Ask HSL: How can I get people to stop talking about our decision to homeschool?

homeschool faq

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We have decided to homeschool our 9-year-old this year, and I’m really excited. But everybody seems to have an opinion about it. My mom. Our neighbors. The lady behind me in the checkout line at the supermarket. No one ever asked questions or second-guessed our decision to send him to public school, but everybody seems to want to weigh in our decision to homeschool. I feel good about our decision, but the constant questioning is really weighing me down.

I feel like homeschooling is right up there with being pregnant when it comes to people thinking that things that are clearly Your Business are suddenly Everybody’s Business. And while it’s nice to celebrate the whole it-takes-a-village piece of it, it is incredibly frustrating to feel like you’re constantly defending a decision that you have every right to make. It’s insulting — do they really think you have just spontaneously made this huge decision about your child’s life on the fly with no real thought or consideration? — and it’s stressful — you’re already worried about finding the right resources and making it all work without other people trying to add more worries to your pot.

The first rule of defending your parenting decisions is also the most liberating: You have no obligation to justify or explain yourself to anyone. Period. A stranger at the supermarket? A random parent on the playground? You can pull out my grandmother’s go-to response to nosy people, and just say, “What an odd thing to say/ask.” The key to this isn't the words, it's the uncomfortably long pause afterwards that you don't try to fill, where you just look at them as though you’re trying to understand this incredibly strange behavior that you don’t know how to respond to. Usually this awkwardness is enough to change the subject, but if it’s not, you can say, flatly, “It’s weird that you’re trying to insert yourself into my parenting decisions. Please stop.” Resist the urge to explain your thinking, cite your sources, or otherwise justify yourself — give yourself permission to just say, “I’m not explaining this to you because it’s none of your business."

Of course, there are people whose opinions matter to you — your mom, your favorite carpool friend, your nice neighbor. In these instances, you still don’t need to justify your decision, but you want to remind the person in question that (1) this is your choice to make, not theirs and (2) you have put a lot more thought into making this decision than they have put into questioning it. A good script is something like: “I know you’re surprised/concerned by this choice, but I know you also know how much I love Liam and want to do the right thing for him as his parent. Trust me: I feel really good about homeschooling, and I’d like your support.” If they keep pushing, you can just say, “Ultimately, I feel good about this decision, and I’m not going to change my mind. I’d like your support. Can you give it to me?” If the answer is any form of no, you can say, “OK, I hear you — but I’m done discussing this, so let’s talk about something else.” With some people, you may have to go even further, and say, “I can tell you need to talk about this, but I am not the person you need to talk to. Do you need me to give you some space to process this? Or can we talk about other things?”

I think we have a tendency to want to smooth things over, to want to explain ourselves to people because we want to be understood. But we can’t always get that in conversations about homeschooling — instead, we can get pulled into a cycle of feeling that we’re always justifying our decision. That’s not our job, though! We owe ourselves and our children careful, thoughtful decision-making, but we don’t owe that to anyone else, and it’s OK to take a (polite) step back and refuse to engage.