by Katie Julius
I feel like one of the most common frustrations I hear from homeschool parents is that they struggle to find community. The need to find a place where one fits in and belongs is certainly not exclusive to homeschooling families, though, perhaps a bit more essential. Despite the increasing popularity and knowledge of homeschooling, it is still not mainstream and choosing to teach your children at home can be isolating and create a greater need for fellowship.
However, as I see so many families seeking this necessary community, I also see many of them still feeling a bit disconnected once they do join a group (or two or three). I believe there are several reasons for this. The first is that we, as a society, fill our schedules so much that we don’t have time to do more than sit and chat for an hour while our children take a dance class together or while we are chasing a toddler around a museum during a field trip.
Second, and somewhat related to the first, I find families are part of more than one homeschool-related group. Maybe it’s an attempt to be involved in as many things as possible so our kids aren’t “behind.” Maybe it’s the number of offerings now available to homeschool families, especially in California. Maybe it’s the hope that one of these groups has to be “the one” that fulfills that need. Whatever the reason, our schedules are full with activities of multiple circles and we never have the chance to build deeper and more meaningful relationships because we are spending time with a completely different group of people each day.
The final reason, and one I want to look more closely at, is how we are defining community. I think many people who say they are seeking community are looking for opportunities for their children (and sometimes for themselves) to socialize. This often happens at park days, field trips, classes, maybe even a mom’s night out. However, I have found that many families find themselves craving something more.
About a year and a half ago, a group of families in my area came together to create a homeschool community. We weren’t looking for a co-op, classes, or academics. We weren’t looking for “socialization” opportunities for ourselves or our children. We were looking for a deeper connection – we were looking for our oikos.
The pastor at our old church often spoke about oikos. He explained that it was the eight to fifteen people that we did life with; who we spent our time with; who we influenced and who influenced us. While oikos in the Bible often refers to a “household,” in biblical times, a household often included extended family. Today, American culture largely discards this concept, leaving us searching for those connections with like-minded friends who become like extended family.
Our little group is still in its infancy and is certainly not perfect, but I have been witness to several instances of that deeper, more meaningful community already.
Despite being a guest at the party herself, one friend unexpectedly arrived early to my daughter’s birthday party last spring to help me set-up before the rest of the kids descended upon the food and bounce house. She also offered to help plan and coordinate my mom’s retirement party this fall.
Knowing that I work part-time, I have had several moms offer to help watch my daughter during a meeting that I knew would be a bit on the long side or one where I knew I had to be focused.
I’ve received text messages with spur of the moment invitations to join families as they were headed to the park, to have lunch, to Knott’s, to see Christmas lights, to go shopping at Costco (it is more fun when there are friends with you – and easier for mom!).
I have been a part of countless conversations where a mom has tears running down her cheeks as she shares her feelings of being a failure for not recognizing earlier that her fourth-grade daughter may be dyslexic, or as a mom shares her feelings of loneliness because her husband has worked 12-plus hour days for the last 11 days for a major project at work, or as a mom shares about her feelings of inadequacies to be able to teach her own children at home.
The relationships that have developed in such a short time between this group have done so with much intentionality. It takes time. It takes dedication. It takes effort. It’s not easy to find or easy to create. But when you do get there, it is so worth it.
You may be thinking now, “This!! This is what I want. But how do I find it?” Pray. Ask God to bring people into your life to create this community. Be open to taking the initiative to bring together this group of people in your life. Be patient. It takes time to learn whether these are people who you can be transparent with and who are willing to trust you with their vulnerabilities, also giving grace for each others’ shortcomings. Love one another (and their kids) because love covers a multitude of sins.
Don’t focus on the size of your group. Your group may start with just you and one or two other families. Sometimes a smaller group is better suited for developing relationships. It is impossible to create a deep connection with everyone if you have more than a handful of families. God may have bigger plans for you and your oikos someday. Trust that God knows what you need and exactly when you need it.