"How do you respond to family members?"

Meredith wrote something in April 2011 about what the grandparents want, and her ideas are great. Below that are notes from older conversations, and relatives other than grandparents, too. All families are different, so I hope there might be something useful here, and if not there are other links at the bottom.
It's helpful to keep in mind that one of the big things grandparents want is a sense of connection with their grandchildren. When kids aren't in school, that can feel awkward - what the heck do you say to a child other than "what are you doing in school?" Especially if you only see him twice a year? It can leave extended family members stymied. So it helps a whoooole lot to feed them useful information and conversation starters in the form of something grandparents usually like anyway - pictures and stories of their grandkids. Keeping a blog or sending regular notes (via facebook or plain old snail mail) goes a long way in that regard. And! they get to see their beloved grandchildren happy and adventurous, which can help to reassure them on that score.

Unschooling can come across as some kind of weird cult if you try to explain it from a theoretical side first. Start with happy kids living rich, full lives and school starts to seem less of an issue.

The only site I sent my parents when I was getting into unschooling was actually a homeschooling site - A to Zs Home's Cool.
Its a huuuuuge site and that alone brought a big sigh of relief from my family. Like most people, they didn't realize how much is available for homeschoolers these days in terms of resources.


["homeschooling.gomilpitas" became "a2zhomeschooling", created by Anne Zeiss, who passed it on later]

Hi. It's me Ang, I haven't read or posted here for awhile. You wanna know how I handled the family members, once and for all? I sent them this really long email. I got tired of the "concerns" and the veiled insults, so I put it in writing (i do best writing and not with in- person conflicts). I am browsing posts and saw this question about responding to family members, so here it is. Everyone i know who has email got copied. No one came back and questioned me, except one aunt who asked what LOL means. And i did get some complimentary feedback. I put it out there and how they feel about it at this point is their problem. It's long, i tried not to be too offensive, and i when i say I "use" the world book scope and sequence, all that means is i scan it and say yep, yep, covered that, this would count for that, etc. No forced curriculum. And it helps me organize my portfolio for year-end assessment.

SUBJECT: For the Record

I wrote this to go with a picture of numbers that Ashlyn wrote. The pic is a springboard to qualify my feelings on some issues about our homeschooling. Stop reading now if you don't want to hear about it. Or print and read it later so as not to stir you at an inconvenient time. I don't think it's too provocative, but it's less accusing than the ones I wrote in the past and never sent about our homeschooling decision and defending some points, after feeling attacked and insulted for so long. LOL!! (I have scanned the pic if you want it emailed to you.)

I am copying this to everyone because when I am this excited about something I can hardly contain it. I have kept a lot to myself out of fear of backlash or frustrating misunderstanding. The "people" referred to is not necessarily anyone in particular reading this, but comes from many different experiences from many people, including family, friends, and even strangers over the past few years. So no finger pointing, but if you recognize yourself in here somewhere, don't hesitate to ask me for clarification. Some of you may also be reading this who have never openly questioned me, but you may have unspoken questions or doubts. I hope this addresses it all.

Why do I feel the need to prove what we do works for us? Probably because I don't get the overall impression that I get the benefit of the doubt with this endeavor. So read it or not, groan, laugh, roll your eyes, or heck, nod in agreement. You won't hurt my feelings. Or change my mind :0) I am writing this just as much for me as for anyone else. I'll be cheering myself on even if no one else feels compelled to. LOL So here goes.......

I did not teach Ashlyn(4) how to write those numbers. She learned by living daily life and being a curious kid. This is *the foundation of my homeschooling philosophy*, that kids will learn without coercion what they need to familiarize themselves with the world around them. It doesn't mysteriously stop at some arbitrary age. Christian(2) can count to ten and name colors the same way. No one ever decided they needed to know these things and sat them down and taught them with a program. Just like learning to walk and talk, it's like the air they breathe.

Learning is everywhere, there is no magic formula for kids to be filled with regimented instruction, they will seek it on their own as long as their curiosity hasn't been stamped out by drilling and forceful teaching and controlling and shaming for not performing. Learning comes from desire and interest and is retained because it has personal meaning. Memorizing facts at school to be sometimes forgotten or discarded because they are not relevant or useful personally is not the same. I say these things from experience of my schooling, Megan's schooling, and others' experiences that have been shared with me. YMMV-- Your Mileage May Vary.

My job in the capacity of homeschooling and parenting in general is to provide a loving, rich, nurturing environment and lots of guidance. Lots of exposure to important and interesting things about our world and the past. Setting good examples for reading, researching, and finding out new things everyday. Imparting a sense of discovery and fascination about so many things about our existence in this life. Paying a lot of attention and noticing when my kids need something, or want to learn more about something without pushing them into my own agenda. With my tendency to be dramatic about such things, these goals are actually accomplished rather simply and beautifully.

Megan (11) learns the same way as my younger two. And we are happy and joyful living and learning this way and no one is going to change that LOL. I am not saying these things to start a debate, I just don't know that I've ever explained what we do and why quite this way. I get regular evidence like this picture, or a conversation, or many other clues and intimate knowledge and daily affirmation of how and what my children learn. It's amazing. I am absolutely confident in how this works. I have gotten defensive, not that I don't believe in this valid decision, but that people don't have faith that I'm intelligent enough to know what I'm doing with my kids. We appreciate other peoples' concerns, but we find most fears to be unfounded. Generally, they are false assumptions or lack of information.

We absolutely know what we are doing. And we don't criticize or find fault with other's decisions now or in the past on how to educate their children. To each his own! Schools serve their own purpose and meet the needs of some, but they are not the answer for every child or family. We just wish more people would believe in us and not openly criticize and look for deficits to dismiss our whole lifestyle.

It took me a year and a half to make the decision to bring Megan home, it wasn't something I did lightly. I tried everything I knew to help her be successful in school, including some ganging up on her with the school staff that I horribly regret. I researched and read and deliberated, and I finally just went for it. I do not regret it for one second, except for not doing it sooner. Believe that I am doing what I think is in her best interest, no other reason. We are doing this from love and trust, not fear. And we trust all of our children to give them a choice to go to public school at anytime. I am no martyr, but a lot of personal sacrifice goes into homeschooling, it is not the path of least resistance. In other words, I am not doing it to take the easy way out of school, just as I don't think schooling parents are doing it likewise. Each have their own demands and stresses, I have been down both roads. At the same time, I don't find homeschooling too much to ask of myself, I find it a worthy investment. My choices are based on my own findings and experiences and values, not reflective of anyone else's choice.

As I've said all along, there are no guarantees. Going to school does not guarantee a great education and a happy, successful life. Nor does homeschooling. But Megan is learning that she can trust herself and her curiosity, that she can do anything she sets her mind to, that she can make her own decisions slowly with confidence and support from me. She wasn't getting that in school, she was getting "you don't know what you need, so for your own good, do as we say, don't think for yourself. Do this or else." She was not learning much, and she was becoming more withdrawn and defiant. Her spark was gone. It is taking a long time for her to heal and blossom again, but I have already seen enough to know we made the right decision.

People may never understand my perspective. There are some great books that would help to understand, like the Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith, the Homeschooling Book of Answers by Linda Dobson, anything by John Holt or John Taylor Gatto. It seems no one who debates with me wants to hear or understand or learn about the mechanics of it, they just want to find fault and make disparaging comments. To justify their own choice? To defend any perceived criticism of their lifestyle, where there is none implied? Who knows.

I do know I have a two year-end portfolios completed, no one has looked or asked to look if they were aware of them. Sometimes it seems like some are only looking for reasons to justify not believing in our choice, not rejoicing in our successes. That's okay. I understand. I'll try not to take it so personally anymore. I don't want it to be a source of conflict and ill feelings.

I also know when I was going over Worldbook's Scope and Sequence for end of last school year that Megan had covered everything but two small details. Without scheduling any lessons by me. Does anyone realize that the curriculum for 5th grade at (current local school) is not the same as (previous local school) or any other public school? The bureaucrats cannot not agree on a nationwide or even statewide curriculum. So I use Worldbook's and a book I have on custom curriculums. A lot of the stuff is repetitive from year to year. They keep going over the same stuff. She may not get the exact lesson in the exact order of school, but I'm assured she gets just as much retained and probably more. We count every moment of the day as learning, and she easily gets her 900 hours a year just by writing things down that look remotely educational.

Not to mention her overall attitude and maturity have progressed so much. What may not be outwardly visible to others is crystal clear to me. She still has a lot of spirited qualities in her personality that nothing will change. I'm learning different responses and ways to handle them, and she is learning to better utilize them. That's a whole 'nother email and book recommendation!

So here's hope to new understanding. We celebrate this lifestyle and have found immeasurable joy, and we want folks to be happy for us. Just as we are happy when folks are living the life they want to lead. Of course it isn't perfect, we have our bad moments and bad days, make our fair share of mistakes, but I still thank God every day Megan is who she is and her "problems" were opportunities to lead us to a wonderful journey.

If I never breathe another word about homeschooling to anyone, this is my position for the record.

In mutual respect,


Q: Since eliminating contact with these family members is not possible, does anyone have any suggestions on how I can minimize the effects of these "lectures" on the boys?

A: As someone who has cut off all contact with members of my own extended family, I would encourage you to consider whether or not you really can cut them off. If you decide you can't do that, here's what I did with my Dad (I was tempted to cut him off, but offered him a choice first). On a visit to my home (he'd driven 2,000 miles) he launched into some political rant, in front of my then 4yo. I told him to stop, that his opinions weren't welcome. He replied by saying he didn't know I 'felt this way' he'd never heard me talk this way before. I explained that when I was a girl, living in his home, I didn't argue because it was his home and not worth the fight. Now it was my home, and my child and I will decide what behaviors/words will be welcome around my child in our home. Further, if he couldn't get his act together and do as I wished, he wouldn't be invited to be part of my son's life, whether in our home or anywhere else. Surprisingly, his behavior improved considerably.

He doesn't argue politics or anything else with me, anywhere. It's rare he even brings it up at all. Of course, you have to be willing to play the grandchildren card, and ready to back it up if pushed.


On the Always Learning List in early June, 2009 (me posting for someone else): (message brought to the list in an anonymous way)

Sandra, I want to put the following AIM chat that my brother wrote to me on the … group for advice how and if i should respond to him…

This came as a big shock to me because he has always been on my side with homeschooling. I guess my parents' opinions got to him. This is my younger brother whom is living with my parents,no job yet.

I was there today visiting and everything was cool. I came home, we started chatting and this is what he kept writing. I did not respond. I clicked out and closed AIM. What do you think i should do?

It is very insulting as you can see. If you want to put it on the list, it will help me..thanks!

[the brother] (5:19:44 PM): do you really think [he] as a fair sjot at getting a good education from you and keeping up with the level the other kids are gonna maintain?

[the brother](5:20:16 PM): what about all the details that he should learn that we don't remember anymore

[the brother](5:20:34 PM): like scientific stuff anf algebra, trigonometry

[the brother](5:20:59 PM): all the complicated hard stuff that we didn't even learn

[the brother](5:21:10 PM): or use for all these years and forgot

[the brother](5:21:49 PM): I think he should go to school and then have a chance to go to college so he doesn't have to work like a donkey when he's a man

[the brother](5:22:35 PM): it's not fair to him to have to work like a mexican when he is smart and has the potential to be something way better

[the brother](5:22:56 PM): I kow I could never teach a kid all the things they should learn these days

[the brother](5:23:10 PM): I 'm not intelligent enough to either

[the brother](5:23:37 PM): I think he is being deprived in a way

[the brother](5:23:55 PM): i don't mean to get you angry but just want you to know how we all feel

[the brother](5:24:10 PM): so please don't be hurt nd upset with me

[the brother](5:24:21 PM): i like being your friend as well as brother

[the brother](5:24:55 PM): If could go get a better education and was young enough to I would do it in a hot minute

[the brother](5:25:24 PM): talk to me ... come on the truth is the truth

[the brother](5:25:45 PM): he is getting to the age where his education is getting more important

[the brother](5:26:16 PM): do you really think he will get beat up or abused by a teacher?

[the brother](5:26:38 PM): or are you afraid to let him out of your sight pretty much

[the brother](5:27:14 PM): you are being to proyective...the world is gonna be a big surprise and a shock to him when he gets out on his own someday

[the brother](5:28:09 PM): he is gonna be disappointed that he works at taco bell or something really lame like some of the jobs i've had to do

[the brother](5:28:42 PM): he could get a job in the aerospace field ot be a cop fireman whatever

[the brother](5:29:36 PM): it would be worth being called a few names or picked on and learn how to be a little tough instead of being home on your hands all day everyday until he grows up

[the brother](5:30:34 PM): don't you want to be able to clean the house do laundry and have some time for yourself without having to think about what he's doing every second?

[the brother](5:31:04 PM): you are even depriving yourself of a normal likfe in a way

[the brother](5:31:15 PM): your not gonna talk now?

[the brother](5:31:27 PM): I will keep going if you don't

[the brother](5:31:42 PM): you need to hear these things i believe

[the brother](5:31:56 PM): it's not to hurt anyone

[the brother](5:32:34 PM): I really want to see him be a siccess and be happy with his education level and his job when he's grown up

[the brother](5:32:41 PM): success


Note from Sandra: When I read that I assumed the brother was maybe 22 years old. Turns out he's in his late 30's and childless, living at home with his parents, and was recently in legal trouble for something drug-related. The sister he's haranguing here is older than he is, and is the one who took the collect calls from him when he was in jail and relayed messages to their parents.

It does shed a different light on it. Not a better light…


I'm really sorry I didn't get to this Friday. All day Saturday I was gone and today we had company and I was tired, and kept forgetting to check my to-do lists and e-mail. Sorry.


Just sounds like same old worries that lots of relatives have. I wouldn't get too hurt or insulted, it is understandable ignorance talking. Instead, tell him you can understand why he'd worry, and that you're appreciative that he cares enough to tell you what he really thinks, but that you've considered all those same issues and you feel pretty confident that what you're doing will work. You could take the concerns one at a time and respond, if you want to, or you could dismiss them all at once and say, "We're just going to do this as long as it works for us."


Given Sandra's additional background information...to me the whole thing didn't sound like regular ignorance. It sounded like projection. It sounded like he is (perhaps unwittingly) expressing his own fears and resentments - shame about his own failures and difficulties, his resentments at having been bullied, his feelings of low self-worth and stupidity about the masses of stuff he has forgotten, maybe guilt at what he has imposed on his family - all wrapped up in what might be genuine affection for his sister and nephew.

****you could dismiss them all at once and say, "We're just going to do this as long as it works for us."****

Contrary to his belief, it is not her need to hear this, but evidently his need to express it. There is so little logic here that I'm all for Pam's last line.

Robyn L. Coburn

My first thought was that it was a hot-headed 22 year old, possibly drunk or stoned. When I inquired as to age, and got the details of drug related crime, I thought even more likely it was the ramblings of someone under the influence of something chemical, and I agree with Robyn that it's probably an angst/guilt explosion misdirected.

And it's unlikely that a childless unemployed 30-something will have examined his own schooling for flaws. If he's bought the general "wisdom" of it all, if he was unhappy it was his fault, and if he's grown up frustrated and worrisome, it's his fault. So if he didn't do better WITH the supposed-to-be-magical-guarantee education, he's afraid his nephew will be MORE unemployed and MORE criminally involved, maybe.

Maybe what his sister could do would be to write and point some of that out lightly, that school is no guarantee, and in fact does a lot of damage to people's self-image and desire to learn and do and be. Maybe she could name some particular people they both know who did well without college, or who have college and aren't doing well, and if the factors have to do with drugs and alcohol, perhaps point out that many people first encounter drugs and alcoholic binges in school.


***My first thought was that it was a hot-headed 22 year old, possibly drunk or stoned. When I inquired as to age, and got the details of drug related crime, I thought even more likely it was the ramblings of someone under the influence of something chemical, and I agree with Robyn that it's probably an angst/guilt explosion misdirected.***

Unfortunately I had almost the identical conversation with my "well educated" "successful""quote- happy" brother. He heard nothing. !!!??? Conversation over.


***Unfortunately I had almost the identical conversation with my "well educated" "successful""quote- happy" brother. He heard nothing. !!!??? Conversation over.***

One thing I've seen with addicts I've known personally is that the substance (alcohol in my mom's case, plain cheap beer) seems to take over in such a way that the alcohol or alcoholism protects itself from any efforts of its direct or indirect victims to stop it. THAT has seemed the main aspect of addiction in what I've seen, that like an unfriendly alien being that's being hosted by a now-helpless human body, it's willing to kill its host before it will let itself die.

Perhaps school is addicting in that way. Perhaps schooling comes with all the defenses and justifications to keep people from seeing clearly until they die, so that school can survive. The survival of the students is nowhere NEAR the top of the list, not only in my school-as- parasitical-alien analogy, but in the view of real, earthly school boards. They will defend the jobs of employees of the schools (including themselves) above the good of some nameless, replaceable seven year old boy or girl.


I've often thought that those students and graduates who defend what was done to them suffer a kind of Stockholm Syndrome.


Was watching Bill Maher the other month and he had a British guest on (sorry, can't recall the name) who said one thing that stuck deep in my craw -- he said "Kids in England get sent to a boarding school where they are pee'd on in the showers every day, and then they send their kids to the same school because they think it builds character."

Anguish and fear may build character—what kind of character? Seems to answer a lot of questions for me, anyway.


[the brother](5:20:16 PM): what about all the details that he should
learn that we don't remember anymore

[the brother](5:20:34 PM): like scientific stuff anf algebra,

[the brother](5:20:59 PM): all the complicated hard stuff that we
didn't even learn

[the brother](5:21:10 PM): or use for all these years and forgot
This would be funny if he wasn't serious.
The argument doesn't make sense. Send your child to school to learn stuff that he won't remember, learn stuff you'll never use and to not learn those complicated things that your brother thought he should have learned while he was in school but didn't.

For me this is an argument against sending my child to school.


I think he made a perfect case AGAINST school! Very convincing! ;-)


> I was there today visiting and everything was cool. I came home, we
> started chatting and this is what he kept writing. I did not respond.
> I clicked out and closed AIM. What do you think i should do?
> It is very insulting as you can see. If you want to put it on the
> list, it will help me..thanks!
It will probably help calm you down if you look at it through his eyes. Since he believes what he's writing about unschooling, he has a right to be scared and baffled and not thinking clearly! (And, I agree, he's doing some projecting of himself.) Maybe you could say that. Like:

"If that's what you believe unschooling leads to, I understand why you'd be worried and scared for Lukas. But I'm sad that you think I care that little about my son or that I'm so clueless that I would adopt such a harmful lifestyle. Wouldn't it make more sense that those who haven't read about unschooling have drawn wrong conclusions than that I would risk my child's life and future on something that sounds that dangerous?

"I know, not just believe, that learning is far more effective through doing than through sitting in a classroom learning things only to forget them! I want Lukas to spend his time more effectively learning what's meaningful to him, learning through his interests and passions. Despite what a world full of people erroneously believe, it doesn't take 12 years of school to get into college. Unschoolers do go to college and do just fine there. And they go to college for the right reasons: because they want to learn what the college offers, not because it's another set of hoops to jump through to get some job that will pay the mortgage.

"It's never to late to be what you want to be. It's harder as an adult, yes. As adults we're surrounded by people who will tell us it's too much trouble. We may even have decided they're right. But it's a lot easier to achieve something when you decide you can than when you decide you can't."


I came to this list 3 or 4 years ago in the same position. In addition to the arguments of an entire family of school teachers and college professors, unfortunately going through a divorce with an angry spouse I was faced with a judge who hated me, hated homeschooling and of course knew nothing about it.

Nothing has changed. My 2 younger sibs are two highly paid executives for large companies, and although I have provided my folks with enough information on the successes of unschooled children and people, they continue to respond as if they have heard nothing. I recently re-set boundaries with my younger sister (of 8 years) because she was calling my eldest to counsel her so she wouldn't be a bum on the street without her HS diploma or GED. I have also received the very same call (lol) from my brother!!!

What HAS changed is how I respond to them. It has taken me 4 years to stop reacting emotionally to them. It has been hard. I used to feel so angry, as if I was the only one going through this. My focus instead of being on my children was removed from them and wasted energy.

There will always be your brother or someone else unable to see that unschooling is the best way for you and the way you THE PARENT (capitalized to emphasize the due respect that comes with the title) has chosen to educate your children. That is enough.

That being said I ditto all the wonderful advice that has been given to you by those in this list. Take a deep breath!!


Speaking with an Unschooled Child (Jacqueline's mom's letter to friends.)

More on responding to others