What is it about park day?
The other night a homeschooling mom was telling me about her first time attending a local park day for young children. Several older kids came, and the play turned rough.
As the new kid on the block, she thought staying quiet was best. But as a mom, she decided to broach the subject. She told me that her questions were met with lectures and dismissal. She left feeling judged, and she hasn’t gone back.
As she related her experience, I nodded my head in recognition. Over more than two decades of homeschooling, I’ve seen way too many rifts over park days. Seriously? Fights over going to the playground?
It may sound ridiculous, but park day can be sacred. For many support groups, it serves as the glue that holds the community together. It’s the place where families go regularly to gather, play, socialize, and forge connections. It’s also where new homeschoolers go, often enthusiastically, but sometimes tentatively, as an entry point to the brave new world they’ve decided to inhabit.
I don’t mean to imply that park days create more problems than they’re worth. They don’t. Park days are a beautiful thing, and many of my fondest memories involve sunny days laughing around picnic tables, dipping toes in the brook, watching games of ultimate frisbee and kickball, and engaging in spirited discussion with other adults.
But like every situation where people gather in groups, agreement is not always a given. I wasn’t present at the above scenario, but maybe the parents whose kids were playing so rambunctiously felt they had to defend their choices, or their certainty about the value of their children’s play obscured their ability to hear another’s concerns. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that they didn’t intend to make anyone feel unheard or unsafe, but unfortunately, that is what happened. “All I wanted was to talk about it,” the mom who shared her story said.
Simple, and yet so, so difficult.
The story put me in mind of something I heard at a neighborhood event I recently attended. “Community,” someone said, “is where the person you least want to be there, is.”
We like to think about community through rose-colored glasses, as some idyllic, utopian existence where everyone gets along every minute of every day. The truth is, being in relationship with others is messy. When we venture into groups, it’s inevitable that we’ll encounter people we don’t agree with. Maybe we don’t like their views, or their parenting styles, or the clothes they wear, or the way they talk. When this happens, learning to peacefully coexist can be a challenge, especially in homeschooling support groups where there’s often no clear leader or defined decision-making process. Throw in the fact that homeschoolers, by nature, tend to be strong-willed folk with strong opinions, and it can make navigating a support group feel a bit like stepping into the wild west.
This makes it even more important to listen to each other as best we can, and be open to compromise and change. Sometimes, we’ll reach agreement. Other times, we’ll agree to disagree. Still other times, we’ll part ways. If we’re really lucky, we may see each other clearly, and the person that was the one we least wanted to be there, becomes one we couldn’t imagine living without.