By Shari McMinn
As a parent of a busy homeschooling family, especially one where challenging students can purposely wreak havoc upon best laid plans, I sometimes just need a bit of peace. Sound familiar? I either want to be ALONE somewhere, or have my children each go somewhere on their own to reduce the bickering, chaos, and noise. Peace through isolation is sometimes a survival skill! However, as technology and social media take over our culture in every aspect and location of our lives, some of our naturally, even sinfully antisocial children easily fall into too much isolation. Sadly, their choices to do so often hinder their personal development and God’s purpose for their lives. So, these three questions then arise:
- Is individual peace more important than family unity?
- Can one be too isolated while seeking peace?
- Can Mom, Dad, and their children become more sociable despite their own needs for peace?
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment (Proverbs 18:1 ESV).
For me, I learned building family unity is crucial based on my 28 years of experience homeschooling nine of my eleven children. Now all graduated — five of whom were labeled “special needs” and a couple more who were “highly gifted” — by God’s grace and our firm resolve, they went from inappropriate isolationist behaviors to acceptable social norms. And, we achieved peace. Now you may be asking, “How did you do that?”
For many years as our family size increased, I sought peace through “quiet time” in the afternoon. My adult children still complain about it! After a child was beyond napping age, they had to be in their room, on their bed if they had a “roommate,” doing something productive that was quiet — art, building sets, and reading were three favorites. Listening to music or audiobooks with headphones on was acceptable, but no use of screen technology was allowed. This kept my sanity, and prevented siblings from arguing and causing trouble when I had no energy to deal with it after our often exhausting homeschool day.
However, I began to observe a pattern arising that was not acceptable. Some of our children were introverts and preferred to be in their individual bedrooms for hours and hours at a time, often with their door closed. By doing so, they were able to avoid having to deal with family member relationships, parental corrections, and personal responsibilities. I further noticed that the worst of those isolationists would refuse to participate in mealtime or even fun group activities at church and in other community circles. In fact, I realized they would — on purpose — cause trouble ahead of mealtimes or trips to town. They realized that “public timeout,” albeit shamefully embarrassing, allowed them to remain isolated to their heart’s content through escaping the group activity. Once my husband and I understood what was really going on with our unique learners — both highly gifted and academically delayed — we had to break their “refuse to socialize” habits by reinventing new ways of doing things together as a unified family.
We took a three-pronged approach to prevent too much self-isolation, pro-actively training our children from a young age to live in unity (though maybe not always harmony). We did this by:
- Creating a better environment with certain expectations at home:
- Children’s bedroom and bathroom door lock mechanisms were removed.
- Doors were to be opened to bedrooms except for when changing clothes and bathrooms except for when bathing and toileting.
- Food was served at set times with required presence or you didn’t eat (thankfully, no one usually refused to consume my delicious cooking).
- Headphones and screens were not allowed for town errands, only on longer road trips; we instead listened to audio books and kept coloring and reading books in our van.
- Group activities such as livestock feeding and sports after lunch were required in order to earn free time later (and were made fun enough that no one wanted to miss out!).
- Setting the stage for positive experiences in our community:
- All family members were required to attend church and town activities together.
- Kids could not “sit out” of activities; if in timeout, kids participated next to Mom or Dad.
- More chores and fewer “treats” were the result of non-compliance in town.
- Capturing their hearts for God by getting their focus off of themselves and on to others:
- Mom and Dad learned and lived out the Gospel, modeling joy and spiritual fruits.
- We shared what we had by serving widows, orphans, those in need, and missionaries.
- We volunteered as a family preparing and serving food for the homeless.
- We performed set-up/take-down, brought snacks, and led games for community events.
Yes, I got tired leading the charge for those things, and I complained about it. Yes, my husband had less private time with me, and he complained about that. Yes, my children often melted-down at events from the stress of socialization, and they complained a lot! But, as we aged and matured, each of us could better maintain our collective composure until we arrived home, when individually we could chill out on our own somewhere in the house, an outbuilding, working with livestock, or a private spot in nature.
As my children became more independent in their teen years, we loosened the boundaries a bit. Still, they knew we expected our family members to interact with one another and politely socialize with our trusted church and community friends. We achieved peace through unity, not isolation. As adults, some of my children still tend towards introverted isolation, but rarely in an obsessive-compulsive way.
You are not alone in your pursuit of peace. With Christ, homeschool families can discover their ability to find peace in the quiet times, as well as in the noise — but it requires intentionality.
Does volunteering as a family sound like a good first step to building unity by connecting hearts through an outward focus? Learn about 11 Volunteer Opportunities for Homeschool Families. And, don’t forget that CHEC is always looking for volunteers, so sign up here to become involved with our ministry.
These CHEC.org links can help you start strong the new homeschool year:
- Purchase the Homeschool Guidebook for Colorado, which has chapters that cover every topic imaginable from vision to burnout, including the very helpful chapter, “Different Learners.”
- Find fun activities to do together as a family on our Community Calendar page.
- Join a vetted and recommended Homeschool Group for your family to participate with.
- Find more resources at our webpage for Unique Learners.
Do you need additional encouragement and reassurance to successfully homeschool your Unique Learner(s)? Email me anytime with your questions or confidentially share your burdens with me at Shari@CHEC.org. I will try to respond within 24-48 hours.
Next month I’ll blog about setting and achieving realistic homeschooling goals.
PS: If you have a topic you want me to cover, please email me with your suggestion(s).
Shari McMinn, your trusted homeschooling friend