Editor’s note: read the full series here.
“I just feel so lonely!”
The day my 13-year-old daughter uttered those words was a rough day.
I can completely relate to the pain that loneliness brings. Hers is based on the pandemic that has caused us to stay physically disconnected from other human beings, but mine was deeply rooted in not understanding how to connect.
I spent a lifetime being surrounded by people and feeling completely alone.
Having felt like my voice was not heard and did not matter within my childhood home created the misconceived notion that no one I met or spent time with would ever care or understand my deep thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. By the time I had children, my loneliness had not lessened—in fact, as my family unit went through turmoil, it got persistently worse.
My mind understood the irrationality of loneliness, as I was not physically alone, but my psyche had not come around to embracing the idea of changing my mindset. After years of introspective work and therapy, this was the one area that eluded me.
I went through the day carrying around that knot of loneliness in my throat as if it were a cork plugging my bubbling self-expression. I approached my parenting delicately with this one, as I had the knowledge but had not embodied it in any way. I decided to always be honest with my children, with age appropriate conversations. I’ve been teaching them how creating relationships is an art, but that I had not yet mastered it, and they were on the journey of self-growth with me.
So, as we traveled and met so many people, and they made so many new friends, I could see the difference between their relationships and mine.
The difference was they were not afraid to share or put themselves out there, and they were not afraid of not being liked.
Eventually, through a life-changing coach, I was able to achieve the mindset shift I had been searching for. I understood deeply how we only achieve the level of human connection we give ourselves permission to. How it is in us being open that we feel seen.
And this is how I had, by luck and theory, raised my children. I raised them to have a voice, express themselves, and embrace all aspects of their being. This created the ability to connect with others.
Now, when my clients ask me about homeschooling and socialization, my answer is always deeper than “the best place to find other families to hang out with.”
Human connection is at the core of our being. This is why we try to create social experiences for our children. It’s important for kids to learn to build relationships with others.
But this truly starts at home with your relationship with your child—by the way you create cohabiting agreements, teach them to use their voice to express themselves, embrace all that they are, and to be empathetic to everyone’s needs. This is the most important relationship and sets the groundwork for when they meet new people.
Achieving a deep, meaningful relationship with the parent will help create deep, meaningful relationships outside of the household.
Socialization as a homeschooler also teaches children to create social opportunities. There is a great difference between befriending a child who sits next to you in class, who is your age, and who you will, without a doubt, see every day, and befriending a child in the playground who can be any age and you may not see again unless you make an effort. Being outside of school helps them form an organic way to meet friends, as it will not be dependent on age and location, but just on innate curiosity of the other person.
Of course, the logistics of socialization do have to be addressed. And the truth is that socialization in COVID-19 times is perplexing for all of us, no matter what age, yet we are discovering new ways to interact with others and still maintaining social distancing rules.
During the summer, my daughters and I have had socially distanced playdates outside, keeping six feet apart. This might not be possible with little ones, but you can certainly create a group with those you trust or who abide by similar rules to the ones you have chosen for your family; that way, the younger kids feel safe being close to each other.
We have also had playdates and group gatherings on Zoom, sometimes facilitated by adults who create games or lines of conversation to make it more exciting. If Zoom is too complicated, Facetime or video chats between friends are just as fun and much easier.
Coops or pods are also a great option. This is where families get together to hire tutors, sitters, or facilitators, and share in the cost. At the beginning of our homeschool journey and before we started full-time travel, we were part of a coop that catered to all ages, had many classes to choose from, and held park days and field trips.
We have stayed friends with many of these families and are excited to create an opportunity like this again now that traveling has halted a bit.