Children can draw a
picture. Date each message. Use this tablecloth annually. Everyone will enjoy reading the
messages year after year.
Don't Forget the Leftovers
There are many positive and helpful articles about
homeschooling available on the Internet for free. Read them yourself to boost your confidence
and relieve anxiety. Select a few and print them out for family members. Put them in a doggie
bag with the leftovers. It will give them something to chew on the next day. You'll find
terrific articles archived at these suggested websites:
Decline the Invitation And Make Your Own Holiday Magic
There will always be families for whom holiday gatherings are simply not an option. Read
these comments on the topic posted to a homeschool support group discussion list:
"When my kiddos were younger, we had a time when we just didn't go to family events
that were going to prove to have added stress due to these kinds of confrontations. Did
it hurt feelings? Yep. But, having my kiddos have good memories was more important than
subjecting them to the kind of destructive behavior that can occur at these events."
"We have a long standing rule that goes like this. If a family member is cruel,
destructive, bossy, exceptionally rude, vulgar, aggressive or is just wanting to pick a
fight — we don't subject the kids or ourselves to that family member. We do not
go to homes where we know the environment is hostile. I don't want those to be our family
I suspect that it's not just homeschooling that is a bone of contention in these families.
Anything that is perceived as threatening, different, or "not the way we do things,"
would probably catch flack. Homeschooling is just an easy target.
There are so many dynamics that produce supportive results in families — including
individual confidence, attitude, self-esteem, comfort with the unconventional, fearlessness,
gratefulness, and understanding that each and every one of us (including our family members)
have the right to determine their own unique purpose and live a life that supports it.
A family member who possesses such qualities and understands those concepts will
always be supportive of others.
A family member who does not, may be in such pain (often unrealized) about their own life and
circumstances that they simply are unable to support anyone else who may be on the path to
living an extraordinary life. And homeschooling can certainly result in an extraordinary
life for you and your children.
This isn't just a turkey
As anyone can see
I made it with my hand
Which is a part of me
It comes with lots of love
Especially to say
I hope you have a very
Happy Thanksgiving Day!
We have, to some extent, been socially conditioned to believe that we cannot have what we want
and achieve our dreams. Oh, we pay lip service to telling people that they can live their
dreams — but watch what happens when they try (for example, when they try homeschooling).
We criticize, speculate, judge, condemn, and come up with a thousand reasons for why they can't
or shouldn't. We beat them down with our objections and "logic" and when that doesn't
work — we resort to insults, cynicism, sarcasm and disparaging, hurtful remarks. What's
really crazy is some of us do that to the people we claim to love the most — our family!
Anytime you take the path less traveled, you'll meet some resistance as many homeschoolers will
attest. The best thing to do is ignore it (and the people who dish it out), and follow your
heart. That takes great courage of conviction and absolute dedication to the belief that what
you're doing is in your best interests — especially when it is plain as day that following
your path doesn't harm anyone else, and actually helps others. I could make the case that
homeschooling does exactly that.
Of course, telling you to persevere in the face of detractors is easy. Doing it, and risking
being shunned and criticized — and accepting the possibility of having the love and
approval of a family member withheld from you or your children as a penalty for your
non-conformity — is much harder to do.
I think some people are able through quiet determination, dignity, and resolve to get through
rough patches with relatives with great results. Their relatives come to see that homeschooling
is not the pariah they imagined, and may even become advocates.
Others get sucked into the drama created by the naysayers to no one's benefit, especially
not the children's.
Rather than endure another "festive" gathering that dishes up a plate filled with spite,
doubt, bitterness, fear, and disapproval take the "angst" out of
"Thangstgiving" and refuse to participate.
It's okay to decline invitations to dysfunctional family gatherings to create healthy, loving
holiday memories among like-minded, supportive friends that your family will cherish forever.
Here's to a happy Thanksgiving and a happy holiday season!
About Diane Flynn Keith ...
Diane Flynn Keith is a veteran homeschool parent and an internationally
recognized voice in education outside the traditional classroom walls.
Diane coaches and encourages thousands of homeschool families
through her website, Homefires.com and through her popular speaking engagements. She has
contributed to 5 books on homeschooling and is the author of the best-selling book,
"Carschooling: Over 350 Entertaining Games & Activities To Turn Travel Time Into Learning Time."