Last night, my husband came home from a day-long work event with a story.
He and his colleagues were eating lunch together, when one of his colleagues at the end of the table—I’ll call him Tony—revealed that he had seven children.
“Oh, my GOD!” came the chorus from the table.
“Oh, but you don’t even know the half of it!” said one of his colleagues amid the laughter and ribbing.
At this Tony excused himself and left the table, unwilling to have his life choices judged by a group of hyenas.
Not only does Tony have seven children, he and his wife homeschool. *GASP*
Amid the titter of agreement that Tony was, simply, insane, the guy next to my husband nudged him.
“Hey, don’t you homeschool?”
“Yes,” my husband replied, “yes we do.”
We know Tony and his wife through the homeschooling community. We know Tony and his family to be generous and kind. When he found out we didn’t have a GPS, he gave us one of theirs. They have different politics than we do and I, frankly, feel a little ill when I think about the level of chaos they must deal with on a daily basis with that many humans living in one house (I can’t even wrangle two kids into the car without totally losing my mind), but their choices aren’t who they are. Their choices reflect their values, but you can’t necessarily assume what those values are just by looking at their choices.
This is perhaps one of the best lessons I learned living in Utah. As homeschooling homebirthers, our paths intersect with both very “conservative” and very “liberal” families. In Utah, we also had the privilege of knowing people with quite large families, many of whom birthed at home and/or schooled at home. Some of them were conservative, some were liberal, most were Mormon, but then so was most of the general population there, regardless of family size.
Another of the things I learned (re-learned, over and over and over) in Utah is that political and religious affiliations often just serve as smoke screens for what people really value. Someone says, “I’m Mormon” or “I’m Unitarian Universalist” or “I’m conservative” or “I’m crunchy” and people make assumptions about that person’s values based on whatever stereotypes they hold about those labels. But you can be a Mormon who believes in legalizing gay marriage and you can be a Unitarian Universalist who believes in small government. You can keep chickens in your backyard and cloth diapers on your kids and make your own deodorant and vote any way you want to.
I find that the same thing happens when I say I homeschool or, apparently, when someone says he has seven kids. People make assumptions about our values based on our actions. But if we can sit down and have a conversation about our choices and why we’ve made them, we find that our values aren’t binary. They are much more nuanced than that, and if we can get past the assumptions and the defensiveness and the (sometimes) evangelism and really connect on the level of feelings and needs (oops, there’s the “crunchy” again), I find that we’re more similar than we are different, regardless of our choices.
If we focus on our differences, those differences seem too big to surmount. But when we focus on our similarities, the differences seem smaller and smaller.
The ray of light for my husband as he willingly served as the face of homeschooling at lunch yesterday was when one coworker asked, “How do you teach your kids something that you don’t know?”
This was a real question that came from curiosity and actual interest rather than the assumption that my husband was a weirdo.
My husband came away from the conversation feeling good that he had made a real connection with one person about homeschooling and that he had taken some of the heat away from Tony.
I told him, though, that if he really wanted to take the scrutiny off of Tony, he should have told them about our homebirth.
- It’s Not Them, It’s Me (imperfecthappiness.wordpress.com)
- What does “Full On Parenting” mean to me? (fullonparenting.wordpress.com)
- Homeschoolers Love the GOP (Except That Moderate Mormon) (reason.com) (through this link is this one in which Gallup refers to parents taking on “the mammoth task of educating their children,” another assumption about homeschooling)
- Textbook Thrills (imperfecthappiness.wordpress.com)
- Why We Write About Minimalism (decompressthis.wordpress.com), which influenced the direction of this post.