Loneliness isn’t something we talk about, but maybe it should be. If you’re feeling isolated, depressed, irritable, or just plain sad, loneliness might be to blame. Here’s how to understand why you feel so alone sometimes — and how to make the slow-but-steady connections that can help end your solitary confinement.
We often think the best mentors are the people who’ve logged years of practical experiences—and those park day moms who’ve successfully sent their kids off to college are definitely founts of knowledge. But when it comes to getting fired up about homeschooling again, you might find more inspiration from the folks who haven’t been there and done that.
Researchers studying mathematical mentors have found that people in the first third of their careers—relative newbies—are the most successful mentors. (The study looked at how many of an adviser’s mentored students went on to train their own mentees. The younger the original mentors, the more mentees their protégés would go on to have.) This may be partly because the newer you are to a particular project, the more willing you are to try out new ideas—because you’re still figuring out how things work, you’re more open to possibilities of failure and collaboration than you are once you’ve found a steady rhythm. There are benefits to chatting with homeschoolers on both sides of the experience curve, but when you’re looking for an enthusiasm charge, seek out new moms who are still in their first or second year of homeschooling. Their enthusiasm can be catching, their new ideas may inspire you, and when you weigh in with your own experiences, you may find yourself rediscovering some of the reasons you love homeschooling.
Your challenge this week: Make a connection with a newer homeschooler. It doesn’t have to require any hoop-jumping: Respond to a question on your homeschool group’s email chain, or introduce yourself to that mom with the kindergartener at park day.
This morning I met some long-time, female friends for breakfast at a quaint bakery-café in town. This was a luxury for me — both meeting friends and getting to eat at a quaint bakery-café.
I have been meeting with these women off and on for fifteen years. I met them when I was single, in my late twenties, and I taught a journal writing class for the adult community education programs at the university. Basically, for the four of us, the class never ended, but over the years, the group morphed from a writing group to a book discussion group to a woman's group. We just talk about anything! But the glorious thing is that it's an intelligent conversation, and it's not always about children's needs or the ups and downs of homeschooling. If the conversation does go in that direction, then it's me talking because all three of these beautiful women are older than me, and none of them have children.
For several years, we met every month, but then I had my boys. For a while, I tried to bring my eldest to the meetings, but that didn’t last long, and it was impossible after I had two boys. For a few years, we didn't meet at all, and I feared I had lost touch with these creative, insightful women. Then, when my eldest son was old enough to go to summer camp by himself, I asked my husband if he'd keep our youngest for the day so that I could arrange a meeting with my friends. He did. So for the last three years, we have met once a year during summer camp. Yes, only once a year, but that was better than not meeting at all!
This year I realized meeting during the week was a burden to one of the women who works full-time, so I decided to schedule a meeting on Saturday. And then it occurred to me…Saturdays would be good for me too since my husband is off and the boys are more self-sufficient. Hey, maybe I can do this more often.
I always tell parents of very young children that it'll get easier as they get older. I say that even when some things are still hard for me. Although my husband helps a lot, I'm still the major caregiver for the children, and for a long time, I was the only parent my youngest son wanted anything to do with. He is still a mama's boy, but finally he is okay with daddy taking over for part of the day. And my nine-year-old... well, he prefers his dad now. Mama is starting to get boring.
Before I get all choked up and sad and oh — pooh! *sniff sniff* — I have to remind myself that I actually kind of enjoy having a little more freedom.
But it comes very slowly, and it takes some getting used to. On the rare days I find myself leaving the house alone, I have that heavy feeling of having forgotten something. But it’s really that part of me that wants to stay right here next to my boys. Will they need something that only I can give them? What am I missing if I’m not here?
Then I start driving away from the house, listening to one of my favorite podcasts, and I sigh with relief that no one will interrupt it! It's then that I realize I can and will get used to doing things alone again.
I will start slowly because I am in no hurry for my boys to become completely independent of me. For now, I will begin to get my women’s group together more often. None of our schedules will allow us to meet once a month anymore, but I'm going to try to get us together once every season.
And maybe, with these intelligent, kind, inspiring women’s help, I will start to find my way again in the world...sans children.
Introverts need people, too. Just not all the time. Grow your community by strategically investing your social resources.
Take advantage of online groups. Email and internet forums let you communicate when and how you want to.
Be proactive. Volunteer to help with an activity, and you’ll get a conversation topic and a purpose at events.
Look for activities with a clear start and end time. Open-ended activities can stress you out because it’s hard to pace yourself, so always go into an activity knowing when you plan to leave it.
Bring a conversation topic. Stash a book you’re reading, a curriculum catalog, or a knitting project in your bag. You’ll have something to do and something to talk about.
Know your comfort zone. It’s okay to skip a crowded homeschool day at a museum and to set up a field trip for a small group another day instead.
For more strategies for building your homeschool community—including tips for extroverts in search of homeschool pals—read “Socialize Yourself” in our fall issue.
On Tuesday I mentioned to a friend that I’d gone back to a new-to-me writers group on the previous night. She smiled broadly and said, “Congratulations!”
The word, “congratulations,” normally reserved for engagements, wedding anniversaries, promotions and the arrival of a new baby, might seem inappropriate in this situation. But you and I both know that I deserved that congratulations from my friend. She, a seasoned mother of five children and a fellow home educator, knows that it can take a military-style operation to get out of the house alone. She would also know that it takes a huge amount of bravery and derring-do to step outside one’s comfort zone and go into a new situation, especially when you half expect that there are toddler-snot trails on your shoulder and your most recent conversations center around the prize in a Kinder egg, rather than the latest literary prize.
The first time I went to the group, I changed into my pajamas, lay down with my youngest child (as usual) and waited for him to go to sleep. Then I got up, re-dressed into my jeans and fleece pullover, and drove across town to the group. If my son had known I was going, I doubt he would have gone to sleep. There would have been too many questions, tears about unmet expectations, and his need, ever-present need, for me.
The next morning we talked about it, and it turns out he’s okay with my going out to the group. The next Monday I gave him a kiss goodbye and walked out the door, and his dad lay down with him instead. That was the day I got caught in construction traffic, then drove round and round the patchwork of streets near the group’s venue, couldn’t find parking and after 45 minutes drove home. On the downside, I didn’t get to go to the group. On the upside, 45 minutes alone was rather a novelty.
(As an aside, did you know there are programs on the radio that are specifically aimed at adults? Yeah, crazy. Oddly, none of them feature “The Wheels on the Bus.”)
This week, I made it to the group, struck up a conversation with the person sitting beside me, and even shared something I wrote without running panic-stricken from the room. On reflection, I realize that I struggled to make eye contact with my fellow writers because for me, writing can be like a dirty little secret—something I do alone and rarely discuss with others. Talking about it somehow feels like uttering a profanity. It’s just not the done thing. Certainly not in mixed company.
I suspect that going to the group is going to be good for me, even if it does take a lot of organization and effort to get there. It’s stretching my skills and taking me out of my comfort zone. It helped me realize that maybe my son is ready to be left with his dad and have a change of routine now and again. It’s reminded me that I am an adult with many gifts and roles: mother and home educator being only two. And it’s reminded me what it’s like to be a learner again.
So when you congratulate me, I’ll say just smile and say, “thanks.” Because we both know there’s a lot more to it than just going to writers group.
For my debut entry at the home/school/life Magazine blog, I thought I’d write about one of those happy side-effects of thirteen (or so) years of unschooling three kids. I call this side-effect: Unschooled Mom Friends.
This past week, you see, I drove to a playdate… alone.
It was the same highway that has been host to hundreds of games of I Spy With My Little Eye and a maybe a dozen versions each of 20 questions, the alphabet game, and can-you-rhyme that once kept my children entertained for the hour-long ride to the at-least-once-weekly playdates with our eclectic mix of homeschool friends. It was the same highway, but without the backseat full of chatter and kid/DJ riding shotgun, customizing song selections to set the mood for the day.
Our Mom-gatherings started as Mom’s Night Out, an occasion to dine together without anyone having to worry about house or kitchen clean-up. For several years, we called our meetings Book Club. We were even studious, intentionally broadening our horizons by occasionally reading books.
Playdates evolved. The kids did what kids grow to do. They went from trampolines and skateboards to driving around in cars. Some got jobs, joined clubs, tried out school, got girlfriends/boyfriends, suffered broken hearts…
With kids in tow, and sometimes without, we moms continued to gather as schedules allowed. Where we once assured each other over late readers and screen time, we continued to assure each other over our children’s relationship developments and first apartments.
Get-togethers without the kids began as our way of helping each other remember that the job of being Mom, while big, was not all-encompassing. We still needed to make time for ourselves, once in a while, and in doing it together, we gained experiences and explored and socialized, much like our kids.
The kids who once filled our houses and backyards when we gathered, or wandered off on park trails for hours at a time, got busy with their own lives, and my Unschool Mom Friends and I… we made a conscious decision, at some point, to keep getting together regardless of kid schedules, because we still had so much to learn from one another.
New friends for myself was not a perk I expected when I started on this journey so many years ago, but it’s one I would encourage every mom who makes a commitment to homeschooling to look for. Make sure you take some time to make friends with parents who are embarking on similar journeys. They will make you stronger, over time. They will help lift you when you are down. They will give you words you need to hear when you are at a loss for comforting your child, your teen, your young adult.
Your kids will refer to you collectively as “The Moms” and you will appreciate having adults in the lives of your children who understand the kind of investment and choices you are making as a family.
Yes, you are doing this for your children, but you are growing in your own right, as well.