Apparently we were being watched. We were in a new place and didn’t know many people, so we decided to wander around town. The fragrance from the street lured me into a trendy coffee shop. Stranger-watching amused us, but the fireplace kept us there on this January day.
I had finished my non-fat cappuccino. The kids finished their Schweppes. We were at the bitter end of our Professor Noggin’s ocean card game, and a middle-aged man walked up to our table. “These all yours?”
It’s a common question I’ve heard repeatedly since the third was born. The fourth child just took the curiosity to a whole new level. So I’d heard the question so often that I’d finally given up on my sarcastic reactions. “Yup, all mine,” I said with a smile.
“Well, you have a beautiful family.”
Surprised at his sincerity, I said a simple thank you.
“You have to tell me how you’ve done it. They’re all well-behaved and good to each other.”
Ha. Not always, my friend. I wish his perception was my continual reality. Having said that, I could see that they considered each other, helped each other, spoke gently to each other lots of the time.
I don’t have a secret. Of course, you knew that.
But in my quest to socialize my children, I’ve learned…
1. Forced association is not socialization.
Why are people so worried about my children not being socialized? Does that mean that they don’t have routine opportunities to spend seven hours in a desk with twenty-five other children in desks nearby? They don’t get regular opportunities to compete with other children? Learn ‘new’ vocabulary? Would I be happy hanging out with another twenty-five people every day?
Yes, I have to put effort into connecting with others. But I get to decide who those ‘others’ are and how they influence my family.
My kiddos have learned how to engage others that they don’t see all the time…to come out of their shells. They have learned to give kids a chance even if they don’t instinctively connect with them. They are learning to be kind to others who aren’t always kind to them. Some of them are learning to curb their sharp tongues with the assistance of their mama (And they’re probably learning sharp quips from her too.).
They’re learning to consider their siblings. They’re learning not to bicker but rather talk things through and listen to others.
They’re exposed to everyone. They regularly interact with adults, whether they’re my friends, parents of other kids, service strangers (post office, grocer, café), their music teachers, or any number of adults they are exposed to. And they know how to talk to them as comfortably as if they’re talking to me.
2. Who I am, my focus, my struggles, my idiosyncrasies, and my strengths rub off on my children.
Who else should I want them to mirror? They were born onto this world because I chose to bear them, because I wanted children. Who else should lead them, guide them, parent them? I didn’t have them to turn them over to the state.
Some people suggest that they are picking up too many of my bad habits. Yup, that would be right too. And when I see something negative reflecting back at me, I consider if there is something I need to look at more closely. Self-examination has been my constant companion as I parent my children so closely.
3. Socialization and social opportunity aren’t the same things.
Social opportunities abound. They get to attend youth groups, hang out with friends, visit new cities or countries, attend guitar and piano lessons, participate in dance classes, gymnastics, choir, swim lessons, and soccer camps. We’ve got more time for extracurricular opportunities now that we’re at home.
Socialization is an ongoing effort. Teaching kindness, patience, consideration, a sharing spirit–these get taught every single day. They have siblings. Constant opportunities abound.
They learn to be confident partly because I exude it. But I think mostly because they get listened to, looked in the eye, spent time with in a slow, organic way: in other words, they know they’re important because they ARE important in our lives.
4. What you see isn’t what you get.
Nice kids aren’t always nice. There are no perfect people. There are stories behind the stories in everyone’s life. My husband and I have moments when our eyes are rolling and heads steaming. We have moments when we’re taking deep breaths and trying to avoid yelling or throwing consequences around like my easy consumption of Lays potato chips. But we get to work at our socialization as often as we help our kids learn theirs, so it’s all good.
So I’ll accept that stranger’s compliment. Accept that the hard work I put in every day is worth the effort. It’s kind of nice to have it recognized every once in a while.
I am a home educating mom of four by day and a writing woman by stolen moments in the morning, afternoon, and night. I blog our world at Capturing the Charmed Life. We’ve taken unusual field trips to Italy, the Arctic, East Africa, and around Europe, Canada, and the US. I travel blog our adventures at Capturing the Charmed Life Abroad.