The funny part of the conversation was always when one mother had expressed her reason for concern, and another mother would say something to the effect of, “Oh, I’m so glad your son/daughter does that, because so does mine! Thank God it’s normal!”
While one of the advantages of homeschooling is getting away from that idea that kids should be grouped together by age, it can also be one of the disadvantages. That grouping together by age does give you the benefit of seeing your child in an environment with a bunch of other kids her age and seeing how she behaves by comparison. You get to talk with his friend’s parents and hear how his friend did the same boneheaded thing that your own son did. It’s reassuring.
When we homeschool, our kids are often friendly with kids of varying ages – some younger, some older. This has its own benefits, from teaching your child how to interact with people of all ages to giving him people to look up to as well as the realization that he himself is a role model to someone younger. But it also means that, with such a range of ages, it might not be so easy to tell if your child’s particular behavior is typical. Parents in the group who haven’t reached that stage won’t know about it, and parents who’ve already been through it might be thinking of the things their child is doing in their current stage and won’t mention the things their child did a year ago, or two years ago, or five years ago.
But they probably will talk about it, and reassure you, if you bring it up. Don’t be afraid to ask other parents if something your child has done is a normal stage. If you’re afraid of being judged, or concerned about your child’s privacy, you could always ask about “a friend’s child” or phrase it as “I saw this on a TV show/in a blog/in a book, and wondered what you all thought.” There are ways you can get the information you’re looking for without outing yourself or your child as the family in question.
But here’s the most important thing to remember: whatever it is, it probably is normal. Seriously.
Yes, there are cases where a child will do something that indicates a problem. And in those cases, the child needs help. The Duggar family comes to mind on this. But what I’m talking about isn’t a case of obvious wrongs; I’m not talking about sexual abuse, killing animals intentionally and painfully, or beating the crap out of children smaller and weaker. I’m talking about less obvious things: playing with Legos or Barbies in their teens, looking up sexually oriented things at (insert age here), being sensitive to fighting or violence at a point or in a situation where it seems that maybe they shouldn’t be quite so emotional over it. I’m talking about things like figuring out at what age you should let your child date, or worrying that maybe they’re too far behind in math or that their handwriting looks like a first grader’s and they’re 15.
If your intuition is telling you that you have a more obviously unusual situation on your hands, something that requires real help, then by all means, see your child’s doctor or get a therapist and get your child help. I’m not advocating ignoring signs of trouble at all.
But as parents, and especially in our situations, sometimes those situations arise where our intuition isn’t screaming that something’s wrong, but we can’t help but wonder. And those are the situations that I’m talking about and telling you it’s normal.
It’s normal that your child probably seems more innocent than other boys or girls their own age. It’s normal that they might be working at different grade levels in different subjects. It’s normal that they might delve more deeply into their interests than kids in public school (because they usually have more time to devote to these things). It’s normal that their interests are different – sometimes drastically different – than their public school counterparts. It’s normal that they can have a discussion with a grown adult and a small child, and handle both equally well, showing each person the respect they deserve and using vocabulary that is appropriate for the other person’s age.
And it’s also normal that they will test your boundaries, explore things they shouldn’t, and argue with you long after they should have realized they should stop. It’s normal that they will grow up, think they know everything, and want to spread their wings even though you know those wings haven’t finished drying from the hatching.
There’s a common misconception that because our homeschooling kids are (often, though not always) much more well behaved and respectful than their public school counterparts, that we should never face the same difficulties that we would if they were in school. And sometimes, that’s where the panic over whether something is normal comes in. It is normal, but because we’ve removed the public school influence that we believe is responsible for it, we think that means it won’t happen. But it will. Our children will do many of the same things public school children do: date, drive, want cell phones and brand name clothes, explore their bodies (and maybe even try to look up porn online if they have internet access), and want to distance themselves from the family as they grow closer to adulthood.
The difference is that they may not do it at exactly the same time they would if they were in public school – and they may do it a little differently since they may not have that influence to plant the idea sooner or show them an example of how to do it.
Add in the fact that you’re a single parent, and perhaps your ex isn’t around to assure you it’s normal, or to handle the discussions that may need to take place, and that can throw you for a loop, too. Especially if you’re parenting a child of the opposite sex and therefore, have no personal experience with the situation at hand as that gender, you can really feel uneasy about whether it’s normal.
But you don’t need my reassurance, or anyone else’s to believe these things are normal. If your child is doing something that you wonder if it’s normal, just ask yourself this:
Did I ever do anything like this at this age?
Don’t be super-specific about it. If Johnny’s looking up porn, or Sally’s smoking behind the garage, don’t say, “I couldn’t look up porn, because we didn’t even have internet access at that point!” or “Smoking’s gross, I never would have done that!” Consider the underlying reasons why Johnny or Sally are doing what they’re doing.
Johnny might be looking up porn because:
- he’s curious about the female body
- he’s not sure of his own sexual orientation, and he’s trying to sort it out with visuals
- he’s trying to understand his own body and thinks that the visual of a nude body, or a sexual act, might help him do that
- people in your lives make a big fuss over it and he’s curious about all the fuss
Sally might be smoking because:
- she thinks it looks cool
- she found the cigarettes somewhere and was curious
- she knows you’ll hate it and wants to rebel
- she wants to assert her independence
- she wants to get your attention (and for whatever reason, isn’t getting it through positive ways) and is hoping the smell of cigarette smoke in her hair and on her clothes will achieve that
When you look at those underlying reasons, you can probably relate to one of them. You might remember being curious about the way the other gender’s body looked when you were Johnny’s age, or maybe you remember when your parents got divorced and you dyed your hair blue to get your parents to pay attention to you instead of scream at each other.
And when you relate to one of the potential underlying reasons, you can realize that yes, what they’re doing is normal. It may not be something you expected from them, and you may not be prepared to deal with it. But it’s normal and just knowing that can help you to calm down and get prepared to deal with it.